The Malaysian Grand Prix will not
follow Singapore's example in turning into a night race, it has been confirmed – with organisers explaining that the prohibitive costs amidst the current economic downturn do not make it a viable proposition.
The Sepang circuit has welcomed Formula 1 since 1999, and has a contract to continue to do so until 2015. The resounding success of the sport's inaugural night-time race in Singapore back in September, however, has raised the pressure on neighbouring and nearby countries such as Australia, Malaysia, China and Japan to do likewise, as a means of generating extra media coverage and attracting greater viewing audiences in Europe, when the grands prix would be broadcast at a more sociable time.
Moreover, the raft of new countries clamouring for a spot on the F1 calendar has upped the ante on existing venues to increase their viewing figures in order to maintain their places, but though the Malaysian government did discuss the proposal, it has ultimately deemed that it would not be possible.
F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has made little secret of his desire to see more races in the region held under floodlights, but Malaysia has now confirmed that it is not in a position to meet the 78-year-old's request, and will instead pursue the twilight option that is set to begin this season (9am GMT), when the grand prix will take place at 5pm local time, two hours later than usual. The Formula One Management chief executive is understood to have agreed to this compromise.
The change in time will also mean cooler temperatures for spectators at what is traditionally the hottest race on the schedule in the tropical South East Asian country. Both of the first two races on the 2009 calendar – Australia on 29 March and Malaysia a week later – will start two hours later this year. Despite the global credit crunch, race organisers are still hopeful of securing a maximum attendance of 130,000 over the course of the three-day event.
“We have amended the contract,” explained Se¬pang Inter¬¬natio¬nal Circuit chairman Datuk Mokhzani Tun Mahathir. “The race will start at 5pm; that is about 9am in Europe. It will also be a little bit cooler in the late afternoon for fans to watch the race at the circuit.
“It is another way of saying that there will be no night race until 2015. When I met him, Bernie told me that we will no longer raise the issue.
“I told him that we are facing an economic crisis. The night race may or may not attract more people to the circuit.
“The [attendance] target can be achieved although we are experiencing an economic slowdown. This year we are offering more attractive packages and activities to attract spectators.”
Circuit spokesman Irwan Rahman added that the installation of a lighting system to illuminate the track would cost in the area of $5.77 million, with no guarantees of any increase in revenue from the change.
“The benefit should still be there [with a 5pm start],” he told The Associated Press
. “There are no contracts that we have to do night races.”