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Malaysia mulls scrapping F1 race amid falling ticket sales, viewership

Sports minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the costs of holding the race were too high, while the returns were limited. 

Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team’s British driver Lewis Hamilton drives his car during the first free practice session of the Formula One Malaysia Grand Prix in Sepang. (AFP/Manan Vatsyayana)

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is considering halting the annual Formula One Grand Prix race after its contract ends in 2018 due to declining ticket sales and TV viewership.

In a series of posts on his official Twitter account, sports minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the costs of holding the race were too high, while the returns were limited.

“F1 ticket sales declining, TV viewership down. Foreign visitors down b/c (because) can choose Singapore, China, Middle East. Returns are not as big,” he added. 

State oil and gas firm Petronas is the title sponsor for the F1 race in Kuala Lumpur. The company has been hit hard in recent times by the tumble in oil prices.

The chief executive of the Sepang International Circuit (SIP), where the races are held, said ticket sales for the race had dropped since 2014 and initial reports showed this year’s TV viewership in Malaysia were the lowest in history.

Razlan Razali told state news agency Bernama that although the venue had a ‘watertight agreement’ with license holders until 2018, a “temporary withdrawal from F1 could be beneficial for the country to take a break”.

The Malaysian Grand Prix was last held earlier this month, when Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo claimed his maiden win of the season.

The Sepang International Circuit (SIC) clarified on Monday night that no decision about the F1 Grand Prix will be made this week.

Earlier, it was reported that the there would be a special meeting on Thursday to discuss the matter with SIC’s major stakeholder, the Ministry of Finance. 

But SIC said that only the renewal of the Motorcycle GrandPrix (MotoGP) licence, which expires this year, is expected to be finalised.

This weekend, the Shell Malaysia MotoGP 2016, the 26th Malaysia MotoGP, is set to be another crowd-puller at SIC, following last year’s sellout silver jubilee race.

“Last year we saw 85,000 spectators for our MotoGP. This year, as all the tickets have already been sold out, we target a record 90,000 spectators, inclusive of from the hill stands,” Mr Razlan said. 

“Moving forward, if all parties collaborate, including the ministries of tourism, sports and communication, we may improve further,” he added.