THIS year’s Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix may start earlier as a safety precaution following French driver Jules Bianchi’s horrific crash in Japan last October.
Sepang circuit boss Razlan Razali, speaking in London on Wednesday, after contract renewal talks with commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone, said they discussed returning the race to a 3pm local time slot from 4pm in 2014.
That would mean less likelihood of the tropical downpours that have affected some recent races, including the 2009 race that had to be cut short, with half points awarded.
Marrusia driver Bianchi suffered severe brain injuries at Suzuka when he skidded off track, in fading light and heavy rain, and collided with a recovery tractor. He remains in hospital in a critical condition.
Razali said: “Ecclestone mentioned that because of the Suzuka incident the FIA has some time limit, so he is reviewing to move the start to the original time, maybe this year.
“For us it’s good. It’s a safer time bracket, so now people can come in for lunch, watch the race and about five o’clock they can go back home.”
If Ecclestone wanted a 3pm start, Sepang Internationcal Cirsuit would support it.
Speaking to CBT editor Yamin Vong, Razlan said: “We’re also negotiating to renew our contract to host the F1 for a shorter period. Maybe less than five years,” said Razlan.
“The government has issued an instruction to reduce US dollar exposure. But this is F1 and it’s all US dollar-based negotiations,” he added.
“The meeting was also to discuss how to make F1 more interesting and we recommended that FIM follow the MotoGP format of having proper second and third tier championships — F2 and F3 — vs MotoGP Moto2 and Moto3. This would give F1 a complete experience and triple-header world championship races.
“It will also allow us and others to sponsors young drivers at the lower tiers and young fans can follow these drivers all the way to potentially F1 rather than having unknown drivers paying for a drive and no fan base.”
Razali said turning Malaysia, the second round of the championship, into a night race like the one in neighbouring Singapore was also discussed but he was not keen on an idea first mooted in 2008.
“It’s a danger to force us to do it. In the past Ecclestone was pushing but now I think it’s the first time where he actually listened to us as a promoter what we want.
“At the moment we don’t want it. Every circuit has its own identity, the danger is to copy somebody else.”
Malaysia has hosted a Formula One race since 1999, with Singapore only joining the calendar in 2008 but rapidly becoming the premier event in the region with its floodlit street circuit.
Razali admitted that Singapore was “doing it better” but said Malaysia was keen to stay on the calendar because the race had a positive economic impact and promoted the country as a global destination.
“Singapore has an edge because it is in the city and looks really nice on TV, it’s cooler but I still think Sepang offers better racing,” he added.
The circuit head defined the talks with Ecclestone as ‘very positive’ and was sure this season’s race on March 29 would not be the last, with a multi-year extension expected to be announced soon.
However, he warned that Formula One needed to do much more to get ‘bums on seats’ and provide more entertainment.
MotoGP, he added, provided better value for spectators and had drawn bigger crowds to Sepang for the past five years than Formula One.
He confessed, however, to having been won over by the new V6 turbo power units, despite expressing strong reservations before last year’s race about the quieter engines compared to the ear-splitting old V8s.
“We were concerned after the feedback from Australia. Very concerned. When it finally came to Malaysia, I didn’t like it. It was simply too quiet,” said Razali.
“But what I noticed in the grandstands is that you get families with kids watching and enjoying Formula One better.
“I can remember in the past where a dad would put headphones on the kid and hold it. Or a kid would be too scared and start crying, wanting to go home. I think it attracts a new breed of fanbase now. And that’s what you want.” – (with Reuters)