Malaysian Formula One boss: Liberty Media needs help and Bernie Ecclestone suckered us good and proper

 
Oliver Gill
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F1 Grand Prix of Malaysia - Practice
Malaysia will host its final Grand Prix for 19 years on 1 October (Source: Getty)

The boss of Malaysia's Grand Prix circuit has blasted Formula One's new owners Liberty Media, saying no one at the US corporate giant understands the sport apart from F1 veteran Ross Brawn.

The Sepang International Circuit will host its final Grand Prix on 1 October, ending a 19-year relationship with the sport. Dato’ Razlan Razali, the circuit’s chief executive, said the US media giant was struggling to get to grips with F1.

“They are very much learning," Razali told City A.M. “The only personality on board that knows about Formula One is Ross Brawn. But he is an engineer. He is a technical guy.

They don’t have someone from the outside to promote Formula One. That would help the new owners in their lack of understanding about the sport.

Read more: Damon Hill: Liberty Media is learning just like Donald Trump

Razali said the US media giant has done little to make the Malaysian circuit’s last race a special event.

“We just want to celebrate the final year. We don’t want to be too emotional about it. We want to give Formula One a good send off come 1 October,” said Razali, adding he met with Liberty Media at the Bahrain Grand Prix earlier this month to discuss how Malaysia could bow out on a high.

“We presented them with what we feel would be a good plan. Unfortunately, it is something that they can’t help us with.” He continued:

We are not so convinced in how they can improve Formula One if they can’t even help us in our final event. We are representing it again to them in Barcelona, so we’ll see. If they value our 19 years of relationship they should at least try.

Earlier this month former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone admitted that in recent years he charged circuits extremely high fees to host Grands Prix.

Read more: Formula One shake up: Malaysia is off next year's calendar

“For [Ecclestone] to come out with that statement we can’t help but feel suckered by him in some ways and quite disappointed," Razali said. "We thought we have a relationship. But I guess the reality is there are no loyalties in this business, it is all about dollars and cents.

“So with that statement, yes, it upsets us in a way.”

Boring

Malaysia announced its decision to walk away from F1 at the start of April, a choice Razali said was a result of a failure to get enough “bums on seats”. He said since 2014 in particular there has been a considerable fall in demand and interest for the sport.

The reason, the Malaysian head said, was the sport has become increasingly “boring”.

“Since 2014 the numbers don’t add up anymore, so it was quite an easy decision to not host Formula One anymore. It was not difficult at all to be honest,” he said.

Read more: Bridgestone will not return to F1 because it won't help tyres become sexy

The circuit commissioned PwC to analyse F1’s return on investment in 2011. At that time the report concluded it was worth more than three times the cost of being on the calendar. Last year, Razali said, the overall return was less than one.

“Right now we are firm in our decision to take a long break. We are looking at a 7-10 year break,” he said.

In contrast, the Sepang International Circuit has a contract with MotoGP that runs until 2021. Razali hopes a further extension to this contract will be signed in years to come.

And he said Liberty Media could do worse than look towards the world’s premier motorcycling event.

“They need to fix the sport,” he said. “MotoGP is so successful because of the product… you don’t have to look far.”

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