The resurrection of the much-loved Malaysian Grand Prix has been described as “only a matter of time” with a sponsor of the Sepang F1 race claiming it is achievable within the next five years.
The Sepang International Circuit was the first F1 track to be designed by German architect Hermann Tilke and arrived on the calendar in 1999.
Known for its thrilling, undulating layout and unpredictable weather, the circuit was a firm favourite among drivers and fans before it slipped off the schedule following the 2017 race in the early phase of Liberty Media’s ownership of the sport.
It was said at the time that the Malaysian GP’s appeal had suffered in light of the success of the nearby street race in Singapore, which joined the calendar as F1’s first-ever night event in 2008.
Speaking recently at the Motorsports Association of Malaysia Aidilfitri Open House event, MAM president Tan Sri Mokhzani Mahathir revealed the return of F1 cars to Sepang is feasible.
But with the local currency struggling against the US dollar, he says it would largely depend on sponsors being prepared to foot the bill.
According to New Straits Times, he said: “In terms of being the host, it’s not a problem.
“It is a question of who is going to pay and whether we can afford it or not.
“I have no idea what is it (the cost) right now, but definitely it is higher than when we stopped in 2017.”
F1 has experienced a popularity boom in recent years in light of the titanic title battle between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton in 2021, combined with the success of Netflix’s Drive to Survive F1 docuseries.
No fewer than 23 races will be held across 2023, reduced from 24 following the cancellation of the Chinese Grand Prix.
Yet with China almost certain to return to the calendar and other nations in key markets – including South Africa – keen to stage a race, Malaysia would face stiff competition in any attempt to rejoin the schedule.
Mr Mahathir seemed to accept the challenge, claiming Sepang’s lasting bond with F1 and the circuit’s popularity puts it in a strong position.
“F1 is more popular than it used to be, it has a new audience after the ‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive’ Netflix series while a lot of countries are bidding for the race as a statement for their country,” he added.
“We get comments from drivers themselves that Sepang is one of the challenging tracks that they want to see back in the calendar.
“We always have a good relationship with the organisers, we know them since 1996 when we start the discussion to host the race, so it is matter of time.”
Sebastian Vettel was the most successful driver during the previous incarnation of the Malaysian GP, winning the race on four separate occasions including the infamous Multi-21 race in 2013 and his first victory for Ferrari in 2015.
The final race, held in in October 2017, was won by Verstappen who took his second victory in Red Bull colours.