THE Sepang International Circuit near Kuala Lumpur International Airport drew its largest turnout in the last four years as Malaysia hosts its annual Formula One (F1) Grand Prix race for the last time.
A total of 110,604 spectators filled the circuit over the three days of practice, qualifying and Sunday’s race. In the days leading up to the event, ticketing venues in the city saw long queues.
Reuters reported that this year marked the largest weekend turnout since 2013, and a 31.9 percent increase from last year.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters at a news conference with F1 chief executive Chase Carey: “We have hosted this for 19 years and I think we have seen some thrilling events.”
He said a return in the future is not ruled out.
“We’ve had a great history [in Malaysia]. But change is part of life.”
“We’re actually very excited about the opportunities we have in Asia in general. We have a number of places where we have great interest and new opportunities to continue to grow the sport.”
The race debuted in Malaysia in 1999 and has since been one of the region’s biggest sporting events, drawing large crowds and top drivers such as Sebastian Vettel, Michael Schumacher, and Fernando Alonso.
The F1 season has been a revenue generator as it doesn’t merely encompass the race; a series of activities, shopping sales, road shows, a charity gala dinner, and public concerts are also common prior to and after the race. Fans also get the opportunity to meet and greet star racers.
However, last year, Malaysia’s Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz confirmed it will stop hosting the race after the current contract expires in 2018.
“F1 attendance is dropping and there is less attraction now. We are spending RM300 million (US$67 million) a year [for the race],” Nazri said.
The decision was concurred by Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who had expressed his support to temporarily halt the hosting of the sporting event.
Meanwhile, Singapore recently agreed with Formula One on a deal that will keep the Singapore Grand Prix on the sport’s calendar until 2021.
Additional reporting by Reuters