The Malaysian government should be urged to ask for subsequent extensions from F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone even before the current deal expires.
BACK in 1999, this writer was among the lucky hundreds, or maybe thousands, invited by our national oil corporation to watch the inaugural Malaysian leg of Formula One Grand Prix in Sepang.
Arguably, many of us then barely had an idea of what a pit stop was or what television commentators like Martin Brundle were rambling on about in terms of strategy. Still, watching the cars zipping around at blinding speed, listening to the deafening noise especially during qualification and experiencing the whole daredevil aspect of the race left many of us awestruck.
The Sepang debut more than 10 years ago prompted this writer to follow the world's hottest race enthusiastically until a recent year when a certain German driver of the "Prancing Horse" team retired (before making a comeback in 2010).
The point is F1 is a very big business. In terms of television reach, it is comparable to the Olympics and the football World Cup, but in annual frequency versus the latter two, which are held every four years. In 2010, some 1.3 billion people in more than 185 countries and territories watched F1 races either live at circuits such as Sepang and Silverstone or on TV. Along with the English Premier League, F1 has been one of the two major success stories for ESPN-Star over the years.
One can argue and lament on the returns or benefits the country actually gained after spending reportedly RM300 million to build the Sepang circuit, hosting F1 races since 1999 as well as allowing Petronas to sponsor, first the BMW team and currently the Mercedes GP team, and Proton Holdings Bhd to sponsor Lotus Renault.
In truth, F1 is an expensive endeavour but its impact is far reaching and can be felt beyond motorsports and tourism, covering sectors such as food and beverage, transportation and related services too.
F1 has gone global and opened a lot of people's eyes to the sport. It has galvanised companies to ride on its momentum and organise events around the F1 race to involve the community and business at large.
F1 is a great marketing platform. There is a growing roll call of Asian corporations that have successfully parlayed motorsports sponsorships into brand enhancing positions. These companies include Aigo, LG, Kingfisher, Singtel as well as our own Petronas and AirAsia.
There is an awful lot of companies or countries (Russia and India, among others) that want to get involved in F1. F1 is growing and many say Asia will be the world's biggest economic growth area for at least the next 10 years. That means bullish prospects and greater exposure for Malaysia and its champions such as Petronas, AirAsia, Proton and Naza Group should we remain involved in the world's hottest race.
Hence, our success via Petronas, to continue to organise the Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix for the next five years till 2015 should be lauded and supported, and not chided. In fact, we should urge the government to ask for subsequent extensions from F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone even before the current deal expires.
(Big thumbs up to Proton's partly-owned Lotus Renault for its second successive podium finish in Sepang last weekend and hopefully the team can score a hat-trick of podium finish in Shanghai this weekend.)