Why did Sepang stop being an F1 track?
When Sepang opened, it was the only track in the world ever to have been allowed to use the Formula One name and logo in its name.
Later that right was lost, perhaps by effluxion of time, and later still the management and government decided that Sepang could not support the costs of an F1 race.
Also, the new management was vocal in its deprecation of car racing and its favouritism of motorcycle racing.
As it closed its doors on F1, the circuit gave its boss his dream of his own bike racing team and it would be churlish to deny its success which has been remarkable in MotoGP, the pinnacle of motorcycle racing.
There were lots of reasons why Sepang struggled with F1 but none had to do with the racing.
The track is superb; a lack of understanding of the deceleration forces at the end of the main straight led to serious ripples pushing up but that was fixed, drainage was improved and the final corner was “re-profiled” to give an exciting adverse camber exit which tends towards a “Champion’s Wall” moment.
The biggest threat to Sepang was the development of the Singapore Grand Prix.
Let’s be clear about this: drivers love street circuits and SIN was always going to be a hit with them, especially as it dodges amongst some terrific architecture.
But from a spectator’s point of view, it’s rubbish.
No, the success of the SINGP is not because of the racing – it’s because the whole city turns into a week-long festival which started out well and has become bigger and bigger and longer and longer and sucks every available penny, cent or pebble from the visitors. Also, tickets are free pass-outs so racegoers aren’t stuck with appalling stadium food and dreadful, stupendously expensive drinks, a feature of almost all closed-door events.
To put it into perspective – a ticket to see one of the several top level bands in concert would usually cost more than a ticket to all concerts and the entire racing weekend plus more. Bring the whole family – the racing’s not even the biggest bit.
Add in that the track is surrounded by the city with all its hotels, restaurants and bars and with public transport within two or three minutes of every gate and SIN would be perfect – if you could actually see the racing; and if you didn’t have to climb dozens of steps to get everywhere making it impossible for the less agile to get between grandstands and music venues so one has to miss something – like the music headliners or the end of the race.
But these are relatively few niggles. However, just 350 KM south of Sepang, it means that even the very low cost of tickets plus inexpensive hotels there in Malaysia were looking for budget that had already been spent.
There’s more but they all relate to the “customer experience” at Sepang. Take out the customers and the things they want and Sepang is the better choice.
This season there will be no fans at F1 races therefore the customer experience is absolutely irrelevant.
Why Sepang now?
The drivers know it and those that have raced there before love it. It’s ready: all the F1 paraphernalia needs to arrive and be set up but in terms of putting the cars on the track, it’s just a matter of opening the gates and letting the trucks in.
So while SIN and Baku have said that their reasons for withdrawing are that they do not have time to set up their street circuits, especially because of complications of engaging workforces en masse, that does not apply to Sepang.
Sepang can be set up in its own moated area.
This is perhaps its biggest advantage, globally.
The circuit was developed alongside the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and they are contiguous. Yes, trucks and buses will need to cross a road but essentially, if F1’s cast and crew are delivered to a dedicated area of the cargo terminal, then taken directly to the circuit, they need never come into contact with the wider population.
And, even better, the bulk of the set-up crew can work in isolation.