October 1st 2017 was the last time an F1 engine echoed from the hills surrounding Sepang. Fittingly called "F1NALE", the 2017 Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix marked the end of 19 glorious years of Formula One in Malaysia at the Sepang International Circuit.
Fast forward 3 years later, and things aren't looking too great for Formula 1. COVID-19 has turned the 2020 calendar on its head, with only 13 possible races left on the sheets. The proposed season opener in France is also in jeopardy as the pandemic doesn't seem to be letting up anytime soon. All the talk about the future of F1 has drummed up some interesting, and hopeful, comments from SIC's new Chief Executive Officer, Azhan Shafriman Hanif.
In an interview with Bernama, Azhan Shafriman, who was appointed on April 8th, revealed that SIC is not ruling out the possibility of hosting the Formula One race championship in the future. However, he has cautioned that many factors must be considered including the cost they have to shoulder as hosting F1 does not come cheap.
"It (hosting the F1 again) is not on my top priority at the moment, but if the opportunity comes by and the offer is good, I'm very supportive of this idea because this event (F1) brings the branding part of Malaysia," he told Bernama, recently.
"Let's say if we agree to host the F1 race for a longer period, we will hold a discussion with the government since the hosting fee is not cheap and also the money that we spend must be worthy to the government and also the fans," he adds.
A 13-year veteran spearheading sponsorship for national oil and gas behemoth Petronas, Shafriman takes over the helm of SIC from long-standing CEO Datuk Razlan Razali. On the other hand, Datuk Razlan will now focus full-time on his role as team principal of Petronas Sepang Racing Team (SRT) MotoGP outfit.
Shafriman has reaffirmed his commitment to strengthening various motorsports development programme initiated by his predecessor. Among those programmes include the SIC Master Plan, initiated in 2014, which seeks to turn the circuit into Asia's cutting edge sports and edutainment hub.
The Malaysian Grand Prix, first introduced in 1999, was the brainchild of former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad during his first tenure in office, to present a modern Malaysia for the new millennium. He reiterated his intentions to bring Formula One back to Sepang February last year, with less than favourable response from SIC.
The Grand Prix was halted from 2018 onwards by the government due to diminishing returns from Formula 1 events. However, Sepang continued to host the MotoGP series, hugely popular with locals and garnered tremendous success in recent races.
The initial allure of Sepang and the Malaysian Grand Prix was that it was the only world-class motorsport event in the ASEAN region. However, with the rise of the Singaporean Grand Prix night race, and the all-new Vietnamese Grand Prix pending its debut this year, Malaysia faces stiff competition to fight for a spot on the ever-growing Formula One calendar.
That being said, the turbulent future of Formula One holds many possibilities, and only time will tell if one of those possibilities has Sepang in the books.