News and views on motorsports

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The State of Malaysian Racing

Malaysia hosts a round of the FIA Formula 1 world championship. Clearly, this has succeeded enormously in raising awareness throughout the world. That is clearly why a lot of other (especially third world) countries are desperate to host a round and are prepared to invest vast sums of money in racing infrastructure and spend enormously every year on Bernie.

Its interesting that in the United States its the organizers who pay circuit owners to hold the event. Witness the recent sale of rights to hold the Long Beach Grand Prix. But elsewhere around the world the circus ringmaster holds all the cards.

Whether or not the raised awareness of Malaysia brings with it tangible economic benefits is debatable and to a lot of racing fans, they couldn't care less.

The government in Malaysia is a most powerful organisation and is by and large the biggest spender in the economy. In proportionate terms (of GDP) government spending in Malaysia I believe dwarves those of any Western government. The Grand Prix certainly could not happen without government spending.

So Malaysians are very lucky in one sense. In the West, the existence and demise of circuits and events are largely at the mercy of market forces. Silverstone for instance needed to beg the UK government of come to their aid when Bernie was piling on the pressure. The UK government assistance is hardly the amount given by the Malaysian government towards Sepang. Its only because of the special historic significance that Silverstone holds, that the UK government eventually lent some aid.

But thats Silverstone. Other circuits like Brands, Oulton, Snetterton, Mallory and all the rest have all got to fend for themselves. But thankfully the UK motorsport industry has been around for ages and there are lots of petrolheads in Britain. The same situation can be found in America, Germany, France, Italy and Japan. All countries able to sustain a motorsport industry largely independent of any government initiatives.

It is clear that motor racing is an expensive sport. To succeed a healthy bank balance is required. Malaysia's economy in terms of GDP is nowhere near the aforementioned countries. And despite the round of Formula 1 held every year, most Malaysians couldn't give bugger all about racing. And the ones that do feel very alienated.

So with crowd attendance at Malaysian racing events at pathetic levels, there is no "eco-system" able to sustain a healthy motor sports industry in this country. Sponsors don't see crowds and in turn don't want to sponsor teams and drivers. This in turn means that you'll only see a bunch of rich but talentless businessmen racing in their flash cars. And in turn, this puts off the crowds who (1) want to see great talent and (2) don't feel any connection and don't identify with these businessmen. A downward spiral.

There's more. Apparently sponsoring events in Sepang is not a clear cut affair. Some petroleum companies with near limitless levels of cash are not allowed to sponsor events. Only because the Sepang circuit has strong connections with a local oil company. No names need be mentioned.

My point is that its difficult to sustain motorsports in Malaysia. Without a sustained and strong, competitive championship, how do you pick out the real cream of the crop?

What chance then for Malaysia's young pilotes? Well first and hopefully, he or she would have picked good parents to be born on to. That way daddy dearest can pay for your racing for a while. Secondly and again, in steps the government. Witness Alex Yoong's stint in Formula 1. Largely funded by a comnination of government and a few Malaysian corporate sponsors. Now, ask any Malaysian and he or she will feel that those corporate sponsors were definitely coerced into sponsoring Alex Yoong. Licenses and permits from the authorities have to renewed you understand. A messy affair to be sure. Word is that the sponsors never paid Paul Stoddart and Minardi his money. In turn, poor Alex is now having trouble with Paul collecting his back pay.

The problem in Malaysia is that once the government steps in with its cash, greed and politics arrive with it. Sounds familiar right Bernie? But in the case of the Formula 1 politics, the protagonists have a high degree of knowledge about the sport. Even Max Mosley if you compare to some of the the morons over here. In Malaysia, the powers have very little knowledge but plenty of greed.

Now when I say greed, it isn't just for money but for recognition, status and above all, power. A healthy dollop of cash helps. Greed overpowers any need to succeed in the sport itself. So, those who can best pamper to their greed, gets the loot in Malaysia. But those who do so aren't necessarily the best this country has to offer. I say far from it.

But because they aren't well connected to the powers, they miss out on the much needed government funding. Make no mistake. In a small economy such as this, government aid is essential for the budding international racing driver.

I will paraphrase the Malaysian Prime Minister himself on this matter when he says to the effect that he himself is aware of this. Although he was referring to the general political and economic context, it is apt that it be applied to this matter. For it is a reflection of Malaysia life. That a small minority are given most of the opportunities but abuse it, many have no opportunities at all.

What irks many in Malaysia is that its the taxpayer's money thats funding these below par performances. Well, now you know why I absolutely detest cronies.

Now you may wonder why I've gone local all of a sudden. Well, it was because of reading this interesting post in a forum on a Malaysia Formula 1 website. A pity that only Malaysians would understand it but the language of the poster is dreadfully hilarious. I have no idea whether his allegations have any grain of truth to it but it reflects a lot of the suspicion in Malaysian minds.

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