Following the successful staging of India's first Formula One race, it is interesting to take a closer look at the circuit that kick-started the sport's expansion in Asia. Until 1998, Japan was the sole Asian country to host an F1 race thanks to the influence of the country's automotive industry. With a plan to promote the country on the world stage, the Malaysian government approached Bernie Ecclestone in 1996 with a proposal to host an F1 race.
With the company responsible for the country's airports in charge of the circuit's construction and initial maintenance, the circuit hosted the first Malaysian Grand Prix in 1999, taking the number of Asian rounds up to two.
The addition of the Indian GP has taken this number up to seven but unlike the other Asian races since 1999, the construction and maintenance of the Buddh International Circuit is in the hands of a privately-owned company. There are, however, a few reasons for those interested in the long-term future of F1 in India to keep an eye on some aspects of the Sepang International Circuit (SIC).
Most notably, is how the organisers managed to secure the much-coveted broadcasting rights to the F1 race from Ecclestone's famously iron grip on the sport's finances. Mokhzani Mahathir, chairman of SIC, told HT how the financial structure of a circuit's deal with Ecclestone can vary. "You can pay Bernie to buy the broadcast and trackside advertising rights and then hopefully sell them at a profit," said Mahathir. "That is what we have done in the past."
Mahathir did, however, admit that it all came down to ticket sales at the end of the day as far as a circuit owner was concerned. The total attendance for this year's Malaysian GP over the course of three days was 1,07,000 with the total capacity of the circuit being close to 1,50,000.
The country's heat, humidity and frequent thunderstorms have been cited as possible reasons for the modest attendance figures, given that the ticket prices for the event are the lowest amongst all the venues on the F1 calendar.
Reason enough for the Indian GP organisers to be thankful that the second edition was moved from the April date it was initially slotted in the first draft of the 2012 World Championship calendar.
The writer's trip was sponsored by JK Tyre