F1 Arrives In Kuala Lumpur Overshadowed By MH370 Tragedy, Off-Track Troubles
The F1 circus arrived in Kuala Lumpur for Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix "to find a nation in sombre mood following the disappearance of flight MH370," according to Paul Weaver of the London GUARDIAN. The atmosphere "at the normally humid and febrile Sepang circuit this weekend will be subdued." Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg said on Twitter that "all my prayers go to friends & families of the passengers on MH370." The Laureus World Sports Academy, which is also in town, "scaled down its celebration of last year's leading sports personalities" and Chair Ed Moses announced that "a football friendly between past greats would be dedicated to those hit by the disaster." The first 10 pages of Wednesday's Star newspaper "were devoted to the tragedy, with more space for comment and letters deeper inside the issue." But in F1, "a sport which has never suffered unduly because of the thinness of its skin, the show will go on." Sepang Int'l Circuit CEO Datuk Razlan Razali said, "The atmosphere is subdued and I understand everyone is talking about it [the flight] everywhere and asking why we are hosting a Formula One race under the circumstances, but it is something that was decided a long time ago" (GUARDIAN, 3/26). REUTERS' Patrick Johnston wrote the drivers have been quick to offer their support and Lewis Hamilton also has a "#PrayForMH370" message on the side of his Mercedes car this week "and he will be hoping it is on display for the entire 56 laps of Sunday's race after only managing a brief three-lap run in Melbourne." While the Laureus Sports Awards scaled down, the Formula One party has "continued as normal." That meant Chinese relatives of the missing MH370 passengers were forced to change hotels to make way for those involved in the sport. Mercedes appears to have been quickest in adapting to the new V6 turbocharged hybrid engines that have leveled the playing field after years of Red Bull dominance, "but they remain wary of being labelled championship favourites." Mercedes Exec Dir Paddy Lowe said, "While we were pleased to come away from Melbourne with a win, we were also left with plenty to think about" (REUTERS, 3/26). The AFP reported Razali said that "despite the tragedy, attendance numbers looked set to be on track," with about 30% of race-day tickets already sold. But Ram Sithambaram, owner of an F1 outlet at the airport, said that "sales of tickets and merchandise had been poor for the race," first staged in '99. Sithambaram: "In the past one week we sold only about 50 tickets. In comparison last year around the same period we sold about 1,000 tickets. We are paying a high price for the MH370 tragedy. We hope for a miracle that ticket sales will surge in the next few days" (AFP, 3/26).
OFF-TRACK TROUBLES: The AP reported F1 heads to its second race of the season this weekend in Malaysia "with the reigning champion team threatening to withdraw from the sport, the result of the first race still under protest, and race promoters in revolt over the sound of the cars." The "off-track strife has obscured the sporting promise provided by the season opener in Australia." However "the sport's apparent eagerness to attach a cloud to every silver lining was on show again immediately after the checkered flag fell at Albert Park." Second-place finisher Daniel Ricciardo "was disqualified from his home race for exceeding the new limits on fuel flow." Red Bull Team Owner Dietrich Mateschitz raised the stakes further by saying that "such disputes will be of more importance than money when it comes to deciding whether the energy drink maker stays in the sport beyond the short term." Mateschitz said, "The question is not so much whether it makes economic sense but the reasons would be to do with sportsmanship, political influence, and so on" (AP, 3/26).
ENGINE ISSUES: REUTERS' Alan Baldwin wrote engine manufacturer Renault said that most of the engine problems suffered by its cars at the season-opening Australian Formula One Grand Prix "have been resolved." Renault supplies world champions Red Bull, its sister team Toro Rosso, Lotus and Caterham "with the new V6 turbocharged power units." Of the four teams, "only Toro Rosso scored points in Melbourne." Renault Sport F1 track operations head Remi Taffin said in a preview for Sunday's race at Sepang that "the manufacturer was optimistic of a better showing two weeks on." Taffin: "We had several issues across the cars in Melbourne but we have recreated the problems in the dyno at Viry (the factory in France). Most are fixed and the remaining (ones) will be under control by Friday in Sepang" (REUTERS, 3/26).