THERE is no denying that Malaysian motorsports were lifted swiftly into another level with a sudden rush into Formula One in 2010 and Mohd Zulfahmi Khairuddin’s promising romp in his debut season as a 125cc World Championship rider.
It was a year when Malaysians began to see more efforts aimed towards the world stage with millions of ringgit flowing in that direction like never before.
But the void yet to be filled on the development front back home is the karting scene which still maintained its status quo with not much sparking progress.
Those involved in motorcycling were the only ones who could rest with some sort of pride as despite Zulfahmi’s entry at the top level, efforts were still being doubled right from children riding mini-bikes to the Cub Prix scene and up to full-framed bikes in the Malaysian Super Series.
In 2010, the country at least has an idea of what the future could hold for motorcycling with a proper development pyramid and now at least the targets are in the right direction..
On four-wheels, the Sepang International Circuit (SIC) began to chart new ground with some improvements to the structure of the MSS touring and saloon cars races which will now be aimed at making most of the racing done in the series relevant.
It will, from now, be about racing in homologated chassis that will enable drivers to move up to the next level of racing like the Asian Touring Car Series and with the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) as an eventual target.
This also opened the doors to more involvement from manufacturers, and teams can now look to more professionals, rather than what previously was privateers or teams investing, without much hope of progress.
Rallying is still in its slow decline but with some improved efforts to cater for wider involvement from the masses with the Malaysian Rally Sprint and Rally X series proving worthwhile alternatives to the threatened Malaysian Rally Championship (MRC).
National car manufacturer Proton launched its own initiative — the Proton R3 Malaysia Rally Team that took on the challenge in the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) and the FIA Intercontinental Rally Championship (IRC) with some promising results.
The main stories of the year, however, revolved around just one area — Formula One.
The year began with Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes’ Lotus Racing team making their debut as the first Malaysian team to compete in Formula One and ending the season in 10th position in the constructors’ championship and best of the three new teams.
But what transpired mid-season was something that has left most in the sport confused as Malaysia took centre stage in one of the most inexplicable controversies Formula One has ever seen — the battle over the Lotus name.
Fernandes’ 1Malaysia Racing Team Sdn Berhad had been running using the Lotus name under licence from Proton. But Proton’s subsidiary, Group Lotus, now have sudden plans to enter F1 themselves, which resulted in the now concluded Lotus- Renault GP Team deal that saw them purchase a 25 per cent stake in French team Renault F1 and act as title sponsors from next season.
Fernandes’ company had purchased the Team Lotus brand from its owner, David Hunt, and then Proton chairman Datuk Seri Nadzmi Salleh said that the company would do everything in its power to stop the former from using the Lotus name in F1.
The battle that ensued confused most followers of the sport, with neither party finding any solution apart from leaving it to the London High Court, where the case is due for mention next month.
Petronas went on board with the German MercedesGP team this year after 15 years with the Sauber team, and AirAsia continued an estimated RM6.5 million deal with the Williams F1 Team.
The only vital statistic to sports fans, however, only bring about a negative feeling, with Malaysia’s best bet — Fairuz Fauzy merely filling up the reserve driver’s seat with Lotus Racing in 2010.
Here’s the saddest statistic: Venezuelan government-linked companies spent only E15 million (RM75 million) and Pastor Maldonado is set to start in a race seat for the Williams F1 Team next season. But look at what Malaysians are spending.
Malaysian companies collectively, spent and will spend a total amount which exceeds what world champions Red Bull Racing will have at their disposal in 2011.
The RM450 million spent by the 1Malaysia Racing Team shareholders in 2010 for the Lotus Racing project, could be equalled or exceeded again by them as they seek to push the envelope with better results in 2011.
Petronas’ involvement as sponsor of the MercedesGP- Petronas team is estimated to be at well above RM200 million. Proton has revealed that the Lotus-Renault GP Team deal will cost its subsidiary, Group Lotus, between STG15 million (RM75 million) and STG20 million (RM100 million) annually.
Tycoon Datuk Vijay Eswaran became the latest Malaysian to jump on the F1 bandwagon, when his Qi Group brand teamed up with Virgin Racing, a deal which insiders say would be in the range of at least RM10 to 15 million a year.
F1 is closing in on the RM1 billion per year of influx in Malaysian funds, and that is not inclusive of what the government and sponsors spend annually on the hosting of the Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix.
But there isn’t one Malaysian set to start a Formula One race next season.
Adding to the sadness is the fact that there’s still that big disparity between spending in Formula One, which exceeds RM750 million in Malaysian money, to that being pumped into development projects, which collectively in all areas came to approximately less than RM10 million this year.
Nevertheless, 2011 promises even more surprises, as Malaysians continue to have the financial clout to do just that.