Malaysia weighs high cost of hosting night Formula One races

Malaysia is holding off extending its contract to host Formula One races while it considers the high cost of staging a night grand prix.

Azhar Ghazali, a spokesman for F1 venue the Sepang International Circuit, said Friday that sports and financial officials are still discussing details of a proposed new five-year contract to replace the existing one, which expires in 2010.

The most contentious issue is whether Malaysia should agree to hold night races, Azhar told The Associated Press. Such a move would require millions of dollars (euros) in additional costs.

Azhar added that races under lights were also a proposal that still requires the official endorsement of the teams and the F1 administrative authorities.

Measures to upgrade the circuit - including resurfacing the track - were carried out since early this year, but these have not included any special arrangements to ready the circuit for night races, he said.

Malaysia has hosted F1 races since 1999.

The Star newspaper and Malaysia's national news agency Bernama quoted Youth and Sports Deputy Minister Liow Tiong Lai as telling Parliament on Thursday that the government will have to spend 20 million ringgit (US$5.77 million; euro4.28 million) to improve infrastructure and install new lighting at the circuit in order to hold a night race.

"The government is still mulling over the cost factor," Liow was quoted as saying in The Star. "That is why we have yet to sign the contract to extend the F1 race in Malaysia from 2010 to 2015."

Liow said F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone wants Malaysia to hold night races to attract more television viewers from Europe and secure greater sponsorship.

Liow did not immediately answer calls to his mobile phone Friday.

Liow told Parliament that Malaysia has benefited from the F1 in many ways, such as tourism. This year's event drew 115,000 spectators to the circuit, 30 percent of whom were foreigners, Liow was quoted as saying by The Star.

Sepang International Circuit chairman Mokhzani Mahathir was last month reported as saying that night races were among the new conditions in Malaysia's contract to extend its hosting rights.

Malaysia has also dismissed possible competition from neighboring Singapore, which has won a five-year deal to host Formula One races starting in September or October 2008, including a possible night grand prix.