PUTRAJAYA April 7 — As a nation that has always placed tourism as one of its key revenue earners, the Formula One (F1) Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix (GP) has been a strong, effective tool, said Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
The prime minister said some 80,000 spectators came for the inaugural race in 1999 with 35 per cent comprising foreign tourists.
He said an independent study by Universiti Malaya showed that an astounding US$144 million in foreign exchange collection could be attributed to the F1 in Sepang, based on the spending by foreigners during the F1 period.
"The impact of Formula 1 hosting for tourism has been massive. If we made almost 150 million (dollars) in 1999, imagine the benefits that the nation has reaped over the last 11 editions.
"But of course, beyond the dollars and cents there are other aspects of the race that appeal to us,” he said in his speech at the F1 Welcome Cocktail at Seri Perdana, here, tonight.
Also present were his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek and Formula One chief, Bernie Ecclestone.
Najib said as a nation aspiring to be a major player in the automotive industry, Malaysia”s alliance with F1 was only natural.
In F1, he said, the country had the stage for application of the finest and highest technology in the automotive field.
"In Malaysia, we have a group of young people to take our automotive industry to the highest level possible,” he added.
The prime minister said the F1 project had always been more than just a motorsports agenda.
"It”s much, much bigger that that,” he said, adding that when Malaysia first initiated the idea, it was a tool to uplift Malaysia”s image at the international arena.
The 2011 F1 season opened at Albert Park in Melbourne with the Australian GP held on March 27.
Malaysia will host Round 2 of the 2011 F1 World Championship this weekend, which now runs for 19 rounds with the cancellation of the Bahrain GP.