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Malaysian planning

MALAYSIAN Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was at Estoril over the weekend for negotiations with Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone about the possibility of Malaysia holding a Grand Prix in 1999.

In an exclusive interview with Inside F1, Dr. Mohamad has confirmed that a race will go ahead on a yet-to-be-built international-standard racing circuit near Kuala Lumpur's new airport.

"It is more or less agreed that we will have an event by the year 1999," said Mahathir, "and so we will build a track near the new airport. We have a big piece of ground which has about 25,000 acres but we need only about 1000 acres for this project. We will build the best possible circuit that we know how to build."

Mahathir also confirmed that the Malaysian government intends to use motor racing to develop not only the international profile of the country but also its engineering skills.

"We have been involved in a small way in F1 for the moment but we want to get more involved," said Mahathir. "We want to look into not just the advertising part of it but to understand the engineering involved as well."

The current deal between Sauber and Malaysia's national petroleum company Petronas - the full name is Petroliam Nasional Berhard - runs until the end of the year 2000. It is tipped to be worth around $10m a year with the aim of improving the international profile of the Malaysian national oil company, which has owned all of Malaysia's oil and gas resources since 1974. Petronas has since become a major player on the international oil market with ventures all across Asia and in Syria, Yemen and the Seychelles. The company has annual sales of $6 billion and employs 13,000 people, and the aim is for the company to be aiming to earn 30% of its revenue from overseas business by the year 2005.

The deal also includes a joint venture company called Sauber Engineering which is intended to commercialize the technology made available thanks to the F1 program. It is this company which is likely to be involved in any projects such as the development of an F1 engine.

"We are studying what is there so that we can learn from racing and from the engines which they develop for racing," said Mahathir. "There is no time scale. I think we need to upgrade our skills in engineering. We have a car industry in Malaysia but we are dependent on others at the moment. We would like to have some capability of our own."

Malaysia's national car is the Proton - manufactured by Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Berhard in a joint venture with Japan's Mitsubishi Motors Corporation. Like Petronas it is owned by the government.

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