An odd story from Malaysia

NOVEMBER 19, 2007

An odd story from Malaysia

There is word from Malaysia that the government there may be on the verge of announcing its support for Fairuz Fauzy to get him into Formula 1. Fauzy does not have the money to make more progress up the racing ladder and his results are not going to help him as most F1 team bosses tend not to look too closely at 25-year-olds who finish 11th in the Renault World Series. The Malaysian says he has offers are on the table to race with Williams - which seems decidedly far-fetched - but he does have a deal to be the Force India test driver, at least until the end of the year.

The only way we can see Fauzy getting a drive in F1 is if the Malaysian government decides that it is going to buy the Super Aguri F1 team as the competition for pay-drives is now quite daunting, even at government level. It is rumoured that Spain's Roldan Rodriguez has $17m to spend next year - and he is having trouble finding a ride.

There is known to be some interest in Super Aguri from Asian parties but at the moment there is no official word on who that might involve.

The Malaysians were among the first to embrace F1, opening the Sepang International Circuit in 1999. Since then others in the Middle East and Asia have followed and competition to create a motorsport hub in the region is growing. Malaysia recently announced that it had extended its F1 contract until 2015 and intends to invest more to upgrade Sepang to include an automotive-related theme park with bike and kart tracks.

The next step beyond that would be the ownership of an F1 team, an important element in creating interest in the sport in any country. One can speculate - but it is no more than that - that this might be related to the recently announced idea that Proton, Malaysia's state-controlled automobile manufacturer is to build a car for the Islamic world. This would feature such ideas as fitting a compass to indicate the direction towards Mecca and separate special compartments to house the Koran and headscarves.

Proton - which has owned the Lotus Group since 1996 - has been in talks about a strategic alliance with Volkswagen for several years opening the way for Proton to gain technology and VW to use excess capacity at the Tanjung Malim plant.

It is worth noting that the Malaysian government-owned oil company Petronas has a sponsorship deal with BMW Sauber which lasts until the end of 2009.

Proton was once controlled by Petronas but today the oil company owns only seven percent of the business. The major shareholder now is Khazanah Nasional, the investment holding company of the Malaysian government, which is empowered to make strategic investments which would contribute towards nation building.

Proton and Petronas have worked together on a number of projects, notably with engines designed by Sauber Petronas Engineering for Proton road cars and with a three-year racing programme in the British Touring Car Championship with Team Petronas Syntium Proton.

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