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Malaysia poised to sign new F1 hosting deal

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SEPANG, Malaysia (AP) Malaysian Grand Prix organizers are poised to sign a new three-year contract to host Formula One at the Sepang International Circuit, with a final agreement expected next month.

SIC chairman Mokhzani Tun Mahathir told The Associated Press on Saturday that the final details of the contract were being formalized with Formula One's commercial chief Bernie Ecclestone but there was will on both sides to extend its place on the calendar through 2018.

''Between Bernie and us we have an understanding of what the contract entails, but when it turns into legal language, there's a couple of things we want to make sure the understanding is correct,'' Mokhzani said.

''We have made an understanding to our stakeholders that we extend by three years and that doesn't seem to be an issue. It's just to make sure the legal language on those documents is correct - that's where we're at.''

He said making the Malaysian Grand Prix into a night race, through the installation of expensive lighting, was still being discussed, though he said a three-year deal may not be long enough to warrant the expense.

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''We've been looking at lights for quite a number of years now,'' Mokhzani said. ''The associated costs would be quite considerable, so if we're going to extend for just three years, it may or may not pay for itself. A Formula One lighting system is not going to be cheap. Standards and requirements are very high. It's still something we are debating.''

Malaysia's place in the calendar was also under discussion. Originally a late-season event when it first hosted F1 in 1999, the event is now an early-season race. A switch back to later in the year could open the possibility of Malaysia coming a week before or after the race in neighboring Singapore, which would boost attendances and tourist numbers.

''The racing calendar is decided sometime in September, when the World Motorsports Council sits, and that sometimes gives us a problem with lead time to promote the event,'' Mokhzani said.'' Twinning with Singapore is not a bad idea, it's just a matter of how Bernie wants to move the F1 show around the world, logistically.''

The proposed new Malaysia deal comes at a time when Germany has lost its race and other traditional races are at threat. The European events do not receive as much government backing as those in Asia and the Middle East.

''Malaysia, and some of the other newer F1 hosts, look at it from a lot more angles compared to where the traditional races had been,'' Mokhzani said. ''We have always looked at it as a platform to promote Malaysia, and attract foreign tourists into Malaysia. So there's still a reason for the government to say yes to hosting Formula One, as long as all the prerequisites are there and the internal investment is still justifiable.''