F1: In wake of Bianchi crash, Malaysian GP may shift to earlier start time

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The boss of the Sepang International Circuit, home to Formula One’s Malaysian Grand Prix, says he is seeking an earlier start time of the event in order to avoid the area’s tropical storms.

The possibility comes after last October’s devastating accident at a rainy Suzuka involving Marussia’s Jules Bianchi, who suffered severe head injuries when he skidded off-course and hit a recovery crane. The French driver remains hospitalized.

In the FIA’s panel report on the accident, one of the recommendations listed was that the start of a Grand Prix should not be less than four hours before either sunset or dusk (except in the cases of night-time races).

With that in mind, Sepang boss Razlan Razali has told Reuters that he and F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone have discussed shifting the start of the Malaysian GP from 4 p.m. to 3 p.m. local time.

“Mr Ecclestone mentioned that because of the Suzuka incident, the FIA has some time limit,” Razali said. “So he is reviewing to move the start to the original time, maybe this year.

“For us, it’s good. It’s a safer time bracket…so now people can come in for lunch, watch the race and about five o’clock, they can go back [home]. He [Ecclestone] mentioned the possibility [of an earlier start]. We said, ‘If you want to go back to 3 p.m., we fully support it.'”

The Malaysian GP has had issues with weather over the years. Downpours have impacted several race weekends at Sepang, and even when conditions are dry, the race is usually one of the hottest on the F1 calendar.

In addition to commenting on his own race – which he expects will soon have a multi-year extension – Razali also talked about how he has come around to the quieter, V-6 hybrid engines that took hold in F1 last year.

He mentioned that he had been worried after Australian Grand Prix organizers complained loudly about the lack of noise from the new motors. But when F1 came to Sepang last year, Razlan noticed something: The families in the grandstands were more able to enjoy the race.

“I can remember in the past where a dad would put headphones on the kid and hold it, or a kid would be too scared and start crying, wanting to go home,” he said. “I think it attracts a new breed of fan base now. And that’s what you want.”