KUALA LUMPUR- Malaysia will host the most sombre race in its 15-year Formula One history this weekend as the mystifying MH370 plane tragedy overshadows an incident-packed start to the season.
With aggrieved champions Red Bull this week issuing a veiled threat to quit, and new rules prompting an immediate shift in the pecking order, Formula One has rarely been so eventful.
But the initial focus will be off the track as Malaysia mourns the 239 people aboard ill-fated Flight MH370, with planes and ships scouring the treacherous Indian Ocean for wreckage.
The Sepang racetrack is geographically close to Kuala Lumpur’s international airport, where the Malaysia Airlines flight took off on March 8 and vanished from radar screens shortly afterwards.
And its proximity to the unfolding drama was illustrated when more than 30 relatives of missing passengers had to shift to other hotels to make way for F1-related bookings made in advance.
A major F1-related concert featuring Christina Aguilera at Kuala Lumpur’s Twin Towers has been cancelled as a mark of respect, and organisers may also call off an air show at the track.
Sepang CEO Razlan Razali told AFP that despite the tragedy, attendance numbers looked set to be on track, with about 30 percent of race-day tickets already sold.
But Ram Sithambaram, owner of an F1 outlet at the airport, said sales of tickets and merchandise had been poor for the race, first staged in 1999.
“In the past one week we sold only about 50 tickets. In comparison last year around the same period we sold about 1,000 tickets,” he said.
“We are paying a high price for the MH370 tragedy… we hope for a miracle that ticket sales will surge in the next few days.”
Drivers will pay their own tributes, with Mercedes’ early championship leader Nico Rosberg tweeting: “all my prayers go to friends & families of the passengers on # MH370”.