Every March, Australian Formula One fans flock to Albert Park from right around the country to witness the world’s best racers take part in the Australian Grand Prix. It’s an annual event that attracts people from not only across Australia, but from around the World as well, and it’s an amazing spectacle of all things not only Formula One, but motor racing as well.
But as most of the fans will know, as the chequered flag is waved to conclude the race on the Sunday, there is a bit of a sad feeling in the stomach knowing that it will be another twelve months until you hear the roar of the F1 cars in the flesh once again.
Gone is the glamour, gone is the action and gone are the smells that make March such an amazing time for Australian motor sport fans, and all that usually awaits is going back to your ordinary life and then watching the remaining races on TV.
Of course another option to keep those F1 taste buds satisfied for at least another week. The Malaysian Grand Prix is generally held the week following the Australian round, and while it may sound expensive to go to a Grand Prix overseas, you would be surprised at how cheap it actually is.
In 2012, fellow Qualifying Lap co-host Samuel McCrossen and I ventured north to Kuala Lumpur for the second round of the F1 Championship, and once again in 2013 we will be doing the same as journalists for RichardsF1.com. And it’s something that we highly recommend to any F1 fan out there who wants to experience the sport on a completely different level.
We flew the only way Caterham and Tony Fernandes would want us to, with AirAsia, direct to Kuala Lumpur from Melbourne on the Tuesday following the race. The air ticket is very cheap (the fare came in at around $500 each) and eight hours later you are in Kuala Lumpur.
We stayed at the Hotel Sentral, which was within walking distance of the Sentral station in Kuala Lumpur. All in all, the train system in Kuala Lumpur works a treat, and an KLIA Express train trip will get you from the airport to Sentral in a little over 30 minutes and will set you back about 60 Ringgit (AUD $20) for a one-way fare.
With the Sepang International Circuit located right next to the airport – but with little in the way of nearby accommodation – most people stay in the city for the Grand Prix.
Despite the distance between the city and the circuit, the travel options are many and convenient. The easiest option is to return to the airport on the KLIA Express and then use one of the regular shuttle buses from the airport to the track.
Tickets to the Grand Prix are easily the cheapest of any event on the calendar. Two-day in the covered hill stand come in at around 120 Ringit (AUD $40) – Friday is free admission.
While it’s an easy shuttle ride between the airport and circuit on Friday and Saturday due to poor crowd numbers, you will need to allow yourself extra time for the commute on Sunday, when the routes to the circuit will quickly become traffic-logged.
The low crowd numbers – particularly on Friday – mean you could well be one of a handful of people in your grandstand for the whole day. The visibility from all of the stands are excellent, and will often afford you great views of many sections of the circuit. The low attendance means you can hop from grandstand to grandstand – particularly on Friday – and it’s a good opportunity to take in as many viewing spots as you can.
Be warned, however, that getting from one section of the circuit to the other is not always an easy feat. Given many of the grandstands are located on the outside of the circuit layout, it’s a fair hike between them and not particularly comfortable in Malaysia’s tropical climate.
There are little in the way of support category races on offer during the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend, so plan for big periods of inactivity throughout the event program. These are good times to explore the area and grab a bite to eat.
Decent food options are generally only available near the main grandstands that flank the circuit’s two long straights. Meals are very cheap and will generally match the quality you would get from most Grand Prix circuit pop-up food merchants – that is to say, not haute cuisine, but at least edible.
All in all it is a unique experience, and with airfares, accommodation, Grand Prix tickets and transport to and from the circuit you can do it for just under AUD $1,000, making it a value for money experience.
As a whole, Malaysia is a very cheap destination. With a good exchange rate, food and shopping is very inexpensive, and you should find yourself paying 20-25% of what you could expect to pay elsewhere. With many great tourist options on your doorstep as well, it’s a great opportunity to take a couple of extra days to explore KL and its surrounds at very little cost.