By M. Zulkifli
When the first-ever Malaysian F1 Grand Prix rolled around, I was doing some freelance work and wrote the cover story for the now-defunct KLIA magazine. And for that, I got a press pass for the actual event.
I still remember the newness of everything and the amazing buzz as the F1 circus finally arrived. The season itself had been a dramatic one. Ferrari's Michael Schumacher broke his leg in an incident at the British Grand Prix and his teammate Eddie Irvine was promoted to the no 1 spot.
Coming to Malaysia, McLaren's Mika Hakkinen was in a great position to win the drivers' championship. The stage was all set in Sepang, the season's penultimate round.
Not surprisingly, a lot of the attention went to Schumacher who came back from the injury for the last two races. I remember the press always chasing and swarming all around the man. And tried as could, I just couldn't get a clean photo with him using my Kodak automatic camera.
But I did get one with Mika (my favourite driver of all time) and a few others. Also got to sit down to speak to the likes of the legendary Sir Jackie Stewart.
It was awesome seeing how well-drilled the F1 machinery was. THIS was how you run an international standard event.
The race itself ended in controversy when both Ferraris that had finished 1-2 were first disqualified for a technical infringement but were then reinstated.
Since that inaugural season, I've been to at least 50% of the races. As a huge sports and F1 fan, having one of the most-watched sporting events in our own backyard has been a cool source of pride. Even when overseas, it's a great icebreaker when I meet other F1 fans.
The world has seen some of the most scintillating racing scenes at The World's Hottest Race, and yes, we've had our fair share of low turnouts and that infamous washout in 2009 when the race was red-flagged and couldn't be restarted because there wasn't enough daylight (someone thought it'd be great to have a "twilight race", sheesh).
No, I haven't forgotten about the chaotic parking "system" that went on for years and the muddy consequence every time it rained.
But all good things must come to an end. I personally feel more could be done to ensure it's a profitable business venture, but it's all moot now. It will be weird not to see "Malaysia" on the F1 calendar starting next year, but hey, maybe one day we'll have someone smart enough to figure all this all and bring back the race to Malaysia.
Till then, it's been a blast, Formula One. Terima kasih!