- Razlan Razali, former chief executive of Sepang International Circuit, recently took over as team principal of Petronas Yamaha SRT
- Razlan says the ‘two-wheel economies’ of Southeast Asia hold huge growth potential for motorcycle racing
- The team is prepared for a worst-case scenario of no races in 2020
Taking control of a MotoGP team would be a daunting prospect at the best of times. Starting that role in the middle of a global pandemic ramps up the challenge inordinately.
The Petronas Yamaha Sepang Racing Team’s (Petronas Yamaha SRT) team principal, Razlan Razali, did just that, leaving his previously concurrent position as chief executive of Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit on April 8 to focus entirely on developing the Malaysia-based MotoGP team.
Prior to taking up his team management position, Razlan had shown his management and leadership mettle as chief executive of Sepang International Circuit. He introduced a number of changes to the circuit layout and sought to maximise the venue’s commercial usage. He opened the track for corporate events and tours for visitors, and oversaw the installation of floodlights in 2018 which opened up new racing and revenue opportunities. He also instigated a development programme to help young Malaysian riders such as Moto2 rider Hahizh Syahrin break into the sport’s top tier.
Razlan this week told SportBusiness about the challenges he faces in steering Petronas Yamaha SRT through the Covid-19 disruption, and ensuring it is well-placed to build on its strong 2019 season once, and if, racing resumes.
With no racing planned until at least July, MotoGP teams face a substantial drop in income.
Last month, Dorna Sports, MotoGP’s commercial rights-holder, issued advance payments to independent teams – that is, teams who are not managed or funded by a motorbike manufacturer – to help them through the crisis. Spanish sports newspaper AS reported that the teams would get €4.5m ($4.8m), split amongst them.
“The advance payments by Dorna certainly provide great financial assistance to the team during this unusual and difficult time,” Razlan says. “We were sincerely thankful for this initiative to ensure all teams are able to be sustained during this pandemic.
“It shows they care and value the teams…We also realise how difficult it is for Dorna to support us, considering there is no racing to date.”
Razlan says the teams must also do their part by conducting their operations in a prudent manner during the lockdown. Under his stewardship, Petronas Yamaha SRT has planned for a worst-case scenario of no races at all during 2020, although they are hopeful they will be back on track in July or August.
The team has embarked on a series of austerity measures, including reducing all team members’ salaries from the month of May onwards by up to 50 per cent. The need for further measures will be monitored on a monthly basis.
“If we are sure there are no races, further financial measures will be undertaken. It is not possible to not incur any expenses if there is no racing. We have determined our minimum monthly operating expenditures and, yes, we are still ‘burning’ even if there is no racing,” Razlan says.
The team and its sponsors are working sympathetically, giving each other flexibility as they manage their individual financial challenges.
“We understood their positions and financial situation during this time. In times like this all parties must support each other where they can,” Razlan says.
“We offered flexibility and the understanding is as and when the championship restarts, slowly we will come back to normality. The important thing is to keep constant communication and engagement with all sponsors.”
Petronas Yamaha SRT is the only MotoGP team based in Southeast Asia, a region that is often referred to as having “two-wheel economies” – where two-wheeled vehicles, as opposed to four-wheeled ones, are the main modes of transport. Indeed, the region – which is home to more than 650m people and burgeoning, aspirational middle classes – is the world’s biggest market for two-wheeled vehicles.
Razlan says the Malaysian MotoGP has in the last 10 years laid solid foundations for motorcycle sport in the region. With 95,000 fans attending the inaugural MotoGP Grand Prix in Thailand last year, the appetite for the sport is clear. Razlan says the region’s potential is still to be fully realised.
He believes, for example, there is a larger market of local sponsors that Petronas Yamaha SRT can tap into. “At the moment, we have yet to leverage this fully for regional sponsorship and support. While we do have a number of Asia-based sponsors, such as our title partner Petronas, RCB and KYT, … the rest are European sponsors.”
At the same time, Razlan is careful to note his gratitude for the European sponsors, “Who believed in this project, in this team from the first time we presented our plans and concept.”
He continues: “As a team we have created added interest and growth. We can be a platform for Southeast Asian companies to be associated with the team and its riders to enhance their brands through sponsorships and branding. At the end of the day, it must be translated to sales and we have the strong ability to do that.”
MotoGP has been reported to be in discussions about adding more races in the region, in Vietnam and Indonesia.
“We have seen Thailand making the step up to being a promoter in the last two years, and Indonesia hopes to come on board in 2021-22. There are also talks of Vietnam potentially becoming part of the championship,” Razlan says.
Last season, Petronas Yamaha SRT made strong progress on the track. Razlan thinks the team can do better and that more revenue will follow.
“Our ambition is to be a successful second team to the factory Yamaha team. Our aspiration includes winning on track and off track as well. We have a long-term plan and we are extremely excited. We are also patient, not forgetting 2020 is only our second year.
“We want to win and prove that a team like ours, with our development of young riders, can be a winning team as well as the works teams. Of course, the financial rewards will come but that is not the main focus. It is a bonus…a great bonus,” he adds.
No small amount of regional pride is also at stake for Razlan and Petronas Yamaha SRT. “It is a great honour and I am proud to lead this team,” he says. “I represent my country Malaysia and set an example for all young Malaysians and Asians. It proves that we Asians have the ability, the competency and the will to be just as good as our European counterparts.”