Singapore F1: The race goes on

Singapore F1 Grand Prix

No chequered flag for now

It should be welcome news that F1 is here to stay in Singapore until 2017 at least after negotiations with the racing body were finally wrapped up. Our authorities seemed to have left it really late, perhaps as a bargaining play, because it is important for Singapore not to be held to ransom and pay over the odds to host the event. As many will agree, right now F1 needs the country more than the other way round with global audience shrinking over the last few years.

While the agreed hosting fees were not revealed (“A gentleman should never speak about money and last night,” said Bernie Ecclestone), local media has reported them to be in the region of US$45-60m which appears a little on the high side but not excessively so. Running costs are significantly higher. According to ChannelNewsAsia, the government foots 60% of the S$150m annual cost for running the event, or S$90m, whereas this ESPN report puts the number at USD$60m. Running costs is an area the government hopes to improve on as operational efficiencies get tighten up with better experience.

Incremental tourism boost is about S$140-150m yearly, according to Second Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran, so if that is to be believed, the overall sum seems about right on his claim that the event breaks even. The bigger question on everyone’s mind, without doubt, is what exactly has he done with poor old Bernie last night.

There are significant intangible benefits, of course, and it is never more obvious than to be here in the UK watching the race on BBC (admittedly my attention was divided by the unfortunate parallel timing of another sporting event). This is the only time in the year where we can see Singapore being shown for such an extended period on live TV, as I’m sure is the case in many other countries around the world. Looking at the Singapore skyline with the race course fully lit up does bring about a certain wow factor. It is truly a Uniquely Singaporean event, being the first and only night race on the F1 circuit at least for now.

The annual race is also a good chance for Singaporeans to witness up-close top sportsmen battling it out where results really matter, instead of some meaningless off-season football friendlies aim solely at your pockets. So let’s hope that tickets can be kept affordable for the masses.

Hosting major sporting events brings vibrancy to a city and lift the spirits on our otherwise mundane daily lives. Here in London, you feel a certain excitement in the air when Wimbledon tennis comes around every June, making it my favourite time of the year. It was the same with the Olympics. I was a big sceptic of the Olympics amidst fears of overcrowding and broken down trains, but was overwhelmingly converted when it finally arrived. It was impossible not to be won over by the immense positive vibe generated around the whole country.

Hopefully, we could do more to address the concerns of those affected by the F1 race, especially retailers in the area who see a dip in business due to the road closures. As for the inconvenience, it is an unavoidable short term sacrifice for every one affected. Imagine the plight of the residents of Wimbledon who face traffic jams for two full weeks every year. Or the cafe owners along the Champs-Élysées in Paris where the Tour de France finishes every July.

Personally, I would love to see Singapore host an ATP Tennis World Tour 250 series tournament in early January as a warm up event to the Australian Open. With good support from sponsors, cost should be much more manageable than for hosting the F1. After all, companies love bringing their corporate clients to tennis and golf events.

Top players currently play either in the Middle East or in Australia itself for warm up, but many European based players already transit in Singapore en route to the land down under. So with strong commitment to the cause, we can certainly give these rival events a good run for their money. Similar 250 series events are held in Thailand and Malaysia every September to October, so a well promoted tennis tournament held in Singapore would not only not clash with these events but also attract fans from around the region. Just imagine the thrill of having the likes of Federer and Nadal competing on our shores.

With the increased global visibility of Singapore, hopefully there will come a day when we will be known to the world for more than just the Raffles Hotel or the clichéd Singapore Sling.