F1 in Singapore: Fans feel it's ‘almost normal again’ after event's 2-year absence, but some businesses less enthused
SINGAPORE — Throngs of people turned up at the Marina Bay street circuit on Friday (Sept 30), the first day of the three-day Singapore Grand Prix, which is back for its 13th edition after a two-year hiatus.
- Several people in Marina Bay told TODAY they were excited to be at the Singapore Grand Prix
- Tourists and Singaporeans alike were at the circuit to watch the race cars zip about or to attend concerts
- Others with no tickets milled about around the area hoping to catch glimpses of the F1 drivers or of the action on the track
- However, not everyone was thrilled by the return of the F1 night race
- Several businesses around the Marina Bay area said that it has been quiet in terms of earnings
SINGAPORE — Throngs of people turned up at the Marina Bay street circuit on Friday (Sept 30), the first day of the three-day Singapore Grand Prix, which is back for its 13th edition after a two-year hiatus. Some were dressed in the jerseys or caps of their favourite Formula One (F1) team, ready to watch the race-car drivers warm up and do practice runs around the circuit, while some were there to catch the music acts.
It was humid but there was a buoyancy in the air not unlike a festival village, where everyone was gathering to have a good time and soak in the atmosphere of an international sporting event.
Around the start of the first practice session at 6pm, a long line of people were snaking from one of the event’s gates around the War Memorial Park along Beach Road to the entrance of the nearby Raffles City shopping centre.
Within the queue, friends were seen chatting animatedly or taking pictures with each other, and there were parents who told their children to be patient as they queued to enter.
All the while, the race cars could be heard screaming past as the F1 drivers negotiated the circuit's notoriously tight turns and bumpy surface.
At the nearby hotels such as Swissotel The Stamford or JW Marriott Hotel Singapore South Beach, people were seen dotting the balconies that offered them commanding views of parts of the circuit.
The shadow of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic loomed in some parts, when people were spotted wearing their face masks in the crowds and signs were put up reminding event-goers that they needed to be fully vaccinated.
Yet, the excitement was palpable.
As Mrs Amelie Mentha, a 42-year-old Swiss who has been in Singapore for eight years on a dependent's pass, put it: “It’s nice to see so many people outside again. It almost feels like we are back to normal (from the pandemic).”
For Mr Suhaini Ahmad, a 37-year-old engineer, it gave him an opportunity to fulfil a promise to his two sons, aged eight and seven, to take them to the races.
“I promised I would take them to Sepang, but then Covid happened,” the Singaporean said, referring to the race track at Selangor, Malaysia.
Mr Suhaini has attended the Singapore Grand Prix a “couple of times” in the past, but it was the first for the two boys.
The younger Al-din said that he was excited because he finally gets to watch the inspiration for his favourite movie, Turbo, in person. Turbo is a children’s animation film about a speed-obsessed snail who aspires to become the world's greatest racer.
As for who his favourite F1 driver was, the boy uttered the name of Belgian-Dutch race driver Max Verstappen of Red Bull racing team when his father whispered it in his ear.
Not all the children who showed up were there for the race.
Mrs Mentha’s daughter Calie was going for the night’s musical line-up, which included one of her favourite acts, DJ Marshmello.
“Music is my life,” the 11-year-old proclaimed, adding that if she had her way, she would prefer that South Korea’s all-girl group Blackpink be included in this year’s list of performers.
Elsewhere around the circuit, even those who did not have a ticket to enter the event area turned up to find spots to catch a glimpse of Friday’s practice rounds.
Teenager Lavanya Singh, a 15-year-old Australian who was seen walking around the gate near the Helix Bridge, said that she got tickets for the weekend, but not Friday.
“As a pure F1 fan, you have to go for all three days," she said, adding that she came to Singapore to visit her father who works here.
When asked why she was not watching it from home instead, she said that “it’s not the same thing” as the live experience of listening to the cars at the track itself.
Watching a livestream of the action from his mobile phone along the Helix Bridge was Mr Ramkumar Murugan. The 20-year-old said that he could not afford the tickets — which ranged from S$98 to nearly S$10,000 — so he was thinking of scouting out ideal spots outside of the circuit to catch glimpses of the track.
The Institute of Technical Education student, who described himself as a recent convert to the motorsport, said that he has been catching almost every race this season on television.
“I was randomly scrolling my Instagram account, when an F1 video appeared, which got me hyped to watch the race (in person),” he said.
Earlier in the day at around 3pm, a crowd of at least 50 people had gathered along a sheltered walkway between the Marina Square and Millenia Walk malls, near a side door of the Ritz-Carlton hotel.
When TODAY spoke to one of them, 16-year-old Farhan Masoon, he said that he and his friends had heard talk that F1 drivers Valtteri Bottas of Alfa Romeo and Charles Leclerc of Ferrari were staying at the hotel and they were hoping to catch a glimpse of them.
During the 10-odd minutes that TODAY stood with them, neither of the drivers appeared, though a passer-by shouted playfully that the driver they were looking for was his companion.
At the time of publication of this article, race organiser Singapore GP was unable to provide an estimate of the number of people who entered the circuit grounds on Friday, though it will release a final figure on Sunday.
A BOOM FOR SOME BUSINESSES, NOT FOR OTHERS
Outside of the circuit grounds, the high-profile sports event did not bring much cheer to some businesses around the Marina Bay area.
On Wednesday when TODAY visited Marina Square, Millenia Walk and other retail spaces in the area, several shops, restaurants and service providers said that sales had dropped by as much as half.
It was the first day of road closures to facilitate the setting up of the street circuit then and some customers were cancelling bookings and appointments to avoid going into the area.
On Friday, even though more tourists have emerged or flown in to watch the races, eight retail shops, restaurants and service providers across three malls — Raffles City, Marina Square and Millenia Walk — said that the surge in human traffic did not lead to higher patronage or sales.
For example, Mr Denver Bautista, a manager at the Kenny Rogers restaurant branch at Marina Square, said that Friday’s lunch-time earnings were down by more than half of the typical S$2,000 it would bring in on a regular weekday.
Over at Millenia Walk, similar accounts were given.
Mr Julian Koh, co-founder of the cafe-and-furniture store Commune, said that he and his partners had decided to give their employees a break by temporarily closing the store’s furniture arm.
Mr Koh is expecting patronage to be low, even after the F1 event is over, because time is needed to clear barricades and structures around the race track. These works, he said, is likely to keep his customers — mainly office workers — away.
Even at malls where there were more people, such as Raffles City — which is linked to an MRT station — they may not be there to shop.
Ms Bella Castro, a store manager at Fresh cosmetics shop, was surprised that there was no increase in patrons for the day.
Still, there were shops that told TODAY of an increase in sales.
Skechers shoe shop at Marina Square, for instance, would have typically served around more than 100 customers by 5pm on a regular day.
A staff member, who declined to be named because she was not authorised to speak to the media, said that on Friday, the shop had seen about 90 customers by 5pm, but the takings were almost equivalent to those from 400 customers.
A majority of the customers told the shop that they were from Australia and were here to catch the F1 race, the staff member added.
There were, of course, establishments that saw exceptional patronage, in part due to the race.
Mr Salinder Singh, general manager of Wine Universe restaurant at Millenia Walk, said that apart from serving customers who had arrived to watch the grand prix and were staying at the adjacent Conrad Centennial hotel, he was still serving customers who had extended their stay after the recent Forbes Global CEO Conference, for instance.
Mr Singh estimated that patronage has improved by at least 20 per cent, and the restaurant has made the decision to open on Sunday — the only day in the week that it is usually closed.
Over at Quinn’s The Irish Tavern in Millenia Walk as well, it was all hands on deck for Ms Junie Goh, the bar’s manager and her lean team of two full-time employees.
Ms Goh said that in the past two days, the bar tripled its usual lunch-time sales. She added that walk-in customers would have found it hard to find a seat.
“If the race wasn’t here, this place would be empty.”