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Singapore Grand Prix deal extended for another four years: F1

SINGAPORE — After more than a year of speculation and ambiguity, the future of the Singapore Grand Prix (GP) has finally been resolved, with the Formula One, Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and Singapore GP Pte Ltd jointly announcing on Friday (Sept 15) that the distinctive night race will be held for another four years until 2021.

Red Bull Racing driver Daniel Ricciardo passes turn 22 during the second practice session of the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix on Sept 15, 2017. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

Red Bull Racing driver Daniel Ricciardo passes turn 22 during the second practice session of the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix on Sept 15, 2017. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

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SINGAPORE — After more than a year of speculation and ambiguity, the future of the Singapore Grand Prix (GP) has finally been resolved, with the Formula One, Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and Singapore GP Pte Ltd jointly announcing on Friday (Sept 15) that the distinctive night race will be held for another four years until 2021.

Negotiations to extend the night race had been on-going since last year, but the process was further delayed following the installation of new F1 chairman and chief executive officer Chase Carey in January this year.

Mr Carey succeeded former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone after Liberty Media’s US$8 billion (S$10.8 billion) takeover of the sport.

Speaking to the media about the extension of the Singapore GP, the 63-year-old American said: “This race is a signature Formula 1 race and therefore we are very pleased that it will continue to feature on the calendar for a further four years. The first ever night race in this sport is one of the most thrilling events of the year, taking place against the stunning backdrop of Marina Bay.

"The Singapore Grand Prix, the Singapore Tourism Board and the Singapore Government have all done an excellent job of making this an event that involves the whole city.

“We are looking forward to offering our continued support to make the next four years even more spectacular and exciting.”

According to the authorities, the race on the Marina Bay street circuit has attracted over 450,000 international visitors to the Republic since 2008 and brought in S$1.4 billion in tourism receipts over the last decade.

Highlighting the economic benefits of the race for Singapore, Trade and Industry (Industry) Minister S Iswaran said: “The Singapore GP has generated significant benefits for our economy as well as the F1 franchise. With its global viewership and media coverage, the race has reinforced Singapore’s image as a vibrant and innovative city to a wide international audience.

“It has also created good opportunities for Singaporeans and the local business community.”

Mr Iswaran added that the cost of organising the race has been reduced to about S$135 million per year, down from the previous S$150 million. The government will co-fund 60 per cent of the organising costs.

According to past media reports, the cost of hosting the race is between US$44 million (S$59.2 million) and US$65 million.

There were fears that the allure of the Singapore GP was fading after ticket sales for last year's event fell. Its daily average attendance — 73,000 — was the lowest in nine years, with the overall ticket take-up 15 per cent lower than the average attendance since 2008.

But Singapore GP and STB said on Friday that this year's race has already experienced "a year-to-date 19 percent increase in ticket sales, with the weekend sales still to be included."

It remains to be seen though whether the Singapore Grand Prix will have a new title sponsor as Singapore Airlines' (SIA) deal with the race ends this year.

The chairman of race organiser Singapore GP, Ong Beng Seng, said: “Since 2008 we have enjoyed a close working relationship with Formula 1 and all of its key players. We believe this has been a beneficial partnership for all parties, for our city and for the sport, and we look forward to building on that foundation with F1’s new owners.”

And STB Chief Executive Lionel Yeo added that the race in Singapore has provided an excellent platform for businesses to test bed new lifestyle initiatives and products.

"This has not only created an exciting atmosphere during the race season, but also injected creative concepts and experiences that continue to attract tourists to Singapore all year round,” he said.

Mr Ecclestone also told TODAY that he was happy to hear that the night race would be continuing.

Recalling his efforts to get Singapore to host an F1 race in the first place, the 86-year-old billionaire said: “I am very happy with the Singapore Grand Prix staying on the FIA Formula One World Championship calendar for another four years. 

“It took me for 28 years to get this race to where it is now with a lot of effort and help from Mr Ong Beng Seng along with the Minister, Mr Iswaran, (who was) then the Minister of State at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and more importantly with the enormous support from Mr Lee Kuan Yew.  Without him, it could have never happened in the first place. 

“The promoter has been doing a very good job as there is very little margin to go further each year, but every year they make some advanced improvements to the perfection.

“The most significant element is that I negotiated and convinced Mr Ong to act on having a night race.  This might have turned out to be expensive but they can see the rewards now in return.”

The extension of the Singapore Grand Prix was also welcomed by the F1 drivers that TODAY spoke to.

Said Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo: “I would have been upset if the race wasn't renewed. For me, it's the real night race, it has a real strong place in our calendar.

“My first race here in 2011 was the most physical and unpleasant thing I've ever done, but I've learnt from that, and every year I come back I've really enjoyed the crunch. I've had great memories here, and it's been fun.”

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the most successful driver at the Singapore GP with four wins to his name, echoed Ricciardo’s sentiments, although he admits the race is one of the toughest in the calendar.

“It's not the easiest track to overtake, but maybe I'm good with (driving) in artificial lighting, and that’s why I’ve been successful here,” the German said.

“I like the track, although it's a big challenge as it's the longest race of the season in terms of duration.

“I think it's also the toughest one for focus and's the sort of race you look forward to the whole season, but don't really want to start because you know how difficult it is.

“But it's definitely a very nice race, and I think it's a real classic already even though it's not been around for decades.

“It belongs in the calendar, it looks cool from the outside to see the cars at night, and it’s fun to be driving here.”

Three-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes claimed he “loved” racing at the Marina Bay street circuit, and added: “What is one of the most exciting things is that it’s a night race, the track is so long, there are 23, 24 corners, so it’s incredibly challenging.

“It’s one of the circuits where we lose the most weight, it’s the most physically and mentally demanding circuits we get to race on, plus it’s a great spectacle from the sky at night when it’s lit up.”

Most Singaporeans TODAY spoke to however, were less enthusiastic about the renewal of the race.

Said lawyer Charmaine Neo: “The traffic closures are irritating especially since it's at the heart of town. It's not like in Kuala Lumpur where they hold it at Sepang. I think for Singaporeans at least, it has lost its novelty factor, especially since the organisers aren't doing anything to spice it up. Having said that, my overseas friends seem to like it.”

Muhammad Farid, who attended three editions of the Singapore GP in 2011, 2014 and 2015, says he does not find the experience of watching the race live worth the money.

“I think you get a much more comprehensive and comfortable experience watching the race from home,” the 32-year-old said.

“It’s quite expensive to get tickets for the race as well, and travelling there and back is quite a hassle because of all the road closures and crowds.

“The road closures also cause traffic jams, and it makes it quite confusing to drive around the City Hall area, which is where I work. So from a personal point of view, I didn’t really want this renewal.”

Commenting on TODAY Sports’ Facebook page, a user going by the name of Jeremy Tan said: “Ain't many F1 supporters, businesses around the area suffer and traffic breakdown due to road closure, nothing great to be happy about except four more years of seeing superstars performing.”

Product marketer Yap Meng believes that while the actual race itself is no longer a draw for Singaporeans, the accompanying entertainment and concerts are still a huge draw.

“I still think the race brings in tourism dollars for Singapore and the novelty of it being a night race will still bring in F1 fans from other country,” the 31-year-old said.

“But I think Singaporeans have already outgrown the novelty and I think most locals go to the race nowadays for the music acts rather than the actual race itself.”

Civil servant Glenn Wong however, welcomed the extension of the Singapore GP.

“As a F1 fan, I was not worried that it would not be renewed. With the popular celebrities that come every year, there's never an issue of fans not showing up!” he said.

“So I’m very happy that the F1 will continue to hold a race here…the part that I enjoy most is the smell of the burnt tyres and the sounds emitted from the cars. The experience can be improved by having more eateries around, but overall, I still find it awesome.”

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