The smooth conclusion of the Singapore Grand Prix notwithstanding, hard questions need to be asked about the future of the event, which will be marking a landmark 10th edition next year. Whether Singapore's hosting rights for the Formula One race should be extended beyond 2017 is the subject of talks, which coincide with the recent announcement of Liberty Media's takeover of the sport from its previous owners. The new owners, who would have their own view of Singapore's place in F1's scheme of things, need time to determine exactly what that place is. In a similar vein, Singapore will have to weigh the costs and benefits of hosting an annual race that has to vie for global attention alongside other mega events.
Unfortunately, F1 appears to be following the law of diminishing returns. This year witnessed a 15 per cent dip in average attendance, although that could be attributed to a slowing global economy. The race's attractiveness has held up at the premium level but the broader base is susceptible to downturns, especially if prolonged. The franchise cost is not negligible and host nations bear the risks of external factors - such as the regional haze from forest fires over which Singapore has no control.
F1's owners are not liable for the economic consequences of these pitfalls. Singaporeans would then ask whether it is worth investing in an event that disrupts normal life, if the returns are not commensurate with the effort that is put in every year.
Certainly, an event cannot be taken lightly when it has attracted more than 300,000 visitors since its inaugural 2008 edition, and has generated on average $150 million in incremental tourism receipts each year. Yet, the larger question is how important those figures are for an economy whose success is built on the productive capacity of its people, and not just on their administrative ability to organise major sporting events that go off smoothly on the whole. When the aim is to compete with countries many times larger in size, one's focus must be sharp.
There is no doubt F1 has helped to plant Singapore firmly on the racing map of the world. Its reputation as the Monaco of the East derives from the Monaco Grand Prix, advertised as a race that "stands alone, almost distinct from the sport from which it was born". In the same way, Singapore's cachet must continue to add value to the overall sport and offer wide and enduring benefits to the nation as a whole. Big events help to brand a city globally as long as their appeal remains undiminished. But if audiences become jaded, outcomes are predictable when a single team dominates, and costs pile up, the equation can change dramatically. Hence, a hard-nosed approach must be taken when weighing intangible returns like international visibility and real benefits to the economy when negotiations begin on the race's future.