Formula One: Discussions ongoing for Singapore race, but not feasible for it to be a closed-door event, say promoters

The Singapore Formula One Grand Prix race on Sept 22, 2019.
The Singapore Formula One Grand Prix race on Sept 22, 2019.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - While the Formula One season is on track to make its belated flag-off in July with closed-door races in Austria and England, such an option is not possible for the Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix.

Promoters Singapore GP told The Straits Times on Saturday (May 16) that as the Sept 20 race is held at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, it is "not feasible to conduct the race behind closed doors".

The spokesman added: "The calendar for the 2020 season is currently being finalised and Singapore GP has been maintaining an open dialogue with F1, the Singapore Government and our stakeholders during this time, to assess different possibilities.

"The top priority remains the well-being and safety of our fans, volunteers, and all Singaporeans."

The clock is also ticking to get the 5.063km, 23-turn layout ready.

The spokesman noted there is considerable temporary infrastructure to be set up, such as stands for fans as well as the lighting for the night race, and "sufficient lead time to complete the construction of the various components must be factored in [and] works typically require three months to complete, and this will depend on whether such activities are permitted under the prevailing government regulations".

The Singapore Government on Friday said building contractors can gradually resume operations from June 2, starting with critical projects such as MRT works, deep tunnelling of sewerage systems and residential renovation projects that were suspended, but they must put in place new safe distancing requirements.

All projects will need the Building and Construction Authority's approval before they can restart.

For James Walton, head of Deloitte South-east Asia's sports business group, whether the Republic stages the Grand Prix is a question of money.

He said: "If you can get the hosting costs waived, which is estimated to be around $30 million for Singapore, and any other contribution from Formula One towards hosting costs, and find a way to maintain safe distancing and keep the area secure, it could still just about make sense."

 
 
 
 

However, besides the question of costs, the sport is also bedevilled by travel and quarantine restrictions worldwide, and what sort of guidelines will be in place in September for Singapore and the rest of the world remains unclear but it is likely this year's race, should it proceed, will be markedly different from the previous 12 editions.

Another key area yet to be resolved is the entertainment slate, a critical component of the Singapore race's unique identity in the series. Last year's top acts included Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Gwen Stefani but this year's line-up has not been announced.

The Singapore GP spokesman said: "As the global Covid-19 situation is evolving, discussions with artiste managers are still ongoing. The entertainment line-up will depend on travel restrictions and government regulations in the artistes' home countries, as well as in Singapore."

Last year's race, won by Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, drew a three-day total of 268,000 spectators - the second-highest after the 300,000 total in 2008. Overseas visitors generally comprise 40 per cent of race-goers here.

On Friday, Singapore's National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said that while discussions about lifting travel restrictions between Singapore and other countries in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic are underway, it is too early to say with which countries these curbs will first be relaxed.

He added the easing of restrictions must be done in a safe and controlled manner.

In his May Day speech, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had indicated that critical sectors will open up ahead of entertainment outlets and large-scale sporting events which attract crowds, or involve close contact with other people.

Such factors have understandably cast a cloud over the Singapore race.

 
 
 

This campaign had been due to begin in Australia in March but so far, the first 10 races have been either cancelled or postponed. Several online reports have this week suggested F1 has drawn up a new, provisional schedule that does not include the Singapore race, whose hosting rights deal with F1 ends next year.

The first 11 editions (2008-2018) of the night race brought in over $1.4 billion in tourism receipts and more than 490,000 unique international visitors.

In 2017, then Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran said the cost of hosting the race had decreased by about $15 million to $135 million a year.