Singapore, F1 cancel night race 2020 over Covid-19 restrictions

Singapore GP said it was unable to proceed with the race due to the prohibitions imposed. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - This year's Formula One Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix has been cancelled, F1 and race promoters Singapore GP said on Friday (June 12).

The announcement regarding the Sept 20 event, one of the highlights of the local sporting calendar, had been widely expected, given the severe disruptions created by the coronavirus pandemic both locally and internationally.

Singapore GP said it was unable to proceed with the race due to the prohibitions imposed on access and construction of the event venue. Such works around the 5.063km Marina Bay Street Circuit, which normally start in May, have not commenced and will not be completed in time for the race in three months.

It also noted other challenges including ongoing mass gathering and worldwide travel restrictions due to Covid-19. After all, 40 per cent of the Singapore race's spectators are from overseas while the race weekend also boasts top international music acts that form part of the unique night race experience.

Singapore GP deputy chairman Colin Syn added: "The last few months have been extremely challenging on all fronts, and we have now made this difficult decision which Formula One and our stakeholders accept we have had to take.

"Ultimately, the health and safety of our contractors and their workers, spectators, Formula One crew, staff and volunteer marshals is our number one priority and we thank everyone for their patience and unwavering support thus far."

Singapore GP said it will provide ticket holders with automatic refunds within 30 business days, or a rollover option to next year's event. Those who bought tickets through authorised ticketing partners should contact them for refunds.

SIA has backed the Singapore race since 2014 and last year extended its title sponsorship until 2021, the same year the country's hosting rights deal with F1 ends.

The airline's partnership for the first two years was believed to be worth between $10 million and $15 million annually, and reportedly $10 million a year for the next two years. The value of the 2018-2019 term, as well as the present one, is not known.

An SIA spokesman said on Friday: "Singapore Airlines understands and supports the decision to cancel the 2020 edition of the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. We hope to welcome the iconic night race back to Singapore in the future."

Besides the Singapore race, F1 also announced on Friday the axing of races in Japan and Azerbaijan, bringing the total number of races called off this year to seven after Australia, Monaco, France and the Netherlands pulled the plug earlier this season.

It leaves the sport unable to stage what was supposed to be a record 22 races in 22 cities this year, though it is well in line to hold at least eight, which is the minimum number for a championship to be contested, after recently announcing its revised calendar for Europe.

The season was originally scheduled to flag off in Melbourne on March 15 but is set to make a belated start with back-to-back and closed-door races in Austria on July 5 and 12.

The series then moves to Hungary (July 19), England (Aug 2 and 9), Spain (Aug 16), Belgium (Aug 30) and Italy (Sept 6).

Doubts over other grand prixs in Brazil, Mexico and the United States have led F1 owners Liberty Media to consider adding more European races to its roster.

F1 motorsports managing director Ross Brawn told the Formula One website on Thursday: "There is a contingency to have an extended European season with another one or two races if needed.

"I think Bahrain and Abu Dhabi will be the backstop of the season, from what we can see at the moment. That gives us 10. We'll find at least five or six good races in the middle."

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China and Vietnam are reportedly on track to host races in October and November after they were unable to proceed with their original dates in April.

Liberty has been working with various European organisers to hold these "ghost races" - without fans - in an attempt to get the season started and satisfy broadcast obligations.

But Singapore GP had ruled out such an arrangement and told The Straits Times in May that it is "not feasible to conduct the race behind closed doors".

While Singapore GP did not elaborate why, experts such as associate professor Prem Shamdasani from the National University of Singapore Business School's marketing department felt it did not make financial and marketing sense for the Republic.

Without the off-track highlights and international fans, the multiplier benefits to the economy and global publicity will not materialise, he explained.

"Given the low and uncertain return on investment for the F1 race this year, cancelling it would be a prudent decision," he said.

Last year's race drew a three-day total of 268,000 spectators - the second-highest after the 300,000 total at the 2008 debut.

More than 490,000 foreign visitors have attended the night race over its first 11 editions between 2008 and 2018, contributing more than $1.4 billion in tourism receipts and benefiting local businesses, including retail, hospitality and food and beverage.

Singapore Tourism Board's director of sports Ong Ling Lee said in Friday's media release: "Since 2008, the F1 race has generated benefits for both Singapore and the F1 franchise, with many local businesses actively involved in race preparations and operations.

"We take pride in our track record of hosting the first and only F1 night street race for the past 12 years, and we look forward to its return next year."

Singapore's current deal with Liberty Media ends after next year's race.

James Walton, head of Deloitte South-east Asia's sports business group, noted that the cancellation of this year's race is unlikely to result in F1 imposing financial penalties.

"The moves by F1 so far have been to keep race owners, organisers and teams on its side, so I'd be surprised if F1 took such an aggressive line and risked potential backlash from the public," he told ST earlier this month.

"Imagine a host city decides to cancel a race for health and safety reasons and F1 slaps them with a fine. It would be a huge disaster from a PR and branding perspective."

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