SINGAPORE: As the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix enters its 10th edition this weekend, the fate of the marquee event in the local sporting calendar hangs in the balance.
With this year's event set to be the last under the current contract, questions remain about its uncertain future in Singapore, even as new F1 CEO Chase Carey said on Wednesday (Sep 13) that renewal talks are still ongoing.
Traffic restrictions during race weekends and businesses being disrupted are among the reasons why some have spoken out against extending the event.
But as it continues to bring in revenue, with ticket sales trending ahead of 2016 figures so far according to the Singapore Tourism Board, is there a case to renew the contract?
A RACE WORTH PURSUING?
Motorsport and business experts that Channel NewsAsia spoke to highlighted the intangible benefits that Formula 1 brings to the table for Singapore beyond tourism revenue as it showcases Singapore on the world stage.
“No other F1 track cranks up the hype as high as Singapore does,” said local go-kart champion Jeremy Lee. “There are concerts every night and parties everywhere.”
“In my opinion, not even Monaco does it like we do,” added Lee, who is also a banker. “For Monaco, it’s a race people attend in order to be seen. Here, people come because it’s a night race where we also have great entertainment acts performing.”
According to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), the Singapore Grand Prix has contributed significantly to Singapore's tourism sector.
More than 350,000 international visitors have visited the country over the past eight races, generating an average of about S$150 million incremental tourism receipts each year, with foreign visitors making up more than 40 per cent of the unique spectators.
In addition, local small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have been "actively involved" in race preparations and operations such as circuit set-up, ticketing and security services.
Said Jean Ng, director of sports at STB's Experience Development Group: "About 90 per cent of the race organisation is sub-contracted annually to these SMEs.
“Over the years, these companies ... built capabilities, gained exposure and established new business opportunities as a result of being involved in race-related work, and some have expanded their business overseas,” said Ng.
SINGAPORE AS AN ELITE DESTINATION
“I think in terms of tourism, the Singapore F1 does indeed put Singapore in the limelight,” said Shirley Tee who is from Nanyang Polytechnic’s School of Business Management.
“It shows Singapore as a prestigious destination that appeals to the luxury market, and that is the intangible value the event brings to the table,” she explained.
Ms Tee believes that the Singapore Grand Prix attracts the high-rollers more than the masses. “As for the tourists who come to F1, the focus of their expenditure would be surrounding the race, including the pre- and post-event entertainment,” she said.
“Retail wise, it is high-end shopping that benefits due to how the Singapore Grand Prix is being marketed. The clientele they attract is more for the luxury market and not so much the masses.”
“Whether or not F1 pulls out of Singapore will boil down to it being more of a business decision.”
"But if the cost is found to be too prohibitive, and if there has been substantive losses to any parties, then it is something to consider as well,” she added.
A PLATFORM FOR LOCAL MOTORSPORTS
Local race driver Andrew Tang highlighted the importance of having the Singapore Grand Prix as a platform for top local racers to develop their careers.
“I definitely think that local race drivers get more visibility during the period F1 is in Singapore, especially those involved in the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia and the Ferrari Challenge,” said the 22-year-old, who made his Singapore GP debut last year in the Porsche Carerra Cup Asia.
“We have three Singaporeans in total taking part across the other race events, and everyone can see that Singaporeans can be pretty good at motorsports.”
The pro race driver, however, understood the grievances of the general public once the F1 circus arrives in town.
“I think there will always be mixed reviews. Personally I would love to have the Grand Prix here every year if possible as it’s an amazing atmosphere which is a lot of fun,” said Tang.
“But I also get the perspective of those not involved in motorsport, who experience the hassle of traffic jams, the noise and the inconvenience. I understand why people get annoyed,” he added.
"There are two sides to it, but I think it’s a great event for Singapore as it’s only one week a year that we are inconvenienced."
While local motorsports will still survive should F1 decide to pull out, Tang believes it would be a big set-back for the local racing community. “I don’t think it will kill our motorsports if F1 were to pull out from Singapore, and it’s not as if we really have a big racing culture anyway,” he said.
“I think it’s more of the fact that we’d lose a big platform to build awareness. If we lose Formula 1, no one would really know what’s happening in local motorsports as well given that go-karting isn’t broadcast here in Singapore.”
For young Singaporeans, however, it would represent a dent to their motorsports dreams, according to Tang. “I remember when I was young, and my family and I started watching Formula 1. From there I developed a love for the sport, and that’s where it started for me.”
“I hope that will be the case for young kids out there when they see the F1 cars going around in real-life and fall in love with motorsports the way I did,” said Tang.
“Formula 1 is always considered the pinnacle of motorsports, and to have it in our country is positive because of the way it inspires.”
ABSENCE WOULD BE FELT
Local F1 supporter Daphne Soh is among the fans who would feel disappointed should the event be pulled from Singapore.
“It has become an annual routine for me and my friends to attend the race every year. It will be a big loss,” said the 29-year-old who supports Ferrari.
“With Malaysia no longer hosting F1, the nearest event to go to would be either Australia or even Shanghai," added Soh, who has also been to other race venues.
"What I like about Singapore is its accessibility and convenience."