Extension for S'pore Grand Prix likely

Extension for S'pore Grand Prix likely

Singapore left it late to sign its current contract with Formula One.

Both parties agreed a five-year extension only one day before the 2012 Singapore Grand Prix, the last race on the previous deal.

But, with the current deal expiring after next year's race, it appears talks might not go down to the wire this time.

The Straits Times understands that discussions are positive and an extension is likely.

Yesterday, Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling, who led some 70 youths from five local voluntary welfare organisations on a tour of the F1 village, would not confirm if a new deal has been agreed.

However, she said: "(Extending the F1 contract) is something we are still deliberating about and I think in due course you will hear more about it.

"It involves a lot of consideration and certainly we will share as soon as we have the details."

She did acknowledge the "multifaceted spin-offs" of hosting F1's only full night race, including tourist receipts, community events, and the prospect of showcasing Singapore as a tourist destination.

The event has attracted more than 300,000 visitors since the inaugural 2008 edition and generates on average $150 million incremental tourism receipts each year.

Ms Low said: "(Hosting an F1 race) has a lot of positive impact - not just for businesses but also for us all as a nation."

A complicating factor, however, could be last week's acquisition of F1 by Liberty Media for US$8 billion (S$10.9 billion).

The takeover saw the appointment of a new F1 chairman in former executive vice-president of 21st Century Fox Chase Carey.

It is understood the new owners have joined in discussions with local organisers.

But two factors tilt the balance in Singapore's favour.

First, a weakening global economy has dampened tourism growth, with the Singapore Tourism Board saying in March that the current climate posed "challenges to Singapore's tourism sector". Tourism spending fell 6.8 per cent to $22 billion last year.

Against this gloomy outlook, the Republic might have more leeway to negotiate an affordable licence fee with rights holder Formula One Administration. The rights fee had been a stumbling block in the previous round of negotiations.

Second, losing what F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone once called the "crown jewel" of F1 could be a public relations own goal for the new owners.

After all, over the years, the Singapore GP has established itself as one of the most-anticipated races on the calendar with its unique blend of on- and off-track entertainment.

International TV audiences for the Singapore race have stayed constant at around 80.7 million, despite the sport's global viewership dropping from 600 million in 2008 to 425 million in 2014.

Despite the multiple turns, narrow streets that prevent overtaking, and the hot and humid climate, drivers have grown fond of racing under the floodlights at the Marina Bay street circuit.

Rising star Max Verstappen of Red Bull called it "one of my favourites", while reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton said he loves to go as fast as he can on the street circuit.

Which is why the talk amid the paddock was: "You can say both F1 and Singapore need each other."

This article was first published on September 17, 2016.
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