F1: Roche's seventh-year itch

F1: Roche's seventh-year itch
Michael Roche, executive director of race organiser Singapore Grand Prix (GP).

By his own admission, Michael Roche has only watched at most 10 minutes of Singapore's Formula 1 night race over the past six years.

Every year he is everywhere along the site - the Grand Prix is held along the streets of downtown Singapore and Marina Bay - from the posh Paddock Club to the noisy Pit Building, and at the various music stages including the Padang, ensuring the food arrives on time and the drinks don't dry up and the pop stars don't suffer a wardrobe malfunction.

Roche (left), executive director of race organisers Singapore GP Pte Ltd, describes his job as "never-ending".

He has been at it since the inaugural race in 2008, and as he prepares once again to welcome Formula's big top to Singapore for the seventh time, Roche's excitement is already building. Speaking to The New Paper ahead of the 2014 Formula 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix from Sept 19 to 21, he said: "I still get emotional about the event every year because it's so momentous.

"You can't be bored of this job (because) it doesn't run like clockwork - there's always something that doesn't fit, or a pop star who's throwing a fit, or the security not letting the food in for some reason.

"And when we swell from 30 people to 9,000 (volunteers), all working in and around the circuit, there is a lot of pride in what we do.

"By the time we get to Friday (the first day of the three-day event), and we have that first beer, we ask ourselves, 'how the heck did we do it." Singapore's Grand Prix under the stars has become one of the marquee races on the annual F1 calendar.

Not only do fans get to see many of the fastest cars in the world battle each other along the 5.073km circuit, over the years they have been entertained by world-class musical acts like Beyonce, Tom Jones and Maroon 5.

It is always a sellout of around 80,000, draws a global television audience of around 360 million every year, and each time, attracts 40,000 international visitors to the Lion City. Tickets for this year's race - Jennifer Lopex, John Legend and Robbie Williams will be performing on the sidelines of the event - have sold beyond 80 per cent and is expected to sell out by this weekend.

Roche, who is also managing director of veteran gig promoters Lushington Entertainments, admitted that a decline in appeal and numbers is always a concern. The mantra is complacency must never set in.

"We have taskmasters who ensure that sort of thing doesn't happen. They can always spot something that's not right," Roche said, referring to property tycoon Ong Beng Seng (who finances 40 per cent of the race) and the Government (which pumps in 60 per cent).

"We must have the drive to bring in a different flavour every year. I've been in events for years now and it always amazes me - how do you sell tickets ranging from $30 to $8,500? "There has to be something for everyone."

LOSSES

The Australian Grand Prix - the first race on the F1 calendar - has struggled with losses over the years. This year's edition incurred a record A$59.97 million ($69.8 million) loss amid soaring costs and declining revenue.

Roche, however, does not foresee the Singapore event heading down the same road.

He said: "This is a big boy's game; it takes a lot of money to stage this event. When you make losses of six per cent, that's a big deal.

"I don't know what (Australia's) government support for the event is, but ours is huge, and we have the Singapore Tourism Board supporting us as well. "We come from a very business angle, via hotels, restaurants and concerts - all to make the Singapore Grand Prix a hub for business. That has been our focus. "So, we've been able to get that high yield on the highest-priced ticket - and that makes a difference."

Where the night race stands six or seven years down the road will naturally depend on where the sport is, Roche added.

But he is confident the event will continue to resonate with the masses, because the Singapore show isn't just about what happens on the track. "Of course, without those fast cars, none of this can take place," Roche said.

"But the reason why people come back every year is that there is nothing else in Singapore like it.

"Whether it's sport or music or a social thing - the Singapore Grand Prix is all about the total experience. It's taken on a life on its own."


This article was first published on September 13, 2014.
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