Night race impresses sport's new owners

The Singapore Grand Prix will be celebrating a landmark 10th edition next year, as talks continue over extending its hosting rights beyond 2017.

While there was no confirmation between Singapore and the Formula One Group over the weekend, Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran said that the new owners - who began their takeover of the business just two weeks ago-are already impressed with the Republic night race.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Abu Dhabi-Singapore joint forum at the Economic Development Board office in Raffles City yesterday, Mr Iswaran added that the owners will need time to understand the sport.

He said: "Things are still in very early stages because the transaction had just been announced and Mr Chase Carey had been in the job for just over a week. This is his first race, so he is also trying to get a good feel of the circumstances.

"I welcome his comment that he's very impressed with the Singapore race. Indeed, he shared with me that he would like all the races to be like this."

Two weeks ago, Liberty Media, an American conglomerate, bought the F1 business from CVC Capital in a deal valued at US$8 billion (S$10.9 billion). Liberty has since appointed Carey as Formula One Group's new chairman.

Said Iswaran: "I think he remarked that Abu Dhabi, Singapore and Monaco had set the benchmark from F1's point of view. And Mr Bernie Ecclestone's (Formula One group chief executive) views on the Singapore race are well known."

Ecclestone had famously labelled the Singapore race as the "crown jewel" of Formula One.

Also giving the race the thumbs-up is Khaldoon Al Mubarak, chairman of the Executive Affairs Authority of Abu Dhabi and of English Premier League football club Manchester City, who led the Abu Dhabi delegation at the forum yesterday.

He said: "It was excellent, it was quite a delightful experience for me. It was a wonderful race, exciting till the end. The organisation was perfect and the hospitality in Singapore is always quite exceptional."

According to Mr Iswaran, there is no definite time frame to conclude the F1 deal.

He said: "It's an early stage in the new configuration of F1, so we have to give them (the new owners) time to settle down and think it through in terms of what they would like to put forward."

With 219,000 spectators at the Marina Bay Street Circuit over the three-day event, this year's Singapore Grand Prix experienced a 15 per cent dip in average attendance, with a slowing global economy contributing to the drop.

Mr Iswaran explained: "It's really more of a reflection of the global environment in terms of uncertainty and so on. Interestingly, the Paddock Club and the suites have done well, they held up. It's more the broad-based areas (where attendances dipped).

"That again suggests that at the premium level, the race continues to have very good traction with interested consumers and fans. It is perhaps with the broader-based level that we have some issues because of the economic cycle.

"For the tourists, interestingly, the proportion of visitors to locals has been fairly strong. In fact, it's been growing over the years, it's been 40-plus per cent.

"We should not draw major conclusions from one year. It's like 2009, when there was a major global financial crisis, there was a major crash but then it went up again quite strongly. So I think we should wait for the economic circumstances to stabilise."

This article was first published on September 20, 2016.
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