S'pore GP: Raising the bar every year

Singapore GP's executive director Michael Roche believes F1's night race has carved out its own identity.

SINGAPORE - Therewere no whoops of joy and back-slapping when news filtered through that possible Formula 1 races in New Jersey - fronted by the spectacular skyline of New York - and Bangkok had been scrapped.

On the contrary, Singapore GP executive director, Michael Roche was disappointed over the news, even though some felt races in the two cites would steal some of the thunder away from Singapore's glamorous Grand Prix.

Speaking to The New Paper on Wednesday, Roche insisted competition was always a boost.

"In any business you do, competition is good. It's great to have really good races, that builds the fan base," he said.

"What isn't good is if some cities take it on and don't do a good job. That damages us.

"When this event goes to great cities like New Jersey or Bangkok, it can only be good for the event. It makes it truly global.

"People ask if I'm worried about Abu Dhabi's Grand Prix, but I don't panic or worry. We're not trying to emulate anyone else."

The sixth edition of the F1 SingTel Singapore Grand Prix roars to life from Sept 20 to 22 along Marina Bay.

The night race along the streets of downtown Singapore has become one of the marquee Grands Prix on the annual F1 calendar.

It draws a global television audience of around 360 million every year.

Each time, about 40,000 international visitors descend on the Lion City.

Rock 'n' roll

They leave, not just mesmerised by the skill, speed and daring of Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso on the street circuit, but also rave about the vibrant rock 'n' roll hum under the stars all over the city centre.

In the past, Beyonce, Mariah Carey, Maroon 5 and Linkin Park were some of the acts that have wowed the fans on the sidelines of the race.

This year, Rihanna, The Killers and Tom Jones will be in town.

And, in a first, Singapore GP will have a concert on Monday at the Padang, with Justin Bieber set to thrill and make his fans swoon.

Singapore GP is proud of what the race has become.

Roche, 55, believes Singapore has carved out its own identity.

"The night aspect of the race has been our unique selling point, but consider also the proximity to the city, the access from the MRT stations, and people being able to walk to the track from their hotels - we've got so much going for us," he said.

"The guts of the Government to take on something like this, it was a very bold move. It's given the whole personality of Singapore a big up.

"We don't have the room to stage the Olympics; it wasn't going to be the World Cup, either. And we didn't want just a oneoff event.

"We wanted a global audience to show that we're not this laid back, strict, fuddy- duddy city. This is the new Singapore, and I can't think of another vehicle which could've delivered that like Formula 1."

Officials have been vigilant in keeping the track up to standard over the past few months.

They have relaid the surface, levelled the pit lane, re-engineered turns, and splashed on a fresh coat of paint to liven up the track.

But the race is just one part of the Singapore GP.

Also crucial are the entertainment and hospitality aspects of the three day-event.

The Raffles Paddock Club Suite has been luxuriously refurbished to accommodate more varieties of top-notch food.

Ten thousand hospitality suites have been polished and furnished and 35,000 plates of food by celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten are set to be served.

Singapore's F1 race is as much about entertainment as it is about sport - a fact Roche does not shy from.

"There's no F1 Singapore without the racing; that's foremost. The smell of those cars, the noise and the colour, that's the catalyst. All we do is decorate the Christmas tree with lots of bells and whistles," Roche said.

"We want to give as much bandwidth as possible to the customer experience. We have to expect any patron who is not a massive motor sports fan to come back for three days with their families. So you have to engage them and make it fun.

Inclusive

"It's hard to understand how you can run the same event where tickets go from $38 to $8,500.

"In that sense, we want to be inclusive, and I think it's very important that we don't be elitist, the Singapore Grand Prix is for absolutely everybody."

Preparations for next year's GP do not wait till the day after this year's race. It has, in fact, already begun, with "super early bird tickets" up for sale already.

A breadth of offerings for 2014 is already on the discussion table. Each year, Singapore GP has to come up with new and novel ideas that can work within the confines of the circuit park.

"When every customer gets his tickets, we want him to wonder what this year's design is, and what's new this year," Roche said.

"We have three taskmasters pushing us to that aim. One is a chap in London called Bernie Ecclestone (chief of Formula One Management, the rights holder). The other is Ong Beng Seng (who finances 40 per cent of the race) who will always push the bar up. Third is the Singapore Government.

"They all want the best, and when you give them the best, you have to wonder how you better the best next year.

"But we have got the confidence of these people to try new things. And you have to keep doing that."


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