Sunday, 17 September 2017

Singapore to host Formula 1 World Championship until 2021

Singapore to host F1 race for four more years
Talks with new F1 owners were protracted as Republic assessed value of contract extension
By Wang Meng Meng, The Straits Times, 16 Sep 2017

The show will go on for the Formula One Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix, after the deal to stage the motor-racing event was extended for four more years to 2021.

Now into its 10th edition, the Singapore event got a fresh lease of life just before the final race weekend of the previous contract.

Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran announced the contract extension at the F1 Pit Building at the Marina Bay Street Circuit. He cited three reasons for the protracted negotiations with new F1 owners Liberty Media, which were wrapped up only yesterday.

"First, with the changes in the ownership and management of F1, serious negotiations could commence only in February," said Mr Iswaran.

"Second, we wanted to understand the new management's vision and plans for F1, the importance and role accorded to the Singapore race, whether this was aligned with our own objectives.

"Third, we wanted to thoroughly evaluate the medium-term prospects for F1 and the value a term extension could bring to Singapore. I am glad that all parties have been able to agree on commercial terms for the extension."

The contract extension is for four years instead of five as in the previous extension signed in 2012, as the Singapore organisers would like to see the future direction of the sport after the expiry of the Concorde Agreement in 2020. The agreement is a contract between motorsports world governing body FIA, the F1 teams and the Formula One Group promotion companies, which determines how teams compete in the sport, and how television revenue and prize money will be shared.

F1 chairman and chief executive Chase Carey, who spearheaded Liberty's US$8 billion (S$10.8 billion) takeover of the racing series last September, was effusive in his praise for the series' only full night race.

The American said: "The Singapore Grand Prix, the Singapore Tourism Board and the Singapore Government have all done an excellent job of making this an event that involves the whole city."

Mr Iswaran also revealed that, including this year's race, Singapore has hosted more than 450,000 international visitors, who have contributed about $1.4 billion in incremental tourism receipts.

The annual cost of hosting the race was estimated to be around $150 million, although Mr Iswaran said costs had come down by about $15 million a year to $135 million.

Mr Anthony Indaimo, a partner at law firm Withers KhattarWong who has assisted in acquisitions of F1 teams, called the deal "super exciting" news.

"The Singapore race remains the premier event in Asia, and its combination of music, food, business and sport is a template we like to see," he said. "After its heavy investment, Liberty certainly is a willing and open partner. The teams certainly are excited as there is a feeling that the sport hasn't reached its full potential. The focus is on the future."

Though there is a lingering perception the event is accessible only to the upper crust, Mr Iswaran pointed to outreach efforts to schools and opportunities for polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education students to be involved as race volunteers.

"We have made a concerted effort to reach out, working in partnership with Formula One and with Singapore GP," he said. "This will be an important part of our effort to make sure the race remains a very inclusive one, and also a very exciting one for everybody."

F1 successes go beyond the track
By Francis Tan and James Walton, Published The Straits Times, 16 Sep 2017

It was announced yesterday that Singapore will continue to host the Formula One Grand Prix for four years after the current contract ends this year.

Amid the negotiations over a renewal, some have cast attention on the weak attendance last year. The three-day event in 2016 saw the lowest ticket sales to date, with an average of 73,000 spectators a day - down 15 per cent from the inaugural year.

However, we should be careful not to overstate the significance of last year's poor attendance. Prior to 2016, spectator numbers in the three years before - from 2013 to 2015 - were the highest in the Singapore Grand Prix's history since 2008. Since the first night race was held here in 2008 till 2015, it has attracted some 350,000 international visitors, representing 40 per cent of all spectators. These visitors have brought in about $150 million in tourist dollars each year, with the exception being 2009 due to the global financial crisis.

Being an F1 host has other benefits.

First, the Singapore Grand Prix has a direct spillover effect for a wide range of industries - from tourism-related sectors such as food and beverage, hospitality and retail to auxiliary services such as logistics and event management. The night race brings more consumers to the event area and creates demand for services. Small and medium-sized enterprises are sub-contractors for about 90 per cent of the race organisation works each year, from circuit set-up to ticketing and security services.

Second, the annual nature of the event enables firms to learn through experience and to innovate. For instance, over several years of supplying catering equipment to the event, kitchen solutions firm Steward's Solution has come up with new temporary dining structures and reconfigured container kitchens, providing fresh dining concepts for race patrons each year. Service companies have also grown better at collaborating with each other. Players in the entertainment industry have had a chance to test-bed new concepts.

The improvement is also clear from the perspective of the general public. From 12 days of road closure for the first race in 2008, the process has now been halved to just six days. If Singapore continues to host the F1, service providers will be able to continue reinventing and refining their processes to be more efficient and effective.

Third, the Singapore Grand Prix has a strong brand effect for the country, reinforcing Singapore's presence and reputation on the world stage. Anecdotally, when businessmen in China hear that their interlocutor is from Singapore, a common first reaction is: "Oh, you have that F1 race!"

Fourth, the Singapore Grand Prix is not just for sports fans. Its wide appeal is on two levels, namely the accessibility of F1 racing as a sport and the multifaceted nature of the event itself. Tennis or golf tournaments, for example, appeal more to enthusiasts who are interested in the sport itself. However, the F1 race is a spectator sport for all, regardless of whether they know the teams, drivers or even the rules.

In Singapore, there have also been numerous community events organised throughout the year to engage the public and youth, including school visits and behind-the-scenes tours. The Grand Prix is a three-day mega event with festivities ranging from concerts featuring international artists to Michelin-starred feasts.

Fifth, the Singapore Grand Prix party provides a perfect opportunity for firms, such as banks, to invite and host their top clients. These networking gatherings could lead to business deals being generated or closed.

Singapore needs to keep its line-up of events fresh to attract different groups of people. For example, the United States already boasts a drone racing league. Drone racing in sports stadiums here could appeal to spectators, local and foreign alike.

An active and busy event calendar throughout the year would not only help Singapore to attract tourists but also reduces the impact of seasonality on businesses, such as hotels' occupancy and room rates.

With the F1 contract now renewed, the Republic will continue to benefit from the undeniable advantages of hosting such mega events.

Francis Tan is an economist at UOB, James Walton is the sports business group leader at Deloitte Singapore & South-east Asia.

F1 extension brings cheer - and some concerns
Hotels happy but F&B outlets, retailers in circuit lament drop in business on race days
By Rachel Au-Yong and Ho Cai Jun, The Straits Times, 16 Sep 2017

For hotels, news that the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix has been extended another four years meant more race weekend sell-outs.

But for the other businesses, including those in the food and beverage sector, it meant more years of dealing with road blocks and regular clientele staying away.

This has led experts to urge such businesses to do more to capitalise on the glitzy event, which has seen hotels enjoying brisk business during race weekends since 2008.

The Fullerton Hotel is fully booked this weekend, thanks to its location at the hairpin turn of the race, "which affords guests an exhilarating view", said general manager Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale.

Its sister hotel, The Fullerton Bay Hotel, is also fully booked due to its proximity to the race circuit.

Mr Viterale said the extension was welcome news, as the race, concerts and after-race parties have "made Singapore a sought-after destination to visit each September - be it for race enthusiasts or party-goers wishing to soak in the vibrant atmosphere in the heart of the city".

The track-side Pan Pacific Singapore is more than 95 per cent full this weekend, said general manager Gino Tan. "The F1 race is one of the major events and revenue contributors for the year, and we look forward to hosting the race teams and race enthusiasts in the coming years," he said, adding that as part of the festivities, staff dress up in themed uniforms and decorations are put up in the lobby.

Even hotels out of the circuit enjoy a spillover effect. Royal Plaza on Scotts, for instance, is 95 per cent full this weekend. Its general manager Patrick Fiat said the extension would boost tourism, and that the impact of the race "extends beyond the race dates as it places Singapore's name at the top of mind for both business and leisure travellers".

But retailers and food and beverage operators appeared to be neutral about the extension, with some finding it hard to trade the rise in footfall with the inconveniences that come with organising a large-scale race.

Florist Wadia Lau said So Blossom in CityLink Mall suffers a 15 per cent to 20 per cent drop in profit during F1 weekends. "We can't do deliveries because of the road blocks, so we have to get another branch to do so. Some suppliers also find it difficult to come over, so they don't at all," she said. "I hope the authorities consider opening up some small roads so that businesses experience fewer disruptions."

At Mad for Garlic, a restaurant in out-of-the-loop Suntec City, business plunges by about 35 per cent every F1 weekend. "We will just go on as per normal - we already have a 40 per cent discount for the month of September to encourage more people to come in," said assistant manager Nana, who goes by one name.

Marketing and retail lecturer Amos Tan said retailers must evolve to tap the F1 crowd. "We have to ask ourselves if we are competitive in terms of pricing compared to retailers in other cities, and whether we are offering a unique shopping experience," he said. "Right now, we have cookie-cutter malls, where customer service isn't the best."

F1 fans delighted in news of the extension. British mechanical engineer Franco Melina, 55, who is attending his fourth F1 race here this year, said he was "super chuffed" about the extension. "It can't go wrong, it is the only night race. I had been hoping for this news."

Now to make it a grand prix for all Singaporeans
By Wang Meng Meng, The Straits Times, 16 Sep 2017

The Formula One Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix has been a marriage of a financial hub with the pinnacle of motorsports.

Both Singapore and F1 renewed their vows, signing a four-year extension yesterday, to make this year's milestone 10th edition an occasion to clink champagne flutes.

F1 chairman and chief executive Chase Carey is certainly a big fan of the world's only full night race, calling it Asia's "signature event", while former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone had trumpeted it as the sport's "crown jewel".

While the teams, drivers, officials and fans speak positively, this ribbon of tarmac bathed in floodlights has also been a glittering addition to the Singapore economy.

According to Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran, the race has attracted more than 450,000 international visitors since its 2008 inception, generating about $1.4 billion in incremental tourism receipts.

Over the airwaves, the iconic Marina Bay skyline has been beamed worldwide to a global audience of 780 million. And 90 per cent of the race preparations, such as circuit set-up, catering, ticketing and security services, involve local small and medium-sized enterprises - giving local companies and brands more opportunities and exposure.

But while businessmen clinched deals, tourism got a boost and Singapore's image as a global city was enhanced, it is arguable that the grand prix has yet to touch the heart and mind of the average Singaporean.

Admission prices remain steep for many. The cheapest ticket for the masses on race day, for a Zone 4 walkabout, is currently $198, although the Grand Prix is made accessible to the general public with early bird tickets from as low as $38.

Merchandise is costly, too. If you want to wear an official Lewis Hamilton T-shirt, that can set you back $70 at the merchandise booths around the circuit. A Ferrari cap, which helps you blend in with the fans, costs $50.

There have been attempts to bring roadshows to the heartland, where residents are given opportunities to race in simulators and participate in other F1 activities.

But come grand prix week, there is little buzz from Jurong to Pasir Ris, unlike that generated by Joseph Schooling's gold medal at the Rio Olympics or the good old Malaysia Cup football days .

While the world eagerly awaits the Singapore Grand Prix weekend, tenants at Suntec City and Marina Square, as well as other retailers around the circuit, lament that crowds stay away due to the road closures.

These retailers pay a premium to locate their stores in the city and, ironically, are hit in the pocket on the weekend when the masses descend upon the Marina Bay Street Circuit, only to detour around the shops.

This is ironic, given that the malls remain fully open and accessible by public transport, and some (Raffles City, Suntec City), even by car despite the road closures. Perhaps more can be done to inform the public that these malls remain open or more can be done to help these retailers.

But make no mistake, the Singapore Grand Prix has truly put this little red dot on the world map. Singapore's waterfront is now recognisable globally, the event is a great blend of sports action, lifestyle and business, and there are now four more races to look forward to.

The next step now is to truly leave a legacy behind and not let it be remembered as a 14-year pitstop enjoyed only by the affluent.

It is perhaps time to put the Singapore in Singapore Grand Prix.

Ariana Grande drives the crowds wild at F1 gig; Sebastian Vettel takes pole
On the track, Ferrari ace Vettel roars into pole position and declares 'I love this track!'
By Anjali Raguraman and Wang Meng Meng, The Sunday Times, 17 Sep 2017

While the track belonged to Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel last night, the stage was ruled by pop diva Ariana Grande.

Her first outing in Singapore was an impressive showing of both her flawless vocal chops and her ability to dance in potentially ankle-breaking sky-high heels.

The 24-year-old played to a crowd of over 50,000 at the Padang Stage last night for the 2017 Formula One Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix.

The short, one-hour set showcased the best of Grande and her four-octave soprano.

She never broke a sweat, despite the sultry weather and even managed to hold a tune while cycling on an exercise bicycle on the Nicki Minaj collaboration, Side To Side.

Her catalogue of pop R&B tunes like One Last Time and Bang Bang worked for the diverse crowd, especially the "cat ear"-wearing tweens. Backed by a full band, a small string section and a troupe of male dancers, there was plenty of spectacle to enthral her fans.

But it was not just the hardcore Arianators who were blown away by her impressive runs and breathy declarations of "Singapore, let me hear you". Bookending her set with Be Alright and Dangerous Woman, she reeled in the audience with sexy over-the shoulder glances and hair flips aplenty.

Also on top of his game was Vettel, who will, after grabbing pole last night, launch his Ferrari from the top of the grid in tonight's race, with the weight of history giving a turbo boost to his world title dreams.

By design of the tight and meandering track, or simply by sheer coincidence, seven of the previous nine pole sitters have gone on to win at the Marina Bay Street Circuit.

Also, the last two races in Singapore have seen drivers that lined up first, second and third on the grid finish in exactly the same order (Vettel/Daniel Ricciardo/Kimi Raikkonen in 2015 and Nico Rosberg/Ricciardo/Lewis Hamilton last year).

A four-time world champion but with the last of those consecutive crowns coming in 2013, the familiar one-fingered celebration had been a rare sight since Vettel's move to Ferrari in 2015. But there he was, wagging that right index finger after pole was secured in a new lap record of 1 min 39.491sec.

Victory for the German today would mean he has won half of the race's 10 editions.

It is no wonder Vettel bordered on delirium on the team radio, letting out a barrage of whoops and screams after securing pole. He said: "I love this track. The car was tricky but it was getting better and better as the night progressed."

Red Bull's Max Verstappen will start second (1:39.814), missing out on becoming F1's first teenage pole sitter, with teammate Ricciardo (1:39.840) just behind him.

A win in Singapore tonight will go some way to help the German (235 points) slingshot past Lewis Hamilton (238 points) in the drivers' championship with six races left.

Hamilton, who was racing in a faster Mercedes that had less downforce to stick to the 23 turns of the circuit, qualified in fifth (1:40.126).

Ferrari's Raikkonen, another former world champion, is under no illusion how tough the Marina Bay Street Circuit is. The Finn said: "It's always going to be difficult, especially in places like this. It's a tricky circuit, lots of corners, lots of places that are easy to make mistakes but it is our job to take it to the limit.

"Sometimes you get away with it, sometimes you don't. A lot of things can happen in this race, with safety cars and stuff. We need some luck sometimes."

Lewis Hamilton wins wet and wild Singapore Grand Prix, increases championship lead to 28 points
By Lester Wong, The Straits Times, 17 Sep 2017

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton struck a decisive blow in his championship battle with Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel on Sunday (Sept 17), as he took the honours in Formula One's first wet night race.

The Briton, starting in fifth, was left thanking his lucky stars after a wet and wild start that saw the exit of three of the top four starters on the opening lap - Ferrari's Vettel (pole) and Kimi Raikkonen (4th), and Red Bull's Max Verstappen (2nd) - for only the fourth time in Formula One history.

Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, who finished second, was the only top four driver to see out the opening lap.

Hamilton's Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas was third.

Raikkonen got off to a great start, coming up to the left of Verstappen, who was himself trying to overtake Vettel on his right. Vettel moved to cut Verstappen off, appearing not to have realised the start his team-mate had, with the luckless Verstappen ending up as the meat between a Ferrari sandwich before the two Ferraris also collided.

Vettel attempted to keep going for a while after the collision but a second incident, when he spun out upon hitting some fluid, ended his race for good.

Asked about what happened, the German replied: "I don't know. I didn't see that much. I saw Max and then the next thing I see is Kimi hitting the side of me and Max somewhere there.

"It is what it is and we move on. It doesn't change much. Obviously we are not in the race, that's a pity, we can't show the pace that we have but I am sure there will be more opportunities."

Verstappen, who suffered a seventh retirement in 14 races this season, offered a different interpretation: "I think mainly Sebastian starting squeezing me and maybe he didn't see Kimi on the left but that's no excuse. If you are fighting for the title you shouldn't take those risks."

The result sees Hamilton extend his lead at the top of the standings to 28 points over Vettel heading into the Malaysian Grand Prix in October, as the season enters its final six races.

After his seventh win of the year, Hamilton is top with 263 points. Vettel is second on 235 and Bottas is third on 212.

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