Saturday 13 June 2020

F1 Singapore Grand Prix 2020 cancelled over COVID-19 restrictions

By Jonathan Wong, Assistant Sports Editor, The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2020

In the biggest blow to the country's sports calendar, this year's Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix has been cancelled, Formula One and race promoters Singapore GP said yesterday.

The announcement on the Sept 20 night race had been widely expected given the severe disruptions from the coronavirus pandemic both locally and internationally.

Singapore GP said it was unable to proceed due to the prohibitions imposed on access and construction of the 5.063km Marina Bay Street Circuit. Works, which normally start in May, have not begun and will not be completed in time for the race in three months.

Other challenges include ongoing restrictions on mass gatherings - last year's race drew a three-day total of 268,000 spectators - and travel due to COVID-19. After all, 40 per cent of the Singapore race attendees are from overseas, while the event also boasts top international music acts that form part of the unique night race experience.

Singapore GP deputy chairman Colin Syn called the decision to cancel the event "difficult" and said the last few months were "extremely challenging on all fronts", but added that the health and safety of all involved are the main priorities.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry and Singapore Tourism Board (STB) fund 60 per cent of the $135 million race costs each year, with Singapore GP footing the rest.

The race weekend contributes about $130 million annually in tourism receipts.

The race cancellation follows the axing of other sporting events here like golf's HSBC Women's World Championship, the Singapore Badminton Open and football's International Champions Cup.

The Republic is still in its first phase of reopening after the circuit breaker. Sports facilities remain closed but are expected to reopen in the second phase, which could start before the end of this month.

The HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens, which drew 57,000 fans last year, was moved from April to October. It is the next big sports event in doubt, given that it takes place three weeks after the Singapore race.

SIA, which has backed the Singapore race since 2014 and last year extended its title sponsorship until next year, told The Straits Times it supported the decision but did not comment on the implications of the cancellation on its contract.

The airline's partnership for the first two years was worth between $10 million and $15 million annually, and reportedly $10 million a year for the next two years. The value of the 2018-2019 term and the present one is not known.

Besides the Singapore race, F1 said it will pull the plug for races in Japan and Azerbaijan, bringing the number of races called off this year to seven after Australia, Monaco, France and the Netherlands were dropped earlier.

The season was originally scheduled to flag off in Melbourne on March 15 but is set to make a belated start with closed-door races in Austria on July 5 and 12. Such "ghost races" - without fans - will be the norm for the eight races that have been pencilled in so far.

But Singapore GP had said last month that it is "not feasible to conduct the race behind closed doors". Experts such as Associate Professor Prem Shamdasani of the National University of Singapore Business School's marketing department also noted that without the off-track highlights and international fans, the multiplier benefits to the economy and global publicity will not materialise for Singapore.

ST understands F1 will not impose any financial penalties for the cancellation of the Singapore race.

On how the cancellation will affect the current contract - it ends after next year's race - and if it will be carried over into 2022, STB's director of sports Ong Ling Lee said it is open to exploring options and will work with various stakeholders "to prepare for different eventualities".

Scrapping of Formula One race disappoints fans and those in related sectors
Disappointment at cancellation of Singapore GP but many also understand 'safety first' rationale
By David Lee, The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2020

The local racing community, as well as related sectors, reacted with disappointment but also understanding, after news of the coronavirus-enforced cancellation of this year's Singapore Grand Prix broke yesterday.

Professional racer Yuey Tan, 38, who competed in the Porsche Carrera Cup at the 2014 and 2015 Singapore Grands Prix, was disappointed but said "racing is nothing more than entertainment".

He added: "I have two children and I love them very much. If this decision is going to keep people safer, I am really good with that and I can't wait for next year's race."

The first 12 editions between 2008 and 2019 welcomed more than 550,000 unique international visitors, with the race generating over $1.5 billion in incremental tourism receipts.

Hotels that line the Marina Bay Street Circuit are usually fully booked during F1 weekends while restaurants, clubs and pubs have also benefited.

Ms Cinn Tan, chief sales and marketing officer, Pan Pacific Hotels Group, said it was "disappointed" with the cancellation but she called it "a prudent and sensible decision". She added: "The COVID-19 situation is still uncertain, rendering the ability for international travels ambiguous."

The group had occupancy in the "high 90s" during the F1 period as the hotels were also busy with corporate and convention events as well as enjoying brisk business in food and beverage.

She added that across its eight-strong portfolio, which includes the trackside Pan Pacific Singapore, the group "will see a loss of close to 3,000 room nights during the F1 week" but insisted that it "remains nimble and astute with a comprehensive recovery plan".

Singapore Nightlife Business Association president Joseph Ong, 48, said the night race typically helps to bump up revenues for night businesses by about 20 per cent, with outlets at tourist hot spots Clarke Quay and 1-Altitude seeing a spike of around 35 per cent.

He added: "It is a bit too early to say if it would have a big impact on our industry as we have not gone into phase two post-circuit breaker."

However, Mr Ong said that even if the race had been given the green light to proceed, health and safety protocols designed to stem the spread of COVID-19 would make social distancing hard to implement.

There was some hope of the race proceeding after it was reported that Singapore Tourism Board (STB) had between February and April put up at least four tenders for the set-up of viewing facilities and ancillary activities.

But these were similar to practices of the past years and STB's director of sports Ong Ling Lee said yesterday: "There were only two race-related tenders awarded this year. No compensation is required for the two tenderers; therefore, there are no additional costs incurred by the Government."

For fans who had already bought tickets, race promoters Singapore GP will give automatic refunds within 30 business days, or a rollover option to next year's event. It said that those who bought tickets through authorised ticketing partners should contact them for refunds.

This will be scant consolation for F1 supporters, who said they will miss the buzz from watching the drama unfold up close with a crowd, as well as the supporting events and activities that have made the Singapore Grand Prix a marquee event in world sport.

Red Bull fan Zaki Azmi, 25, who has been to six Singapore races, added: "The event has one of the most vibrant atmospheres in the world, but the fans' health is more important than the race itself, so I feel this is the right decision."

Mr Thomas Wong, 35, is one fan who relishes the event's heady mix of racing and star-studded concerts.

Said the Ferrari fan: "I'm not a regular racegoer, but the Singapore race usually brings in top international performers like Bon Jovi and Red Hot Chili Peppers, acts we don't get to watch live otherwise. I hope the extravaganza will come back with a bang next year."

Mr Tan is not worried that the cancellation will adversely affect the Republic's standing in the motorsports community.

He said: "The Singapore race is quite different from the other Asian and European circuits. There is a different type of culture and format here. It is a street circuit and night race, which sets it apart from the rest."

Additional reporting by Arvinash Ravindran

Absence of Singapore Grand Prix this year a double whammy to economy, say analysts
By David Lee, The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2020

The cancellation of this year's Singapore Grand Prix will be a double whammy to the local economy that is already hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, analysts told The Straits Times yesterday.

Citing the decline in inbound tourists from a monthly average of more than a million to fewer than a thousand in April, and the resulting dip in hotel occupancy rates, CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun predicted that the country's economy will contract by 5 per cent year on year in the third quarter, after also taking into account the absence of the Sept 20 Singapore race.

He said: "September tends to bring in the lowest number of tourists, and that is also why we have the F1 race in that month.

"Ideally, with the COVID-19 situation, these relevant sectors would have liked the night race to continue as scheduled because of the boost it typically brings, and anything more than the current state would already be a bonus."

However, he and Singapore Management University associate professor of marketing Hannah Chang both agreed it was not just a matter of money. She said: "Even if the race still took place and attracted a large number of international tourists (assuming that there is no travel restriction), there is substantial risk and associated cost involved with a possible resurgence of COVID-19."

The Government, through the Ministry of Trade and Industry and Singapore Tourism Board, funds 60 per cent of the annual $135 million it costs to organise the street race, with race promoters Singapore GP footing the rest.

The first 12 editions between 2008 and 2019 saw more than 550,000 unique foreign visitors, contributing over $1.5 billion in tourism receipts. Last year's race drew a three-day total of 268,000 spectators - the second-highest after the 300,000 total in 2008.

Singapore also gains because the live broadcast of the two-hour race beams iconic images of the city skyline to over 930 million viewers.

Mr James Walton, head of Deloitte South-east Asia's sports business group, said the businesses which will suffer due to the race cancellation "tend to be areas around ticketing, security, catering, where for some of them, this is one of the largest events of the year".

The luxury sector will also be affected because "the tourists coming in for the F1 tend to be high spenders, and we do see a boost in terms of luxury goods shopping... The high-end restaurants will also be hit hard."

Other notable victims will be the trackside hotels that enjoy very high occupancy at that time.

As the event "also provides a lot of seasonal employment opportunities", those who act as waiters, circuit hosts and the like will also lose out on the chance to earn income, he said.

With 7 races called off, F1 faces reduced calendar
The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2020

LONDON • Azerbaijan, Singapore and Japan have joined the list of Formula One grands prix cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but organisers are confident they can pull off a reduced calendar of 15 to 18 races this season.

This was supposed to have been a landmark year for the motor sport as it had planned a record 22 races before its schedule was shredded by the pandemic.

Seven races have now been axed - four, including the showcase Monaco Grand Prix, had been called off earlier - so F1 is likely to expand its initial eight-race European calendar to incorporate more races around the continent.

It would be an ideal workaround amid the strict travel restrictions imposed by countries worldwide to deal with the spread of the coronavirus, as minimal flying will be required.

A second race in Italy - the Italian Grand Prix is scheduled for Sept 6 - has been mooted for Mugello or Imola, once home of the San Marino Grand Prix.

Autosport yesterday reported that governing body FIA has renewed Imola's Grade 1 licence, which officially confirms the track is ready to host a grand prix.

"With the renewal of the licence, we are in the condition to host an F1 Grand Prix, having all the standards requested by the FIA," said circuit boss Uberto Selvatico Estense. "We hope such a dream comes true with the teamwork of the institutions and the region."

According to Autosport, Sept 13 has been put forth as the ideal date for a possible Imola race, as it forms the last leg of a triple-header following the Belgian and Italian grands prix.

Russia on Thursday indicated it was prepared to host two races at Sochi, which is already due to host the Russian Grand Prix on Sept 27.

A statement by race promoters Rosgonki read: "Sochi's infrastructure and the experience of the promoter company allow us to consider the possibility of holding an F1 double-header."

Germany's Hockenheim, which had been in talks with F1 as a replacement for Silverstone before the British circuit confirmed its availability, and Portugal's Algarve are other possibilities.

On the avenues it can explore, an F1 statement read: "We have made significant progress with existing and new promoters on the revised calendar, and have been particularly encouraged by the interest that has been shown by new venues."

F1 added that it expected to publish a final calendar before travelling to Austria for the season opener on July 5.


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