Back in 2014, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin popularised the phrase “conscious uncoupling” to describe their separation after a decade of marriage to one another. It was a novel concept but it wasn’t going to last and earlier this year, they finalised their divorce. Speaking of novel concepts that may not last, it seems Singapore’s love story with the Formula 1 Night Race may soon have an “conscious uncoupling” of our own.
In a recent interview, F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone seemed to imply that Singapore didn’t seem keen on continuing with the Singapore Grand Prix, saying we “Singapore was suddenly more than just an airport to fly to or from somewhere. Now they believe they have reached their goal and they do not want a Grand Prix anymore”.
But that was just a misquote, right? Singapore can’t do without F1, can it?
While the outspoken Ecclestone has a reputation for giving media interviews during negotiations, he nonetheless had to clarify his comments about Singapore the day after. Sounding almost sheepish, he told The Straits Times, “My words were taken in a funny way” and “We want to extend long-term”.
It would seem, based on those quotes alone, that the real negotiating power to keep the Singapore GP on the F1 calendar is on our side. So why would Singapore play hard-to-get with F1? We look at the arguments for and against keeping the Night Race on our calendar:
1. FOR: The global exposure is unprecedented
The agreement for the Singapore GP was originally a five-year deal that began in 2008, and in 2012, it was renewed for another five years, ending in 2017, which is why negotiations to extend the Night Race are taking place now. We are Formula 1’s first night race, and only the second race in South-East Asia, after the Sepang race in KL. Without a doubt, the past decade has led to a significant amount of exposure for Singapore on the global stage, as we proved again and again that we were capable of hosting such a massive event.
Singapore has hosted other major sporting events, including the WTA Finals, the World Rugby Sevens series, the SEA Games and the inaugural Youth Olympic Games. Yet no other sporting event comes close to the level of recognition that the Singapore Grand Prix commands.
2. FOR: Reaffirms Singapore as a glamorous destination
It’s hard to imagine that back in 2008, the event’s entertainment headliners were UK DJ Carl Cox and The Wailers. With due respect to the musical legends, they were quickly overshadowed by each new year’s headliners, boasting both quantity and quality. It’s hard to say which year was best, with megastars like Mariah Carey, Shakira, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, The Killers, and most recently, Kylie Minogue leading a whole slew of musical acts. My money would have to be on this year’s line-up, though, with Queen + Adam Lambert, Imagine Dragons, Bastille and Pentatonix leading a whole host of musical talents.
It’s clear that the Singapore GP weekend is a great excuse to bring in some of music’s biggest names. And this has perhaps led to Singapore being able to attract big stars to hold concerts here outside of the F1 weekend – with Taylor Swift, Jay Chou, Madonna and soon, Coldplay, having massive concerts here. Which brings me to my next point:
3. AGAINST: The novelty of the Singapore Night Race has surely worn off
Back in 2008, during the first race, it was quite a thrill to see our glittering Singapore skyline against the night sky being broadcast worldwide. But in more recent years, the race itself seems to have taken a back seat to the spectacle of the weekend in general.
Much has been said about the dwindling attendance, especially the 15 percent drop in attendance this year compared to last year. But what’s not as obvious is that there was actually a spike in attendance last year. Yet, it was ultimately an anomaly, and we have seen a gradual decline over the past 9 years.
This is because the circuit itself hasn’t changed very much in 10 years, despite being one of the slowest races in the F1 season and having the infamous record of a safety car appearance in every race to date. Thus, the race itself can be a little light on overtaking, and often the driver who has won pole position to win the race. This has happened in 7 out of 9 races.
That said, this year’s season has been a two-horse battle between the two Mercedes drivers, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. Perhaps that says more for the state of Formula One at the moment than a criticism of the Singapore GP itself.
4. AGAINST: The sheer annoying standstill it brings Singapore to
Let’s talk about the cost of the Grand Prix to the country first. When asked by Mrs Lina Chiam to justify renewing the F1 race for another 5 years back in 2013, then-Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran revealed that the estimated cost is at about S$150 million. According to a BBC report in 2014, the only races that cost more are Abu Dhabi and Malaysia. For that reason, Malaysia has recently announced that they’re not going to renew their hosting rights after next year.
With that in mind, it’s understandable that the benefits don’t seem as lucrative compared to the cost. Mr Iswaran also revealed back in 2013 that we earn S$150 million more in tourism. Whatever benefits we get from the race, they’re not in dollars and cents.
Which makes us wonder if the logistical nightmare of organising the race, of closing major roads in our city centre, and of drastically affecting businesses in the area for that entire weekend are truly worthwhile. Why have such a major event in the heart of Singapore, when most Singaporeans seem to be more turned off by it?
5. MAYBE: What are the real benefits of having the Singapore GP?
With two points for and two points against the Singapore Grand Prix, we must ask ourselves what we’ll lose out if we choose not to have F1 return to our shores. Without a marquee event of this level in our country, it will be difficult to find another that promises as much media attention on a global stage. We are too small a country to host bigger sporting events, after all.
However, even keeping the Singapore GP isn’t an easy sell, since it means having to reinvent ourselves to stay relevant. With the majority rights to F1 being sold to US firm Liberty Media, there’s talk of a night race taking place in Las Vegas, which would arguably be capable of overshadowing Singapore with its ability to attract more glamorous celebrities.
Furthermore, with Malaysia dropping out, Singapore remains the only F1 race left in South-East Asia, and it would be a real shame if Singapore squandered the opportunity to keep F1 in the region after it’s been here almost two decades.
Do you think Singapore should keep the F1 race? Let us know your thoughts.