SINGAPORE — Questions over the future of the Singapore Grand Prix have intensified this week as the iconic street race heads into its 10th edition, and its final year of its contract with Formula One’s owners. But in what will be seen as a boost to Singapore’s bid for a renewal, Chase Carey, Formula One chief executive and chairman stressed repeatedly on Wednesday (Sept 13) that he would like to see the race return to Singapore for the long-term beyond 2017.
Talks to extend the night race have been on-going since last year, and Carey said on the sidelines of the All That Matters (Sports Matters) conference at the Ritz Carlton Hotel: “It’s our goal to try and reach a new deal that enables us to continue the partnership we’ve had in Singapore.
“We’re proud of the relationship we’ve had in Singapore, we’re proud of the race here, we have a good relationship with our partners and we’re actively engaged in trying to reach an agreement that works for the both of us.
The American, who succeeded former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone last year after Liberty Media’s US$8 billion (S$10.8 billion) takeover of the sport, would not be drawn into details on the contract negotiations, or a timeline for talks to conclude.
He added: “Given this is the last race under our current deal, we recognise it’s important for us to reach an agreement on what’s the future. I’m not going to put that line to it (on whether talks will conclude by Sunday), I’ll say we’re actively engaged.”
Previously described by Ecclestone as “F1’s crown jewel”, the Singapore Grand Prix also has a huge fan in Carey.
Recalling his first experience at the night race last year, the 63-year-old said: “What really struck me as I arrived at night…that first impact of the city lit up, cars racing around the track with the city in the background was just awe inspiring. It was unique, it is something that distinguishes the race here in Singapore.
“Singapore is a very important race for us, it’s a signature race for us….Singapore in many ways is a gateway to Asia, a city famous around the world and the race here is spectacular when it’s lit up at night and the wonderful skyline. It is a very distinct race and we want each race to have its own identity and this race really has an identity that’s recognised around the world.”
While there is keen interest from the region and worldwide to be a part of the F1 calendar, Anthony Indaimo, legal sports advisor and partner at Withers KhattarWong believes that the biggest factor for negotiations between both parties is the hosting fees for the race. Each edition of the Singapore race costs about S$150 million to organise, with the Government co-funding 60 per cent of approved costs.
Indaimo said: “I don’t think it’s competing cities (that’s the main factor), I think it’s purely the finances, but I think the finances are purely a function of what Chase Carey was saying.”
Tickets sales at the Singapore Grand Prix took a hit last year with its worst-ever spectator turnout – overall ticket take-up was 15 per cent lower than the average attendance in its inaugural season in 2008.
However, Carey is not too worried about the figures. Since taking over the sport, Liberty Media is looking into innovative ways to engage with existing and new fans via digital platforms and other engagements.
“In recent years we do not feel the sport actually was doing some of the things it needs to do to make sure it is creating the excitement and engagement with fans,” he said.
“We’ve launched a number of new initiatives at our events, we’re at the early stage, the transition and ownership of management only occurred about six months ago, but I do think we have a fresh energy and momentum to the sport.
“This year, our attendance has been up in almost every race, so we got things going in the right direction and have a fresh energy to it…we can do things to improve the sport on the track and improve everything around it and improve the ability for fans to engage with the sport, for example in digital platforms where F1 didn’t develop its capabilities in a digital world. That’s so important today for current fans, new fans, young fans, old fans to be able to engage, follow the sport, follow the things that make the sport so special.”
Indaimo also believes that the owners’ ideas for fan and sponsor engagement will help increase revenue for host cities. “It probably is a question of the economics,” he said.
“But I think once they see what the vision is for growing the sport, growing sponsor and fan engagement, for increasing revenue, then I think they should be at least encouraged that they have a partnership with the new managers of F1 whereas before it wasn’t really a partnership (before).”
Complicated rules and multi-million dollar budgets could also be a thing of the past under the new leadership, Carey indicated.
“We’ve let the cost of some of the teams get to a place that doesn’t make sense, some of them are spending half a billion dollars to race for the season.
“The downside is it creates a competitive imbalance. We don’t want to dumb the cars downs…but make it healthier for team and those involved.
“It’s better to have an engine that’s not as complicated but still is state of the art. Those initiatives and cost…simpler, cheaper louder make it a better business for everyone.”