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F1 ticket sales rev up in final lap of current contract
WHILE the future of the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix remains uncertain, ticket sales for this year's race are tracking ahead of last year.
This is the 10th year - the last one in the current five-year contract - that the nation is hosting the Grand Prix, but it could also be the final year if no extension deal is struck.
Highlighting that sales are trending ahead year on year, the executive director of race organiser Singapore GP, Michael Roche, said: "Seven ticket categories have now sold out, with another 15 ticket categories selling fast."
Attendance at the 2016 race was down 15 per cent to 73,000 spectators, one of the lowest to date, owing to a weaker global economy and slower growth at home. The 2016 race also had to contend with the threat of haze and the Zika outbreak.
Meanwhile, this year's season is shaping up to be a more exciting one, with the prospect of two heavyweight drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, from different teams battling it out for the championship.
While rumours are swirling that a deal is close, a spokesman for Singapore GP declined to comment on the possibility of an extension, citing ongoing commercial negotiations. New F1 chief Chase Carey, who has taken over the helm from Bernie Ecclestone, will be in Singapore for the Sept 15-17 race.
"Both parties stand to gain from the Singapore Grand Prix," said James Walton, head of the sports business service at Deloitte Singapore and South-east Asia. "The economic and branding benefits are clear for Singapore but it has to be the right deal for Singapore to continue. (For Singapore), F1 is a nice to have, not a need to have."
The nation has now added other key sports events to its calendar such as the International Champions Cup, the Rugby Sevens and the WTA Finals.
For the eight races spanning 2008 to 2015, over 350,000 visitors came from overseas, netting the country an average of S$150 million in incremental tourism receipts each year. (This excludes 2009, when the global financial crisis hit hard.) Meanwhile, there are other economic spin-offs, with over 80 per cent of race preparation and operations sub-contracted out to small and medium enterprises.
But there is also the hefty cost of hosting the race and the inconvenience of road closures in the Marina Bay area to facilitate the street circuit. The race is said to cost in the region of S$150 million a year, with the government footing 60 per cent of the bill and SGP - backed by hotelier Ong Beng Seng - the balance.
With Malaysia pulling out after this year owing to diminishing returns, Singapore could be the only South-east Asian venue left in 2018 if it remains on the grid. An established and popular event on the F1 calendar, the night race would likely be missed if it drove off into the sunset. For now, the 2018 Singapore Grand Prix has a provisional slot of Sept 16.
In Asia, races in South Korea and India have fallen off the calendar over the years, but China and Japan are expected to remain part of the season next year. Outside of Asia, the British Grand Prix - seen as one of the flagship races - has triggered a break clause that could see it bowing out after 2019, citing an onerous contract with an escalating hosting fee.
The sport is also grappling with flagging viewership, which slumped from 600 million annually in 2008 to about 400 million in 2015 (granted, this may not take into account viewership from online streaming). On the other hand, revenues have continued to increase, rising from US$1.63 billion in 2013 to an estimated US$1.83 billion in 2016.
All this comes as F1 - under its new management Liberty Media - is looking to ramp up its presence in Asia by adding other iconic Asian cities. Ho Chi Minh City, for instance, has reportedly been mooted as one example.
"F1 has stated many times in recent years that they need to grow the Asian market," said Mr Walton. "Besides Japan, they don't have the same following in Asia (as they do in) Europe."
Asia, with its growing number of high net worth individuals and its expanding middle class, also fits the sport's target demographic nicely.
"But (F1) have their own goals in terms of financial returns and partners they want to work with," he added, referring to the ongoing negotiations for Singapore.
Meanwhile, spectators headed to the ritzy Paddock Club at this year's Singapore Grand Prix can expect both new concepts and returning favourites. Hong Kong restaurant group Maximal Concepts, which is behind restaurants such as Mott 32, will offer signature dishes such as foie gras cotton candy .
Back by popular demand are celebrity chefs NOBU and Jean-Georges Vongerichten as well as a specially curated menu from COMO Cuisine.
And at the pit straight, SGP has introduced a new corporate hospitality product, the industrial-themed Apex Lounge, which will feature live DJ sets, specialist cocktails and craft scotch whiskies.