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VIRUS OUTBREAK

Covid-19 puts the brakes on this year's F1 Singapore Grand Prix

Promoter unable to proceed due to prohibitions on access and construction of the event venue as well as travel restrictions

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The F1 night race is expected to return in 2021 - the final year of Singapore's existing four-year contract.

Singapore

THE Formula One Singapore Grand Prix will not flag off this year after all, with race promoter Singapore GP and Formula 1 announcing the cancellation on Friday after restrictions were implemented in recent months to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a press release, Singapore GP said that it is unable to proceed with the race due to prohibitions imposed on access and construction of the event venue as well as restrictions on mass gatherings and international travel. Singapore is progressively emerging from a "circuit breaker" which began in April and brought construction activities - among others - to a standstill.

Singapore GP added: "With these limitations, which continue to remain in place, building and construction work of the circuit have not been able to commence. We are therefore unable to complete the race circuit infrastructure in time for the race to take place." Construction of the circuit usually starts in May.

The announcement is unlikely to have come as a major surprise to many, given that the race promoter had said previously that it would not be feasible to carry out the 5.063 km street circuit race behind closed doors as some countries have opted to do. The Singapore Grand Prix was due to take place on Sept 20.

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With some other venues having had their franchise fees waived after they cancelled their races, this suggests that a fee would not necessarily be payable.

In response to queries from The Business Times, a spokesperson for Singapore GP said that is not able to comment on commercial contractual specifics related to the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix.

Deloitte's sports business group leader, James Walton, pointed out that Formula 1 is already going through a challenging period as it strives to renew its fan base and deals with blowback from some countries due to the expense of hosting races. He said: "In the interest of maintaining (Formula 1's) fan base, maintaining good relations with governments and not (wanting to be) seen as pressuring at this point in time, I'm sure a compromise was reached."

The F1 night race, which takes place in the heart of the city, has been hosted in Singapore since 2008 and is expected to return in 2021 - the final year of Singapore's existing four-year contract.

In response to a query on whether the contract will be extended by a year, Singapore Tourism Board (STB) director of sports, Ong Ling Lee, said: "We are open to exploring different options, and will continue to work closely with Singapore GP and various government agencies to prepare for different eventualities."

"This is an important race in the calendar for F1," said Mr Walton, pointing to its unique proposition as a night race on a street circuit. "I'm sure there will be some kind of agreement around how to honour a four-race deal."

Singapore is not the only venue to pull the plug on hosting the race this year after the pandemic forced countries to go into lockdown and brought travel to a screeching halt. In a separate release, Formula 1 said that Japan and Azerbaijan would also cancel their races, following the footsteps of other venues such as Australia and Monaco. For now, Formula 1 expects 15 to 18 races in this year's season by the time it concludes the season in Abu Dhabi in December, down from the original 22 races.

The Singapore Grand Prix costs some S$135 million to host each year, with the government funding 60 per cent of the cost, and Singapore GP - backed by hotelier Ong Beng Seng - the remaining 40 per cent. Since its debut in 2008, the race has generated a total of over S$1.5 billion in incremental tourism receipts for the Republic, and has been viewed by a global audience of over 930 million viewers, said the STB.

Race weekend usually gives a shot in the arm for hotels and other consumer-facing businesses such as food & beverage, with 268,000 spectators thronging the Marina Bay street circuit last year. Generally, over 40 per cent of race-goers are tourists - a feat which would have been virtually impossible to pull off this year given the border restrictions in place curbing travel. With the economy in the doldrums, it would have also been difficult to get corporates - typically big buyers of premium tickets - to bite. In addition, having to put safe-distancing measures in place at the venue would have drastically reduced the number of spectators the race could accomodate.

The race promoter has said it will provide existing ticket holders with automatic refunds within 30 business days, or an option to rollover their tickets to next year's event. Formula 1 fans here can also look forward to "exciting programmes" in the months ahead as part of Singapore GP's ongoing efforts to engage fans and promote the sport. This could take the form of e-racing or virtual racing, Mr Walton added.

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