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F1's new drive could help give Singapore Grand Prix a boost

Major changes are in the offing under Liberty Media

Singapore's new four-year contract with Formula 1 arguably couldn't have come at a better time.

SINGAPORE'S new four-year contract with Formula 1 arguably couldn't have come at a better time.

Fresh from a takeover this year by Liberty Media, the sport too is driving in a new direction, having acquired new chief executive Chase Carey this year who is keen on transforming the sport.

There are major changes in the offing for F1 under the new guard, from leveraging digital platforms and new technologies to tweaking rules to make the sport more competitive and easier to understand for fans.

With its television viewership down from eight years ago, the sport is reaching out to new viewers - in particular, millenials - and trying out new ways to keep its core audience engaged. Virtual reality, artificial intelligence and augmented reality are just some of the areas that F1 is looking at to enhance the viewing experience, while making content more accessible online. For race fans at the track, this could potentially mean being able to better follow the race on their mobile devices with live streaming for a better experience.

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If the sport is successful in its efforts to win new fans and better engage existing ones, this could mean bigger crowds for venues such as the Singapore Grand Prix.

In addition, F1's new parent company, whose assets include Live Nation, could perhaps help Singapore GP beef up its line-up of entertainment around the circuit. Mr Carey, without giving specifics, told media on Sunday that F1 has already started discussing new aspects and dimensions that can be added to future editions of the Singapore Grand Prix.

Into its 10th year

Now in its tenth year, the Singapore Grand Prix has attracted a total of over 450,000 visitors to the city-state, generating an estimated S$1.4 billion in tourism spend in all.

With the cost of hosting the race at approximately S$150 million each year - 60 per cent is funded by the government - this suggests that the Grand Prix pays off. The cost of future editions of the race will also come down to S$135 million annually, which is a plus.

Another economic spin-off is revenue creation for local companies - 90 per cent of race preparation and operations are sub-contracted out to local enterprises - while hotels and F&B establishments typically report brisk business. But the race doesn't lift all boats. It's also worth noting that the some retailers in the Marina Bay area tend to suffer from a decline in sales once the road closures kick in and patrons start to steer clear of the area.

There are also other benefits that might be harder to quantify, such as branding and the number of tourists or business travellers who have been enticed to come here after watching the city's glittering skyline broadcasted on television. Once dubbed a nanny state, Singapore's formerly-staid reputation has received a shot in the arm thanks to glitzy events such as the Formula 1.

Drawing in the crowds

Even 10 years on, the Singapore Grand Prix still seems to be drawing in the crowds. This year's race weekend was attended by 260,400 over three days - an average of 86,800 a day - which is higher than the average overall ticket sales over the ten years, according to race organiser Singapore GP. Typically, over 40 per cent of spectators tend to come from overseas.

And the night race, taking place under bright floodlights in the heart of the city, is undoubtedly unique. With other Asian venues such as Malaysia and India falling off the F1 calendar along the way, there are only two other Asian destinations (China and Japan) left on the 2018 calendar; Singapore is also the only South-east Asian venue next year. Dubbed by Mr Carey as a marquee race, Singapore's Grand Prix is seen as ahead of the curve thanks partly to its array of fringe-events such as concerts, parties and conferences which create a week-long buzz leading up to Sunday's main event.

To a certain extent, the Singapore race is a victim of its own success. It delivers a solid experience that F1 is now trying to replicate at other venues around the world. The challenge will be to continue to wow and prevent spectator interest from waning for the next four races.

In short, the Singapore Grand Prix will have to keep doing what it has been doing over the last decade - deliver a smooth yet thrilling ride to race-fans and non race-fans alike to keep them coming back for more. And in F1, which has a renewed drive and new direction, it has a good partner to help it do just that.