Singapore's Formula 1 track set for major change if deal is extended beyond 2021
Major change to circuit, seating needed during NS Square construction
Singapore is expected to begin negotiations with Formula One commercial rights holder Liberty Media next year to extend the night race beyond 2021.
And for the first time, a major item of discussion will be the realignment of the track along The Float@Marina Bay.
If the Singapore Grand Prix is extended, it will be the first major adjustment to the circuit since the inaugural street race in 2008.
Under the current four-year contract, the 12th edition of the Singapore Airlines Singapore GP this weekend and the next two races in 2020 and 2021 will continue to run on the present configuration of the 5.063km Marina Bay Street Circuit, which has 23 turns.
Turns 16 to 19 are along the stretch at the floating platform.
The Float@Marina Bay is scheduled to be closed in 2022 for construction of the new NS Square. In a Facebook post on Sept 9, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said NS Square is slated to be ready by the third quarter of 2025.
Replying to queries from The New Paper last week, Singapore Tourism Board (STB) executive director for sports Jean Ng said the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and the STB were kept abreast on the future of the site before Dr Ng's announcement.
"We were consulted on plans to redevelop The Float @ Marina Bay into the NS Square," said Ms Ng. "Prior to development of the site, the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix will continue to use the venue as part of the event grounds until the end of the current contract in 2021."
The Government, through the MTI and STB, funds 60 per cent of the $135 million bill to host the night race each year, while promoter Singapore GP foots the rest.
This includes getting the street track ready for the event.
Singapore's inaugural Formula One race in 2008 was revolutionary, capturing the imagination of the world as the cars raced at top speeds of nearly 250kmh under the night sky.
It has since raked in more than $1.4 billion in tourism receipts, and this year's race will see Mercedes' reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton defend his Singapore GP title, while the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Gwen Stefani and Swedish House Mafia entertain fans.
Under the current price of $298 for a three-day pass, the 27,000-seat Bay Grandstand could generate up to $8 million in ticket sales this year.
If Singapore inks a deal to continue hosting the race, it will require a major change to the track involving about 300m and will also almost certainly require new seating.
Singapore race driver Yuey Tan, who will try to extend his grip on the Porsche Carrera Cup Pro-Am Championship event this weekend, said the entry into Turn 16 generates up to 3g in G-forces and is a driver's corner.
"It is a great part of the track and cool to drive on, especially under the grandstand," said the 37-year-old. "The fans are really going to miss the Bay Grandstand because the view from there is awesome."
He feels the obvious realignment of the track is to connect turns 16 and 19, which will create a much faster straight from the current top speed of 230kmh along Raffles Avenue.
Previously, only minor revisions were made to the street circuit, such as turning the corner known as Singapore Sling (Turns 11 and 12) in front of Victoria Concert Hall into a conventional left turn in 2013.
Two years later, tweaks were made to reduce speeds at Turn 11 and widen the apex of the Turn 13 hairpin.
STB said the organisers will be able to work on the two issues only when the architectural design of the winning bid for NS Square is made known in the second quarter of 2020.
Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Education Chee Hong Tat told The Straits Times recently that Singapore will continue to host the race as long as "the price is right" and there is "a net positive in terms of benefits to Singapore".
Last year, the race drew more than 263,000 fans over the three-day event, the second highest attendance after the 300,000 at the 2008 race.
In the course of renewing the contract in 2017 for another four years, organisers were able to reduce the cost of hosting the race by $15 million to $135 million a year.
STB's Ms Ng is confident the track realignment and shortfall in ticket revenues will be resolved.
"MTI/STB will work with the race promoter and government agencies to review adjustments to the Marina Bay Street Circuit should there be an extension of the race beyond 2021," she said.