F1 wants Singapore Grand Prix
Ecclestone says negotiations ongoing over extending night race beyond 2017
Twenty-four hours after he seemed to suggest Singapore was set to call time on the night race after 2017, Bernie Ecclestone, chief executive of Formula 1, has clarified that negotiations are ongoing over a new deal and a decision will be reached, possibly by the end of this year even.
While local organisers continue to keep mum, saying only that negotiations are ongoing, fans of the sport in Singapore would have been rattled by Ecclestone's comments in German magazine Auto Motor Und Sport.
In an interview, the 86-year-old Formula 1 supremo bluntly stated that Singapore felt it had squeezed all it could out of hosting the night race.
Said Ecclestone: "Singapore was suddenly more than just an airport to fly to or from somewhere.
"Now they believe they have reached their goal and they do not want a Grand Prix any more...
"Yes, the Grand Prix has cost Singapore a lot of money, but we've also given them a lot of money."
Former Singapore race driver Melvin Choo believes the wily Ecclestone was simply trying to send a message.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Choo, 46, said: "This was probably just a negotiation point - Singapore and Formula 1 need each other.
"They know the value they have for each other, so this may have been Bernie's notice to the new owners of F1 that they need him for negotiations like this."
Bernie Ecclestone. PHOTO: AFP
In September, American company Liberty Media had taken control of Formula 1 in a deal estimated at US$8 billion ($11.4m).
Many now predict a new era for the glamour sport, a European-dominated sport that has long sought to break into the US market and win fresh audiences.
In recent times, audiences trackside and on television have fallen and yesterday, Malaysia announced that it will discontinue its Grand Prix after 2018 due to falling revenues.
Speaking to state-run Bernama news agency, Tourism and Culture Minister Nazri Aziz said: "We spend 300 million ringgit ($97m) per year, but are not getting 300m back.
"There are no returns on the F1 Grand Prix."
He noted that attendance had declined despite the high cost of staging the race, which has been held at the Sepang circuit near Kuala Lumpur since 1999.
By contrast, Malaysia's MotoGP at Sepang is consistently popular and this year's race was sold out.
Sepang agreed last month to extend its leg of the world's premier motorcycle championship until at least 2021.
Speaking to Reuters, Trinh Nguyen, a senior economist for emerging-market Asia at Natixis SA in Hong Kong, said the recent drop in attendance could be a sign that the novelty of the event is wearing off, and may also be a reflection of weak regional growth.
"It (F1) also comes with costs. Thus, with tourism receipts (from F1) waning, the cost benefit calculus is tipping in the other direction," Nguyen said.
Unlike the Sepang Formula 1 race, the Singapore Grand Prix has been regarded as one of the best on the circuit ever since the inaugural stop in 2008.
Ecclestone had previously christened it as the "crown jewel" of Formula 1.
Run along downtown Singapore, the one-of-a-kind street race under lights featured the spectacular Marina Bay skyline as a backdrop and uniquely offers a world-class entertainment programme over the three race days, with the likes of Beyonce, Bon Jovi, Queen, Justin Bieber and Kylie Minogue entertaining thousands over the weekend.
In an exclusive interview with The Straits Times yesterday, Ecclestone seemed to backtrack on his earlier comments, when he said: "My words were taken in a funny way. What I said was simple - no decision has been taken yet."
The outspoken chief executive also revealed nothing further of the negotiations and simply said they would end very shortly.
"Negotiations are ongoing and will be sorted out shortly... I'm sure.
"We want to extend long-term. We'll see what happens."
In 2008, the Singapore Grand Prix generated a crowd of more than 250,000 over the course of the three days.
At this year's race, the event saw a dip, with just over 200,000 spectators turning up for the race weekend.
The event has been generating annual tourism receipts of $150m on average every year.
Said Choo: "Formula 1 also adds more value to Singapore as a destination. Both Formula 1 and Singapore are flexing their muscles and I believe they will lock down a deal that is agreeable to each other."
“My words were taken in a funny way. What I said was simple — no decision has been taken yet.”
— Bernie Ecclestone, on the Singapore GP