Rethinking F1 in Singapore

16 SEPTEMBER — IT is F1 week again. Last weekend, I found myself driving from Raffles Place to Little India and getting there required me to drive along the F1 route.

Let me tell you; it is difficult to drive on an F1 “track” without letting your imagination get the better of you.

I gripped my steering wheel a little tighter, leaned in a little closer and fiercely fought the urge to floor it.

Man, something about the races is just... exhilarating. The parties, the champagne and the cars — I like it. Even though I don’t really get near it.

I like it even as I suffer the traffic and road closures.

But I seem to be in a minority. Many Singaporeans come out every year to grouse that the super expensive, resource-heavy event epitomises the city’s increasing interest in only catering to the rich and I totally understand this perspective.

I have never actually been to watch the race or attended any of the trackside fancy parties because it is so expensive.

But I have to say I like that it is happening.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton at a pit stop during the second practice session at the Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 14.  — Picture by AFP
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton at a pit stop during the second practice session at the Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 14. — Picture by AFP

I revel in the sound of the engines roaring. I take pride in knowing our skyline is being beamed across the world but even I — diehard non-fan fan — have to admit that perhaps we are reaching the end of the road for the Marina Bay Street Circuit.

It’s not about the elitism, the lack of benefits to ordinary people, or even the inconvenience of a week of road closures (remember ours is a street circuit in the heart of downtown Singapore).

It’s about Formula 1’s declining fortunes as a sport and as entertainment.

The years when the world (particularly the world of the glamorous and affluent in certain Western countries) came to a standstill on race Sundays is long gone.

Over the last decade, F1’s viewership has reduced 40 per cent.

There are many factors behind the decline; the rise of pay TV, the movement of races away from popular race tracks in Western Europe to tracks in far flung corners of the world like Azerbaijan as it’s these areas where governments and tourist boards are keen to pick  up the large expensive fees for hosting the race.

There have also been a host of rule, regulation and safety changes that many claim have made the sport less competitive and entertaining but I’m not looking to explore the failings of F1.

The bottom line is that it simply doesn’t have the pull and the reach it used to.

Which means that policy makers need to question whether it is worth shutting our downtown for a week to allow for these (beautiful) machines to tear about.

Singapore no longer needs global visibility by way of association with sporting events — we are visible enough.

So well maybe it is time to end our F1 extravaganza though I think we may still want to close off part of downtown for a week but maybe for something new — a giant street party anyone?

A Singapore Carnivale? An Asian F1 featuring just the best electric cars? I’m sure we can think of something.