Sunday, September 28, 2008

Night GP: A Novelty Or Necessity?

The world's first F1 Grand Prix (GP) night race flagged off at 8pm today. At 10pm, the chequered flag waved as Fernando Alonso came in first, beyond the expectation of many.

It seems to me that there have been many interesting twists and turns during the race. Felipe Massa who took the pole position came in 13th while Fernando Alonso, placed at the 15th position during qualifying, came in first. One can never accurately predict the outcome in a drama-filled race like this.

I am unable to comment much about the race and I prefer to leave that job to the experts and the fans. However, I just have one little growl...

Singapore is proud to present to the world this historical event and the organisers have put in enormous effort and money to make this happen. The fact that this is a street circuit makes it rather special as there is only one other in Monaco. However, in order to turn it into a night race, millions more were poured in to satisfy the lighting requirements.

So why have it at night?

The reason is obviously a commercially driven one: to suit the timing for those on the other side of the globe, of course.

It appears that each time an Asian city hosts a major event, time zone is always an issue to address. The recent Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony was held at night so that the viewers in the West can tune in during their waking hours.

Following the success of the Singapore night GP, the organizers of the Malaysian F1 GP have to face the possibility of doing the same. For now, they have ruled out the idea but they will push back the start time to 5pm so as to make the timing more appealing to the audiences in the West.

The Australian organisers are also in the same bind. Two weeks ago, F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has threatened to strip Australia of the race unless organisers agree to stage it at night. With the F1 contract expiring in 2010, the Australians do not have much time to ponder over the matter.

Two days ago, Ecclestone said he also wanted to turn the Japan GP into a night race, following the example of Singapore.

Other than Singapore, there are altogether five other races in the east: Australia, Bahrain, China, Japan and Malaysia. More are expected in the next few years: Abu Dhabi in 2009, South Korea in 2010 and India in 2011.

Going forward, must races held in the East be staged under floodlights?

Let's take a look at the 2008 F1 World Championship races. Out of the 18 rounds, 5 are in the East. Next year, the tentative calendar suggests that 6 out of 19 races will be in the East.

On the surface, I am satisfied that the majority rules and it seems reasonable to expect the organisers in the East to tune their timing. However, if I look at the population distribution, I am no longer so persuaded.

We have the world's most populous nations, China and India, in the East. I am assuming that in time to come, the fan base in the East will grow. When that happens, I wonder who are the ones who need to adjust their clocks.

The outcome will be unpredictable, just like the F1 race hours ago. Meanwhile, do expect more night races being staged here in the East.


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