Thursday, December 18, 2008

F1 - Help!

F1 motor racing has been in the news lately, for the wrong reasons.

On 5 Dec, Honda abruptly announced that it is saying goodbye to the F1 sports. Honda took the decision primarily because of the downturn in the markets. Some figured that, Honda's approach for not going for sponsors could also have contributed to the financial strain.

Amid the doom and gloom, the FI boss believes that F1 sports has a sustainable financial future, although Honda's decision to quit will give added urgency to the need for cost reductions.

It is becoming very tough for teams to stay in the race. Lots of money has been spent to optimise every part of the chassis and to search for lighter and exotic materials for the parts. All the effort and money that went in usually drew no discernible difference to the show.

Following Honda's exit, there has been some rumors suggesting that another F1 team, Williams, will be next. However, the team's founder, Sir Frank Williams denied such talks.

Earlier in May 08, it was confirmed that French GP will be dropped out of the 2009 race, in the wake of falling revenues and rising contractual costs. Later in Oct 08, the Canadian GP too disappeared from the 2009 calendar.

In the current global financial crisis, F1 team sponsors are feeling the crunch. Many are struggling to stay afloat and looking for ways not to go belly-up. In times like this, sponsorship, aka, advertisement, would earn very little priority on the corporate budget. It is uncertain if more teams will be pulling out but one thing I am rather sure - the usual extravagance associated with F1 racing will have to be scaled down.

Ironically, the 2009 race will see a flashy newcomer. The Abu Dhabi GP will be rolling out its first race under the new 7-year contract and the organisers of the race promised that it will become the most luxurious venue on the F1 calendar.

The newly developed, state-of-the-art facility is situated on Yas Island, a 2,550 hectare natural leisure island located in close proximity to the Abu Dhabi International airport. In addition to hosting the F1 Abu Dhabi GP, Yas Island will feature signature hotels, theme parks, 300,000 sq m of retail area, golf courses, lagoon hotels, marinas, polo clubs, apartments and villas, and food and beverage outlets.

The Abu Dhabi GP is certainly defying the present gloomy moods.

In May 2007, a five-year deal was reached between F1 Supremo, Bernie Ecclestone, Singapore entrepreneur Mr Ong Beng Seng, and the Singapore Tourism Board. The Singapore GP was born. Within a year the Singapore GP team put up a spectacular show on 28 Sep 2008 and Mr Ecclestone described Singapore as the crown jewel of F1.

During the race period, many people in Singapore, including myself, tuned in to the live telecast and watched the race as if they had been F1 fans all their lives. The truth is, many of these viewers knew very little about F1 racing until it came to the island state this year.

There were a lot of interest and excitement at the race venue, right in the heart of the city. I was there on one of the three nights and the euphoria was not fake. After the race, the racing community continued to shower praises on the success of the first-ever night race.

Last month, the Marina Bay street circuit was named the 'Worldwide Motor Sport Facility of the Year'. Last weekend, Autosport, the leading motor racing magazine, presented it with the 'Pioneering and Innovation Award' in London. A few days ago, Singapore GP was awarded the trophy for the 'International Automobile Federation (FIA) Promoter of the Year'.

I would say that Singapore GP have had a very good start for the 5-year deal. The question now is, what can we expect for the next four races?

It is difficult to tell how long the current financial crisis will persist. Some say it will find its way into 2009 and perhaps 2010 as well. The outlook for the global economy is bleak and F1 racing is not immune to its repercussion.

Come 2010, new players, Korean GP and Indian GP are expected to join the elite world of motor racing and some wonder if these new entries are ill-timed.

Meanwhile, Singapore GP has started their recruitment drive for race officials. If you are thinking of getting involved as a volunteer, just smack some simple details in their online registration form from 8 Dec 08 to 23 Jan 09. Interestingly, they will check that you do not suffer from color-blindness right there within that form.

Let's hope that the 2nd Singapore GP on 27 Sep 2009 will not be less lustrous.

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