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Keeping festivalisation local keeps Singapore GP in tune with a constantly changing metropolis

Lewis Hamilton during practice for the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

There are few greater highlights on the Formula One calendar than the cars racing through Singapore’s floodlit cityscape.

But the story of how the race has become so beloved owes a lot to F1’s work with local partners to ensure it reflects the cosmopolitan Asian culture that Singapore embodies, says F1 marketing and communications director Ellie Norman, who spoke exclusively to SportBusiness during the All That Matters conference in Singapore.

The Singapore GP has come a long way since its debut 2008, and during that time the city-state too has changed, both physically and in personality. Attractions like its Gardens by the Bay and the 50-metre ‘trees’ of Supertree Grove have sprouted since, while social media was in its infancy when the race joined the calendar.

While it remains unchallenged as the only Asian street circuit and F1’s only night street race, the Singapore GP has had to be nimble to keep in tune with the audience it aims to keep attracting year after year.

The numbers since Liberty Media took over F1 from Bernie Ecclestone show reasonable growth, with attendance numbers increasing by 18 per cent to reach 260,400 in 2017 from 218,824 in 2016, and holding steady at 263,000 in 2018. The dollars and cents seem to add up as well, with a minister’s report in Singapore suggesting that tourism receipts alone had amounted to $1.4bn over the first ten years of them hosting a Grand Prix.

Norman says: “The Singapore Grand Prix has always had a unique position as a night street race, but part of the components that keeps it so successful is our strategy of making sure the entertainment off track is as good as on track. And that’s what helps audience numbers to keep increasing, because of its reputation for great entertainment and atmosphere, as well as superb food and drink to go with the cinematic track experience.”

Music plays a big part of the continuing appeal of the Singapore GP, she says, and little expense has been spared over the years in getting the biggest acts to grace the concert stages of the Singapore GP. What started with just two musical acts in 2018 – UK DJ Carl Cox and the Wailers – has grown to host the likes of the pop group Maroon 5, Asian mandopop star Jay Chou, and South Korea boy band Big Bang .

The Singapore government, via its Tourism Board (STB) has mapped out a strategy called the Grand Prix Season Singapore (GPSS), which is designed to showcase the best of the country’s experiences across retail, dining and entertainment.

GPSS 2019 has extended the race festivities beyond the city centre. Jean Ng, the executive director for sports at the STB said to Sportbusiness: “We are holding four parties at Orchard Road, Jewel Changi Airport, Kampong Glam and Clarke Quay, to curate rich and multi-faceted content that incorporates race-themed programming and local elements. This is the first time that industry stakeholders have been brought together on such a scale for the Singapore Grand Prix.”

“By situating GPSS offerings and four designated spaces, the precinct parties foster greater industry collaboration and create business opportunities, and also make it easier for visitors to access and drive footfall and spending at these locations during race season.”

Careful thought has been put into the location of the precinct parties, with each characterized by distinctive local elements.

Reportedly costing $1.7bn to build, Singapore’s newly opened Jewel complex at the Changi Airport is an important part of the GPSS. “Jewel is likely to be amongst the first touchpoints for visitors attending the F1 race,” explains Ng. GPSS activities at Jewel included a wide range of race-related activities, such as pit stop challenges and race-themed photo opportunities.

At Kampong Glam, a historic Malay enclave in Singapore, parties and performances will showcase local and Arab traditions, and Singapore street culture. Orchard Road, a key shopping stretch in Singapore, will host parties where local home grown brands showcase their race-themed wares, as well as a pop-up go-kart track and an e-racing experience. Clarke Quay, a favourite with tourists, locals and expatriates for its nightlife scene, will host several post-race parties.

Asia’s strong esport following are also catered for, with the “Race to Singapore”, a live virtual racing event, having the eight fastest esport racers in the region battling for a slot at McLaren’s Shadow Project Grand Finals, which will take place at the McLaren Technology Centre in the United Kingdom in December.

Singapore will have to share the limelight with Vietnam next year though, with Liberty demonstrating its Asian ambitions by adding the Hanoi Grand Prix to the 2020 calendar. Key learnings have been made from the Singapore Grand Prix, and multiple F1 stakeholders, including McLaren chief executive Zak Brown, circuit designer Hermann Tilke (whose company has overseen the design of the Hanoi track) and chief executive Chase Carey have all declared a preference for street circuits going forward.