x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Money talks in Ecclestone's world

Singapore is a success, but it shows the sport's commercial rights owner values the prestige and the pound more than he does the on-track action.

Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel won the Singapore F1 Grand Prix.
Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel won the Singapore F1 Grand Prix.

SINGAPORE // This weekend's confirmation that Singapore will remain on the Formula One calendar until 2017 has been greeted with much enthusiasm from all those directly involved in the sport.

Everybody who has experienced the excitement of a grand prix weekend in the Asian metropolis knows the importance of the calendar's only night race in terms of Formula One's global brand.

"Formula One hasn't been racing here for 50 years, but it feels like a real classic already," Sebastian Vettel, the Red Bull Racing's victorious German, said after triumphing under the brightly lit bulbs of Marina Bay Street Circuit on Sunday.

He is right, in part. Singapore has become the epitome of modern F1, but read that not as an unreserved positive.

Sunday's race was, as it has been for the past five years, surrounded with elegance and entertainment, glamour and glitz. The city buzzes, embracing the event and its festivities like few others, yet once again when the action arrived on track, the city's snaking streets produced a largely processional race peppered with sporadic spurts of surprise.

In a season when technical features appear to have all but ended the possibility of predictable races, circuit officials had only mechanical failures and driver errors to thank for saving them from offering up The Bore in Singapore.

It is little wonder they are considering making changes to the track for next year and refusing to rule out moving the entire layout before the new contract is up in 2017.

Singapore, however, is arguably only an example of recent decisions that indicate Bernie Ecclestone, the sport's commercial rights owner, is still searching for the winning formula that blends big money venues with breathtaking manouvering. To many it appears he values the prestige and the pound more than he does the on-track action.

Look at next season's provisional calendar, which was leaked during the weekend: For the second successive season, a track close to the sport's European base has been removed. Last year it was Turkey, unconditionally loved, it seemed, by everyone except Istanbul's residents; this year it is the European Grand Prix in Valencia, despite having finally produced a race worth watching in June when Fernando Alonso won from 11th place on the grid.

Neither could afford the fees that Asia and the Middle East can offer and so the result is the sport's traditional hub has never been as poorly represented on an F1 schedule for more than 40 years.

Instead, New Jersey is due to join the party next year when it hosts the proposed Grand Prix of America. Details remain limited, but with the race taking place on the streets - possibly at night - with a backdrop of one of the world's most famous and spellbinding cities, the similarities with Singapore are unmistakable.

Such an event will provide another genuine landmark in the growth of Formula One, but the hope is the excitement continues once the cars are on track.

Formula One is, after all, primarily about the racing, everything else is merely a sideshow - although admittedly a highly enjoyable one.

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