Singapore goes to Melbourne

There was a sizeable contingent of officials from the Singaporean government in the paddock in Melbourne although they received rather less coverage than the Minogue Sisters. Among the group was the government minister in charge of tourism and several heads of department. The delegation was not saying much but it is clear that the purpose of the visit was not to sign a contract as some stories suggested but rather to see how Melbourne hosted its event and to learn from that. Bernie Ecclestone spent two days in Singapore on his way to Australia and while there is still no contract in place all the signs are that a deal will be struck within the next four weeks. If that is not the case it will be too late for Singapore to grab a place on the calendar for 2008.

Officially the government is not willing to get involved in the project and is waiting for the private sector to come up with a proposal but the reality is that the government is strongly behind the race and will support a bid that is being finalised by magnate Ong Beng Seng, who owns Hotel Properties Ltd and controls a number of important hotel franchises around the world in addition to being heavily involved in retail and the restaurant trade in Singapore. He has much to gain from boosting Singapore's tourist industry.

In the middle of the negotiations is a Singapore-based German businessman called Rainer Buchmann, who has been working with the Singapore tourist board and the Tilke company for some years to make the event happen but it is not yet clear what role he will have in the final event.

The plan is for the race to take place at night, probably on September 21 2008. This would be after the last European race (at Monza) and would be "twinned" with the events in China and Japan to make the movement of F1 equipment from place to place as efficient and cost-effective as possible.

This will mean that Malaysia will be able to retain its race at the start of the year, linked to Australia and Bahrain. We hear that the arrival of Singapore on the F1 scene has given the Malaysians a lot more vigour to keep their race alive, despite the fact that it does not seem to have done a huge amount for the local economy. A little more investment will probably not go amiss.

There may in the longer term be a third Asian foray for Formula 1 involving a second Japanese race at Suzuka, Korea and possibly Abu Dhabi.

The only way that this will all fit into the calendar is if the current start and finish dates for the F1 season are moved, creating races earlier in the year as used to happen back in the 1960s and 1970s when there were regularly events in January and February. The teams will gripe and moan about that but with teams testing cars for most of January and February it makes sense to switch tests for races to maximise the income being generated.

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