Thailand on track to host Formula 1 GP in 2014?

Originally published at Siam Voices on June 22, 2012

In March we reported about the early moves for a potential Formula 1 race in Thailand, and the costs and the chances. To recap: The Ministry of Tourism and Sports announced it is campaigning for a Formula 1 Grand Prix of Thailand in 2014, with the backing of corporate heavyweights Red Bull and Singha Beer.

Chalerm Yoovidhya – who is inheriting Krating Daeng (the original Red Bull) from his recently deceased father Chaleo – is the co-owner of the championship-winning Red Bull Racing team, the other being Austrian Dietrich Mateschitz who made Red Bull (the fizzy one) a world-wide brand. Mateschitz and Chaleo held 49 per cent each in shares, with Chalerm previously holding 2 per cent acting the wedge between them. Now that Chalerm seems most likely gets his father’s shares, it is likely that Chalerm may try to increase his influence over the Red Bull operations. Both Chalerm and the Singha Beer corporation are well-connected to the decision makers in Thailand, most notably to the opposition Democrat Party.

Now it seems that plans for a potential Formula 1 race have been given a minor boost, if the words by those involved are anything to go by:

“Our discussions with (Formula One CEO) Bernie Ecclestone have gone smoothly. We expect to get rights to host a grand prix from 2014 onwards. The race might be held at night to accommodate viewers in Europe and help earn more in sponsorship.

“Chalerm Yoovidhya, Red Bull team owner, is helping negotiate the hosting fee, which is likely to be about Bt1.2 billion [$37m], compared to the Bt2 billion [$62m] China paid.

The cost of building a new F1 venue to accommodate 100,000 spectators will be about Bt100 million [$3.1m]. We need to finalise the budget before we propose it to the cabinet. We expect the overall budget for hosting an F1 race to be around Bt5 billion [$157m],” said Kanokphand [Chulakasem, Sports Authority of Thailand governor].

Vettel, Schumacher in Thai grand prix preview“, The Nation, June 12, 2012

So, there are a few interesting aspects here. First off, this deal is not done yet. Nevertheless, the organizers have already come up with a plans and most off all a budget – which seem to vastly differ to what has been said before:

Ministry of Tourism and Sports spokesperson, Watchara Kannikar (…) added: “Initially, the budget was Bt10 billion [$314m]. However, it is possible that the cost will triple.”

Chumpol catches F1 fever“, TTR Weekly, March 14, 2012

How they have miraculously halved the initial budget for the Grand Prix is beyond me – even with the heavy financial backing of Red Bull, Singha and also maybe state-owned oil company PTT.

Second, there’s still no word about the venue of the race. The ultimate dream for many involved would be a street circuit in the middle of Bangkok on Rajdamnoen Avenue, which saw a demo run by a Red Bull F1 car back in 2010 – although this would be logistical nightmare, as it would probably lock down the area for weeks before, during and after the event. And financially, to compare with the other two most recently added temporary street circuits: The European Grand Prix in the port of Valencia is said to cost €21m or $26m per year and the night race in Singapore reportedly costs $120m.

Another possibility would be to either overhaul the only existing racing circuit in Thailand (Bira Circuit near Pattaya) certified by the world motorsports governing body FIA up to international standards or to build an entirely new one. No word on where this one would be built was uttered either. And again to give some financial benchmarks of the most recently added events: the Korean International Circuit was built in 2010 for reportedly $270m ($77m for track itself), last year saw the construction of the Buddh International Circuit in India including a whole sports complex for $820m and currently the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas is being built with investors and the state chipping in a total of $500m for the return of the United States Grand Prix later this year.

And as mentioned before, just because there were good talks, doesn’t mean that there will be a race! Furthermore, the silly season of the F1 circuits for the next few years needs to be taken into account: many current races are either on the edge or were already taken off the schedule for next year. Some other circuits are already forced to alternate with another event in order to save costs, while other events are coming, such as a street race in New Jersey next year and yet another new circuit in Russia for 2014, while there are rumors of Argentina making a return among others. What could help Thailand to get a spot on the F1 calendar is the rumor that the already extensive schedule might be increased from 20 to 23 races in 2013.

Despite all the uncertainty as to whether or not a Thai Grand Prix will take place, the organizers have already secured another motorsports event to warm up the Thais for potential F1 race: The Race of Champions, an invitational exhibition tournament at the end of the year where race champions (and other all-stars) from different disciplines and championships race head-to-head in identical cars, will be held this year in Bangkok‘s Rajamangala Stadium. This is the second time the event has come to Asia after 2009’s event took place in Beijing, which bizarrely took place in the middle of the week. Hopefully, this year will be better attended at a viewer-friendlier time of the week and maybe it could spark a sizable interest among Thais – and then the country might actually have its first ever Formula 1 Grand Prix after all, especially since the one planned in 1939 did not take place.

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Hamburg, Germany. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and also on his public Facebook page here.

Advertisements