The much-rumored and highly anticipated Thailand Formula 1 Grand Prix has made a big step forward with the championship’s promoter and Formula One Management (FOM) president Bernie Ecclestone giving the project his blessing, according to the Wall Street Journal:
Formula One Chief Executive Bernie Ecclestone revealed that the 2015 Grand Prix calendar will feature a night race on the streets of Bangkok. (…) Ecclestone said that the location has now been chosen, and specified that the race would come a year later. “They say 2014 and I say 2015. It is serious and it is good,” he added.
“F1 Adds Bangkok Race to 2015 Schedule“, Wall Street Journal, December 18, 2012
This comes after weeks of silence and months of campaigning by the Thai side, as government officials (potentially prematurely) announced the race as a done deal in October. Normally, Ecclestone and the FOM are not very keen on future hosts jumping the gun, but this seemed to have no effect on the negotiations.
Thailand’s Formula 1 ambitions go back as far as late 2010 when Red Bull Racing, whose parent company that makes the energy drinks is rooted in Thailand and is now co-owned by Chalerm Yoovidhya with a 51 per cent majority, did one of their popular demo runs in a Red Bull Formula 1 car around Democracy Monument on Rajadamnoen Avenue, watched, reportedly, by over 100,000 onlookers.
And it was Red Bull’s influence that eventually will bring Grand Prix racing to Bangkok, as first concrete rumors surfaced earlier this year and hardened over the summer that the race could take place as early as 2014.
A lot of work lies ahead for the organizers of the race, if it actually takes place on the streets of Bangkok during the night as proposed. They already need to think about how they will close off the roads for weeks before and after the Grand Prix without causing a total traffic disaster in a city that already has chronic traffic problems.
It would be the third race in Southeast Asia, with Sepang in Malaysia and Singapore being the other two. Singapore is currently also the host of the only night race on the calendar.
Then there’s the issue of financing: as reported here and elsewhere, the Thai government will foot 60 per cent of the costs to host a Formula 1 race, which is at least $27m per year or, by the Thai authorities estimations, almost $40m, which will rise by 10 per cent annually. The rest will be paid by large Thai corporations like Singha Beer and Red Bull.
And finally, there needs to be a lot of promotion: last weekend’s Race of Champions (think of it as the motorsports equivalent of All-Star Weekend) went without any problems, but was not very well attended. Sources familiar with the matter have expressed their disappointment with the very low-key promotion campaign in Bangkok, on billboards and in local media alike.
So, there is a lot to be done between now and 2015 if the dream of Formula 1 cars in Bangkok can be finally realized. This dream goes as far back as 1939, when a scheduled non-championship race around Grand Palace had to be cancelled because of World War 2.
Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and freelance foreign correspondent based in Bangkok, Thailand. He writes about Thai politics and current affairs since 2010 and is also reports for international news media such as Channel NewsAsia. You can follow him on Twitter @Saksith.