Bangkok has inched another step closer to hosting a Formula 1 race in Thailand after the approval of a track route in the old part of the capital. But does the city have the infrastructure to host an event of this size?
We have documented Bangkok’s bid to host a round of the FIA Formula One World Championship since the first concrete rumors emerged in early 2012, fueled by strong financial backers such as the energy drink maker and world championship winning F1 team owners Red Bull. Speaking of costs, we then looked at the potential costs to Thailand and the city to host a race weekend in the middle of the city the bill came in at about estimated to be around $40m, not including the cost of the venue itself.
What has been noticeable in this story is how vocal the Thai organizers have been – going ahead with the announcement last October that the Grand Prix is as good as a “done deal” – and the silence of the governing body Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and the promoting Formula One Management (FOM), headed by Bernie Ecclestone, who normally don’t like when local organizers jump the gun. Despite all that, F1 supremo Ecclestone gave the Thailand Grand Prix his blessing, aiming for an appearance on the 2015 calendar.
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.
Local organizers have long expressed their desire to have Formula 1 cars race in the streets of Bangkok at night. Last Friday, the Sports Authority of Thailand announced that it has now finalized the track layout, and here it is:
The almost 6km-long city street circuit is essentially an extended and updated version of the planned track route for the 1939 Bangkok Grand Prix, which was cancelled due to World War II. It features 12 c0rners (seven right, five left), and typical for a street course many of these are 90 degree turns. The course will lead drivers past many iconic landmarks in the old downtown part of Bangkok such as Wat Phra Kaew, Sanam Luang, (to a certain extent) Khao Sarn Road, around Democracy Monument and most impressive of all it will go right around the Grand Palace.
The route would give spectators and TV viewers the chance to see several tourist spots such as the Grand Palace, Victory Monument and Temple of Dawn, [Kanokphand Chulakasem, governor of the Sports Authority of Thailand] said.
Makeshift stands could be built in several areas along the route and would be able to accommodate about 150,000 people, according to the governor.
“As the starting and finishing point would be on the bank of the Chao Phraya River, we may be able to build the main stands in the river. It would also be convenient for transportation of equipment,” he said.
“Only a small group of residents would be affected by the proposed route.”
“Green light for race route“, Bangkok Post, April 26, 2013
The start and finish is proposed to be at the Royal Thai Navy Dockyard next to the Grand Palace, which begs the question where the pit lane and paddock will be built, since there’s only a medium-sized parking lot with a pavilion in the middle of it next to a couple of tennis courts – and the grandstands are supposed to be built on the river behind the pit buildings…?
Naturally, there are a lot of new questions that need answering on top of the already existing ones: How severe will the effects be on the residents and traffic itself considering it takes weeks to close off the streets in order to build the circuit and to dismantle again? Bangkok’s traffic problems are notorious. How many roads do need to be repaved, how many traffic ‘islands’, electrical poles and drainages removed and most of all: how many million baht will this spectacle actually cost?
FIA officials reportedly visited the city earlier this year to see the proposed route and the location itself first hand, but have made no comments yet, as this track needs to pass inspection to meet FIA safety standards. Should this inner city plan be fall through, Thai officials still have a plan B for an alternative venue, which will be in the less-central, less accessible and frankly less attractive outskirts of Muang Thong Thani or Chang Wattana.
The final decision on whether or not Bangkok will host the Thailand Grand Prix will be made in October 2014, when the FIA will decide on the 2015 calendar.
h/t to a Twitter follower
About the author:
Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and freelance foreign correspondent based in Bangkok. He writes about Thai politics and current affairs since 2010 and reports for international news media like Channel NewsAsia. Read his full bio on about.me/saksith.