Thailand’s plans for a nighttime Formula 1 Grand Prix in Bangkok in 2015 are in serious doubt after it emerged that Bangkok’s Metropolitan Authority has banned car racing in the area the the race was planned for.
We have looked at the Thai government’s plans to host a Grand Prix several times in the past, with a proposed track running through downtown Bangkok passing major landmarks such as the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew, Sanam Luang and Democracy Monument.
Earlier this week we reported that these plans have been drawn up without the input of a particular group, which has now thrown a spanner in the works. Local residents and environmental groups have also voiced their opposition to the proposed Grand Prix, since the authorities have left them in the dark about the plans and the potential impact on the neighborhood.
We have raised a lot of questions regarding the ambitious plans by the government to bring Formula 1 to town. How would the already notoriously congested city cope with the shutdown of some of the capital’s busiest roads? Is it really going to cost no more than $40m to host the race, with big local sponsors like Singha Beer and Red Bull reportedly willing to flip some of it? Is Thailand aready and capable of putting on a world-class sporting event or is it going to be similar to the FIFA Futsal World Cup disaster last year?
Well, we may not need to worry about these questions anymore:
But Bangkok’s Metropolitan Authority has stymied the proposal with a law banning “car racing” from the zone.
“The law came into effect on May 16 prohibiting car racing in inner Bangkok because that area is a conservation for culture and arts,” Kriangphon Pattanarat, director general of City Planning Department told AFP.
The law has been under discussion for two or three years, he said, adding it was not specifically targeted at F1.
“Motor Racing: Formula One stalls in Bangkok as law bans car racing“, AFP, June 7, 2013
Thai federal officials like Minister of Tourism and Sports Somsak Phurisisak tried not to appear caught off guard by the apparent legislation effectively outlawing and killing the Bangkok F1 Grand Prix project, going on record stating they would not fight the ruling.
Furthermore, Somsak said that that the organizers are looking for alternative locations in Bangkok like the far Northern districts Muang Thong Thani and Chaeng Wattana, or elsewhere in the country like Nakhon Ratchasima, Khon Kaen and Phuket – all of which seem to be less attractive options.
Interestingly, no one has mentioned a racing circuit that is being currently built in Buriram, designed by Formula 1-track designer Herman Tilke, the newest brainchild of Newin Chidchob. The former (but very likely still influential) politician is now the man behind his football club Buriram United, which almost instantly became a national powerhouse within a few years. However, the 4.7km purpose-built road course will have a Category 2 rating from the motorsport governing body Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). That means, it is not eligible to host Formula 1 races and would have to be modified and upgraded for that. But then again, the likelihood of a Pheu Thai Party-led government doing any business with Newin is very slim anyways due to their bitter political rivalry.
But with that the dream of bringing Formula 1 to Thailand at all seems to be over at this point, since anything other than Bangkok would be far from satisfactory for the organizers who are now scrambling to make a graceful exit from this. While skepticism was always lurking behind these plans, this whole campaign might have been the best shot Thailand had to realize its dream of hosting a Formula 1 Grand Prix – a dream it almost realized in 1939, but on that occasion it was canceled because of World War II.
Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and freelance foreign correspondent. 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.