EXCLUSIVE: No substance to Supercars Singapore claims
By Mat Coch
Monday 25th September, 2023 - 6:00am
Supercars’ well-publicised ambition to race around the streets of Marina Bay in support of the Singapore Grand Prix is a pipedream.
Speedcafe can reveal there is nothing to support claims the Australian touring car competition is on the verge of inking a deal to race in the city-state.
Singapore has long been flagged as a preferred destination for Supercars given its proximity to Australia and the international platform F1 offers.
“We’ve had early discussions and we’d really like to be at the Singapore Grand Prix. I think it’d be a very big stage for us,” Shane Howard, Supercars CEO, told Speedcafe in May.
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“It would work really well in regard to [Australian fans] being able to travel there and the TV times here.
“If we get the opportunity to be in Singapore, we’d grab it with both hands. I mean, you’re on the big stage. There’s a lot of global sponsors there. We would certainly like to be in Singapore.”
Championship chairman, Barclay Nettlefold, was less forthright with his own comments regarding the addition of Singapore to the calendar, but it is known that he has been spruiking the idea to those in the paddock for some time.
However, despite comments about early conversations taking place, an extensive investigation by Speedcafe has revealed that there are no deals in place or conversations currently being had to make it a reality.
It had been suggested a race in Marina Bay could be added to the Supercars calendar in place of Sandown, with the Victorian circuit living on borrowed time.
The latest intelligence is the 2025 event will be the last at the historic venue before the Melbourne Racing Club develops the land – a project that could net the club billions of dollars.
Logic followed that, to replace the event, Supercars would venture to Singapore for its pre-Bathurst event once that day does come.
It’s not the first time that concept has been floated, with a similar concept falling down due to reluctance from the teams.
A multi-million dollar sum has been floated as the expected compensation local promoters would pay Supercars to compete at the event.
While perhaps once that would have made sound business sense to help drive interest in the event, with the explosion of F1’s popularity in recent years, it non longer needs the help.
The Singapore event is jointly produced by a private promoter and the Singapore Tourism Board, the latter holding a 60 percent stake.
Turning a profit on the event is therefore not critical, but certainly preferred by Ong Beng Seng, the event’s president and billionaire owner of Hotel Properties, whose business naturally benefits from the influx of tourism F1 brings.
This year’s race saw a sell-out crowd across the three days, a figure slightly down on the 2022 number but explained by the reduced capacity owing to the construction work at The Float.
New grandstands and other access was added to offset that loss, which was greedily snapped up by fans.
An argument used by those pushing the Supercars line is its addition to the event would increase the spectacle for those fans in attendance.
It’s a fine statement, but in the world of Formula 1 it must be supported with a business model.
It begs the question: why would Singapore GP Pte Ltd increase its cost base by paying for a support category when uptake on ticket sales is already strong? It makes no sense unless there is something else Supercars can bring to the table to help contribute positively to the promoter.
If there is, it isn’t clear even to those in charge in Marina Bay, where sources profess to have no ongoing dialogue with Supercars.
Indeed, the continual links are a source of frustration as there is simply no truth to claims there are active conversations.
Suggestions given to Speedcafe were that, since the promoter knows nothing about Supercars’ claims, the conversations must be with the F1’s commercial rights holders.
However, investigations on that front also came up empty. While there are plenty of discussions happening, sources revealed none of them involved or related to Supercars.
What’s more, that is across the board and not just limited to the Singapore Grand Prix.
Of course, that doesn’t rule out conversations with other individual promoters. Saudi Arabia has been floated, and it wouldn’t be the first time Supercars has entertained the notion of racing there.
Like with Singapore, even if there was a deal with F1, it would require a workable business model. Again, this is where the concept fails.
F1 would have to derive an income from Supercars. It is difficult to understand how both F1 AND Supercars gain financially.
Logically, Supercars would pay F1 for the rights to be on the support programme, as Porsche does, but from where is Supercars’ income derived?
It can’t sell signage, F1 owns the rights to hospitality and television coverage, while the promoter picks up any crumbs that may be left on the table.
Putting the ‘where’ aside, what motivation would F1 have to do a deal? It is no more motivated than the Singapore promoter, with the caveat that there are potentially more potential revenue streams available (rights to race, television, logistics, etc).
And of course if F1 insists on Supercars racing at Singapore, because it is being paid to do so, F1 is denying the promoter an opportunity to derive an income, and it’d be perfectly reasonable for it to then expect a discounted hosting fee.
So while F1 may increase revenue through Supercars, it would decrease it with the promoter. It’s a nil-sum game.
And what would motivate the local promoter to agree? Both support categories that raced this year are happy and expected back in 2024.
Thailand Super Series is entertaining enough with a mix of GT-style cars with exotic marques, that pays its own way. If it is not a small profit centre, it is at least cost-neutral (though if the Australian Grand Prix Corporation model is followed, TSS will be positively contributing).
On top of the entry fee are the hospitality and ticketing packages that are sold, which by the numbers seen by this publication are not to be sneezed at.
The same goes for Porsche Carrera Cup Asia, which this year is back to full health after effectively running as Carrera Cup China for the past two years, a legacy of COVID.
Any concession to local organisers would have to offset the income lost by not featuring one of those categories.
Adding another support category is far from trivial too as there is insufficient real estate for another paddock of any size, effectively capping the support programme at its current size by default.
So if the business model doesn’t stack up and two of the three players in the saga are adamant there is nothing happening, why does the story persist?
Put simply; it’s good for business.
By linking Supercars to the Singapore Grand Prix, a high-profile event on our doorstep, it creates the impression of international interest.
The awkward truth is that there simply isn’t any.
Singapore has no interest in Supercars and quietly wishes to distance itself from the championship. It chooses not to go on the record as doing so gives the story oxygen, and they’d be denying something that isn’t actually happening anyway. It is a festering speculation that those Speedcafe spoke with wish would disappear.
There’s a different attitude at Formula 1, which is ambivalent to the presence of Australian touring cars but is only too happy to bolster its balance sheet. But, F1 will always (and rightly so) look after its own interests first.
When it comes to Formula 1, a wise man once said; Follow the money. Always follow the money.