SINGAPORE: During the two-year Singapore Formula One Grand Prix hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, superfan Adam Amir would visit parts of the Marina Bay Circuit and reminisce about past races.
“During that time, I’ve just been visiting the track, saying what could have been with my friends,” recalled the 22-year-old, laughing.
His love affair with the sport started when he was just eight years old.
This year, Mr Amir, who has attended every race at the Marina Bay Street Circuit since 2013, made sure to secure his tickets early for the return of the F1 Grand Prix in Singapore.
“I’m really looking forward to the track action, the sounds, the smell of the fuel and everything,” he told CNA.
This year’s event, which will be held from Sep 30 to Oct 2, is expected to see its biggest turnout since its inaugural race in 2008 – and organisers are anticipating tickets to sell out.
Ticket sales have already exceeded that of 2019, the last time the race was held in Singapore, Transport Minister S Iswaran said last month. That year, the race drew 268,000 spectators.
Businesses, particularly those in hospitality and events, are also gearing up for an influx of tourists and increased activities celebrating Singapore’s biggest event since the pandemic.
SEATS WITH AN F1 VIEW
While most restaurants near the race areas have been fully booked for months, some have just started taking reservations after waiting for official confirmation that diners can still access their venues on race days.
Picotin restaurant, located at The Fullerton Waterboat House and right in the middle of road closures, only released its bookings last Friday after being given the all-clear for customer access to its venue.
The European bistro’s dining area boasts a view of Esplanade Drive, a prime strip where F1 drivers have to manoeuvre a tight turn and manage a drag reduction zone that allows them to overtake rivals.
“This is the DRS (drag reduction system) zone going all the way. So we are like right at the corner of the turn. So I hope that will be a thrilling experience for our customers,” said Ashiq Shamsudeen, associate director of Picotin’s systems and customer services.
To ensure smooth service on race weekend, the restaurant said it has doubled its staff strength and reduced its capacity by 20 per cent.
MORE DEMAND THAN BEFORE
Demand for reservations this year is stronger than before the pandemic, and food and beverage (F&B) venues are seeing bookings for bigger groups of patrons, they told CNA.
“I think people just feel more need to socialise again, with bigger groups, now that it’s possible. And F1 is obviously the best occasion to do so,” said Dr Martin Bem, owner of Ponte Group, which owns the LeVeL33 restaurant.
“The demand is definitely stronger and more vibrant than before,” he said. “We have reservations for eight or 10 people and above, much more demand on that segment than before COVID-19.”
LeVeL33’s reservations during the F1 weekend for tables on its terrace, which offers aerial views of the bay area and a good length of the F1 circuit, were filled two months ago, Dr Bem said.
F&B company 1-Group said it is expecting a 20 per cent increase in revenue across its dining and nightlife establishments, with many of its central venues almost fully booked.
The group, which has planned F1-centric events including special menus, free-flow beverages, themed parties and a kids’ circuit, said it anticipates the most crowds at its nightlife venues after each race.
“I would say that the nightlife aspect would be one of the key things that people look forward to, and I think we will see most of the crowd there because most people will be at the race during dinner time,” said Ms Immelia Izalena, marketing manager of nightlife and iconic concepts at 1-Group.
“I think it’s towards the later part of the night that we will come alive.”
TAXI DRIVERS TO AVOID F1 AREA
While some businesses are rejoicing the return of the Grand Prix, some taxi drivers may not share that sentiment.
Taxi driver Jimmy Lee told CNA938 that he, and some of his colleagues, will likely avoid the F1 area despite a race-day location surcharge, saying the extra money will not be worth the traffic congestion.
“It’s a no for me. Within one to one-and-half hours you will probably only make one trip (due to heavy traffic) and you gain only an extra S$8,” said Mr Lee.
“That area has too much congestion, which increases the risk of accidents. It’s not worth it.”
With road closures in the Marina Centre and Padang area, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has urged those going to the event to take public transport.
SMRT and SBS Transit have extended the operating hours of some bus and train services for the event.
ANTICIPATION AFTER TWO-YEAR WAIT
While Mr Amir has been catching the F1 Grand Prix in other countries on television, he said that the experience is far from being at the scene of the races.
“You don’t feel like you (do) in Singapore,” he said of the atmosphere on the ground at the Marina Bay Street Circuit.
“As an F1 fan, it’s just really special. To feel the ground shake when the cars drive past, and to see the fans cheering when their favourite driver gets pole position or the win.”
Another enthusiast, Shamir Robinson, was also drawn to the sport as a kid when he used to watch it with his father.
He called F1 a “solid form of entertainment” combining sport, speed and technology.
“I think everyone, deep down, always has a bit of a need for thrill, a sense of exhilaration,” said the Ferrari fan.
“The sport, the intensity, the speeds at which they are going and the amount of technological advancements and everything that goes around Formula One, I think it’s just fantastic.”
Mr Robinson, whose dream is to watch a race live at the Monza Circuit in Italy, first caught the Singapore GP live when he managed to snag a job as a waiter at the Paddock Club in 2013.
Despite having to serve food and beverages to spectators during the event, he saw the action up close as the exclusive area offered views of the starting grid and main straight.
This year, he is eager to catch in action defending champion Sebastian Vettel, who is possibly racing for the last time in Singapore, having announced his retirement earlier this year.
“Hopefully we get to see some magic,” said Mr Robinson.
F1 is a sport that brings people together and he is proud that Singapore plays host to the race, he added.
“No one can ever take the shine away from the fact that Singapore is the first night race. It’s always going to be a special race in the calendar for any driver, and for any fan.”