Hanoi host­ing the Viet­nam Grand Prix fits the bill for F1’s own­ers

The Guardian Australia - - Sport - Giles Richards

The Com­mu­nist-ruled repub­lic of Viet­nam and For­mula One might not be the most likely of bed­fel­lows. Yet con­fir­ma­tion that the coun­try’s first grand prix will take place on the streets of Hanoi in 2020 is of lit­tle sur­prise given F1’s global ex­pan­sion over the past two decades.

F1’s owner, Lib­erty Me­dia, wants new mar­kets to ex­pand their fan­base. Viet­nam, like so many other mod­ern F1 venues, is an­gling for the pres­tige and world­wide au­di­ence that in­flu­ences in­vest­ment and tourism long after the che­quered flag is waved. It is a sim­ple equa­tion then, but one at which Lib­erty at least is go­ing to have to re­ally work.

Hanoi will host the in­au­gu­ral Viet­namese Grand Prix on a 3.458-mile street cir­cuit de­signed by Her­man Tilke’s com­pany, lo­cated 12km west of the city cen­tre near the My Dinh Na­tional Sta­dium. It is be­ing backed not by the state but by one of the coun­try’s big­gest pri­vate busi­nesses, the Vin­group.

The track de­sign is in­trigu­ing, com­bin­ing el­e­ments of other cir­cuits in­clud­ing the Nür­bur­gring, Monaco, Suzuka and Sepang. It has been a col­lab­o­ra­tive process with the F1 mo­tor­sport team, headed by Ross Brawn, also in­volved – an in­di­ca­tion that spec­ta­cle and the abil­ity to race has been at the heart of the process.

For Lib­erty, it is the first new cir­cuit they have brought to the cal­en­dar since they took over the sport in 2017 and it is un­likely to be a co­in­ci­dence that it has been an­nounced a week be­fore they re­veal their lat­est fi­nan­cial state­ments and plans to in­vestors. With the deal done their task is to en­sure it is suc­cess­ful and per­haps the first is­sue they face is just where Hanoi fits in F1’s fu­ture.

This sea­son there are 21 races, a num­ber F1 has hosted only once be­fore. Lib­erty’s aim is to ex­pand the sport – par­tic­u­larly in what they call “des­ti­na­tion cities” – and Hanoi fits the bill per­fectly, as does Mi­ami, where they are still hop­ing to stage a race. Las Ve­gas, Jo­han­nes­burg’s Kyalami cir­cuit and both Zand­voort and Assen in the Nether­lands have also been mooted as po­ten­tial venues, mean­ing that if the cal­en­dar re­mains the same there will be 22 races in 2020 and maybe 23 or more there­after.

This is a po­ten­tial ex­pan­sion that has been met with al­most uni­ver­sal dis­ap­proval from the teams. The Red Bull team prin­ci­pal Chris­tian Horner de­scribed 21 races as the sat­u­ra­tion point. “There’s only so many chap­ters you can have in a book and I think at some point you go be­yond what’s rel­e­vant,” he said.

Re­nault’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Cyril Abite­boul has gone even fur­ther, ar­gu­ing that the cal­en­dar should be cut to be­tween 15 and 18 races in or­der to main­tain a sense of oc­ca­sion. “I ap­pre­ci­ate the rea­son why, com­mer­cially we need to grow the cal­en­dar, but as far as I’m con­cerned, I would be for a mas­sive con­trac­tion of the sport,” he said.

Lib­erty will clearly face a strug­gle to con­tinue adding races in the face of this level of op­po­si­tion. Yet, as Abite­boul noted, they have a com­mer­cial im­per­a­tive to do so. Race fees are a ma­jor source of in­come to the sport and the own­ers have been un­der pres­sure to lower the costs, es­pe­cially at Euro­pean cir­cuits. Spa re­cently did a deal with a re­duced fee and both Sil­ver­stone and Monza are at­tempt­ing to do the same. New venues can al­le­vi­ate that but fit­ting Viet­nam and po­ten­tially oth­ers into the sched­ule will be a far from easy task.

In the long term, and the deal in Viet­nam is de­scribed as “multi-year”, the new race will per­haps be the great­est in­di­ca­tor yet of just how dif­fer­ently Lib­erty will op­er­ate from Bernie Ec­cle­stone. Un­der the lat­ter, a re­mark­able range of venues that had never hosted F1 be­fore were added, in­clud­ing, among oth­ers, China, Baku, Abu Dhabi, South Korea, Tur­key, In­dia and Sin­ga­pore. Once the race fees were rolling in, how­ever, For­mula One man­age­ment’s in­ter­est di­min­ished.

With no his­tory of com­pet­ing in or fol­low­ing mo­tor­sport, many man­aged lit­tle more than host­ing their annual week­end in the sun be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing. In­dia lasted three years, South Korea four, Tur­key, de­spite a lay­out much ad­mired by driv­ers, seven. At Mokpo in South Korea the vast swathes of empty grand­stands sat in judge­ment on a sport that was en­tirely fail­ing to make any im­pres­sion on the coun­try and the track was locked and empty for 51 weeks a year.

This will not work for Lib­erty, whose aim is to grow rev­enues by in­creas­ing fans, with one of their ma­jor rev­enue streams ex­pected to be earned from pay-to-view stream­ing. Viet­nam is just the sort of mar­ket into which they want to sell their ser­vice so they have to make sure it does more than sim­ply host a race. Hanoi will be the test of whether they can sway the hearts and minds of the Viet­namese peo­ple too.

A cer­e­mony in Hanoi to an­nounce that the Viet­namese cap­i­tal will host an F1 race for the first time in 2020. Pho­to­graph: Nhac Nguyen/AFP/Getty Images

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.