Inaugural Formula One Singapore Grand Prix

Singapore’s inaugural Formula One motor race was held at the Marina Bay street circuit from 26 to 28 September 2008. Called the Formula 1 SingTel Singapore Grand Prix, it was the first and only race to be held at night in F1’s history, and the first F1 street race in Asia.1

The first-ever Grand Prix in Singapore took place at the Thomson Road circuit from 16 to 17 September 1961.2 It was called the Singapore Grand Prix, and the motor racing event was staged in conjunction with the “Visit Singapore – the Orient Year” tourism promotion campaign.3 The name of the event was changed to Malaysia Grand Prix in 1962 and thereafter to Singapore Grand Prix in 1966, following Singapore’s independence the year before.4 The annual race was held from 1961–1973 before it was discontinued owing to various reasons, among which were the deaths that occurred at the event over the years. The 1973 Singapore Grand Prix was the final race held.5

After an absence of 35 years, the motor racing event was revived in 2008 as one of the rounds of the FIA Formula One World Championship (popularly known as Formula One or F1).6

F1 is the highest class of automobile racing approved by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the governing body for world motor sport and the federation of the world’s leading motoring organisations. Based in Paris, FIA is a non-profit organisation under whose umbrella are more than 230 national motoring and sporting organisations from 143 countries. FIA administers the rules and regulations for all international four-wheel motor sports, including the FIA Formula One World Championship.7 The term ‘formula’ in F1 refers to a set of rules that all participants and cars have to adhere to. The F1 season is made up of a series of races called Grand Prix, which are usually contested on purpose-built circuits.8

Singapore’s successful bid to host the F1 over five years from 2008, with an option for a five-year extension after 2012, came at a cost of S$150 million. Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel) sponsored the event title – Formula 1 SingTel Singapore Grand Prix – with co-funding from the government. The race organiser and promoter was Singapore GP Pte Ltd.9

The inaugural event was unique as it was the first F1 night race in the history of the sport. Besides putting Singapore in the global spotlight for a weekend, the event could have potential longer-term benefits. Apart from attracting more tourists, it could serve as a platform for the financial sector and private wealth management industry to network while boosting related businesses such as hotels, nightspots, restaurants, retailers, airlines and even taxi companies.10

Inaugural F1 race
F1 organisers identified the Marina Bay street circuit for the inaugural race, on which the cars would run anti-clockwise.11 As the 5.067-km race track cut through downtown Singapore, various landmarks along the route, such as the Singapore Flyer, Marina Bay Sands integrated resort and Fullerton Hotel, and the central business district skyline would be showcased to the rest of the world.12 To ensure that the F1 drivers could race safely at night, a total of 1,500 lighting projectors were installed to light up the entire circuit, including the grandstands located at different corners of the race track.13

A 350-metre-long building was constructed off Raffles Boulevard to serve as the pit building for the F1 teams. Costing about S$33 million to build, the three-storey structure housed the race facilities, winners’ podium, grandstand and guest hospitality lounges.14

The F1 event began with practice sessions on 26 September 2008. The qualifying session was held the next evening, while the actual race day was on 28 September.15 A total of 20 drivers representing 10 teams contested the race. Victory went to Spanish driver, Fernando Alonso, who drove for the Renault team. Renault’s victory was, however, tarnished by what was termed the Crashgate scandal. The team’s managing director, Flavio Briatore, and executive director of engineering, Pat Symonds, had to resign over charges that they had asked former driver, Nelson Piquet Jnr, to crash at Turn 17 during the 14th lap of the race. As a result, the safety car had to be deployed, thereby causing most of the leading cars to end up behind Alonson, who went on to clinch victory. The matter was brought before the FIA. The ensuing legal action ended with a settlement between the FIA and the two men. Both men agreed not to work in F1 until 2013, or any other FIA-sanctioned championship until the end of 2011.16

Many events were organised in conjunction with the inaugural race. In addition to the Singapore River Festival, a President’s Challenge F1 Charity Luncheon was held at the Istana, where 30 tables were available at either S$30,000 or S$50,000 each.17 Zouk set up a stage at the Padang, which featured international disc jockeys at the three-day party.18 The Amber Lounge at the Conrad Centennial Singapore had a party exclusively for F1 drivers, sponsors and celebrities, while a by-invitation-only fashion extravaganza called Stylo Fashion Grand Prix was held at the Mercedes Benz Centre.19

Around 300,000 onsite spectators and more than 100 million television viewers from around the globe watched the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix.20

Marketing and publicity efforts
The F1 Singapore Grand Prix has been held annually since the inaugural 2008 race. The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is the lead government agency for the event. As this is a night race taking place on city-centre streets, STB works with race promoter, Singapore GP Pte Ltd, and various government agencies to ensure a successful race event. The STB also partners various tourism-related businesses in the retail, arts, dining, entertainment, hospitality and MICE industries.21

The STB publicised the inaugural night race overseas by marketing Singapore as a choice lifestyle and leisure destination through trade shows, consumer roadshows, advertisements, marketing brochures and its website.22 It also created the Grand Prix Season Singapore (GPSS) – a period featuring specially curated activities and events that showcase Singapore’s diverse and innovative lifestyle offerings. The GPSS works in tandem with the F1 race to enhance the overall experience for both visitors and locals, and to provide greater exposure of Singapore’s cityscape on the international stage with its live broadcast of the race.23

Drawing on the experience of the 2008 race, efforts were made to minimise road closure and ensure that the roads around the street circuit remained accessible to motorists and members of the public in subsequent races.24


Lim Siew Kim

1. Wilfred Yeo, “F1 Comes to Singapore,” Straits Times, 12 May 2007, 1; Samuel Ee, “The Greatest F1 Show on Earth,” Business Times, 29 September 2008, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “Biggest-Ever Grand Prix,” Straits Times, 10 August 1961, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Jeffrey James, “Sport Will Draw the Tourists Here,” Singapore Free Press, 23 November 1960, 14; “Now 1961 Proclaimed as ‘Visit Singapore’ Year,” Straits Times, 9 May 1960, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Mok Sin Pin, “Strong Overseas Interest in 1st Malaysia G.P.,” Straits Times, 4 March 1962, 22; Othman Wok, “Sporting Spectacle of the Year,” Straits Times, 8 April 1966, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Ian De Cotta, The Singapore Grand Prix: 50 Years in the Making (Singapore: MediaCorp, 2008), 245–50 (Call no. RSING 796.72095957 DEC); “GP Shock: 1974 Meet Is Off,” Straits Times, 12 October 1973, 23. (From NewspaperSG)
6. "All eyes on Asia,"Today, 15 March 2008, 62. (From NewspaperSG)
7. De Cotta, Singapore Grand Prix, 1; “The FIA,” Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, accessed 29 August 2016.
8.  Martin Williamson, A Brief History of Formula One,” accessed 29 August 2016.
9. De Cotta, Singapore Grand Prix, 258–9; Leonard Lim, “Formula One Deal Signed on Friday Itself,” Straits Times, 13 May 2007, 39. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Tourism Board, Singapore, I’mpact: Singapore Tourism Board Annual report 2010/2011 (Singapore: Tourism Board, 2011)
11. De Cotta, “Lights, Ready.”
12. De Cotta, “Lights, Ready”; Ee, “Greatest F1 Show”; Alvin Foo, “City's Image Will Be the Big F1 Winner,” Straits Times, 19 September 2008, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Samuel Ee, “Philips Lamps to Light Up F1 Night Race,” Business Times, 19 August 2008, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Samuel Ee, “Work to Start on $33M F1 Pit Building,” Business Times, 1 September 2007, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Leonard Lim, “‘Impressive’,” Straits Times, 26 September 2008, 62. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Martin Williamson, “Crashgate Explained,” accessed 29 August 2016.
17. Samuel Ee, “Who's Who Headed for F1 Charity Lunch,” Business Times, 30 August 2008, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Nisha Ramchandani, “Entertainment Scene Revs Up for Formula 1,” Business Times, 19 September 2008, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Hong Xinyi, “Slew of Events to Add Buzz to F1,” Straits Times, 15 April 2008, 23; Darren Ho, “Ultimate Night Race,” Today, 19 September 2008, 79. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Cara van Miriah, “Gearing Up for the Fast Lane,” Straits Times, 3 August 2009, 42. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “Sports,” Singapore Tourism Board, accessed 29 August 2016.
22. Ernest Luis, “How to Be No.1 again Next Year,” New Paper, 16 December 2008, 39. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Tourism Board, Singapore, An-Ongoing Journey Towards Quality Tourism: Singapore Tourism Board Annual Report 2012/2013 (Singapore: Tourism Board, 2013)
24. Lim Wei Chean, “Access to F1 Area Improved: LTA,” Straits Times, 28 August 2009, 43. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as of 29 August 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Automobiles, Racing--Singapore
Grand Prix racing
Sports and games