While countries like India and Korea have failed to make a success of their Formula 1 grands prix, Singapore is becoming one of the jewels of the crown, argues Kate Walker
As debuts go, it was an inauspicious one. Thanks to the combined efforts of Nelson Piquet Jr and certain members of the Renault pit wall, the Singapore Grand Prix's maiden outing will ever be associated with the "Crash-gate" scandal that led to the French marque's most recent withdrawal from Formula 1.
But in the years since, Singapore has built itself a solid reputation as F1's hard-working, hard-playing eastern business hub, the race at which the deals are done and the best of the parties are thrown.
India and South Korea, two other recent Asian arrivals to the F1 calendar, have fallen by the wayside, while the more established races in Malaysia and Japan have failed to set the business world alight in quite the same way as the island city-state to the south. What is it that sets Singapore apart?
First and foremost, Singapore has long been known as a global business hub - for nine consecutive years, the World Bank classed it as the "Easiest Place [in the World] to do Business".
The world's fourth-largest financial centre and a major transport hub for people and freight alike, Singapore is a well-oiled machine heaving with all of the necessary corporate infrastructure to facilitate the doing of business. Forbes calls it the most influential city in Asia.
Singapore is also a place of unignorable wealth. The per capita income of Int$82,762.00 puts the country third in the world based on IMF rankings, and fourth according to World Bank data. A well-travelled, well-heeled cosmopolitan business crowd is the stuff sponsors' fantasies are made of, and Singapore delivers that in spades.
Events held in hotel bars and restaurants high above the track offer a once-in-a-season chance to see the floodlit track from above, the perfect backdrop to an F1 sponsor announcement.
The impact of the unusual hours the F1 circus keeps in Singapore should not be underestimated. There is a certain glamour in a day that starts with the burning of the midnight oil, a buzz in the armies of networking suits scattering business cards around hotel bars when everyone's guard is down.
The only night race on the calendar until 2014, the Singapore Grand Prix's dark skies lend the event a certain louche glamour, which continues to boost audience appeal.
F1 paying off
In the first four years of the Marina Bay round, 100 million people watched the race on television, while between 200,000 and 300,000 people attended each GP. Over the same period, tourism revenues attributed to the race boosted the city's coffers by $410 million.
One advantage the Singapore race has is its close relationship with title sponsor Singapore Airlines. The carrier offers grand prix packages incorporating flights, hotel, and grandstand tickets, bringing in a significant portion of the race's overseas audience. In addition, the airline does its part to advertise the grand prix around the world.
Location is a vital element of Singapore's success. As a major international hub, Singapore is easy to get to, and the grand prix makes a logical stopping off point at the beginning or end of a holiday elsewhere in Asia or the Pacific. Approximately 40 percent of attendees travel to the race from other countries, with Australia and the United Kingdom making up a significant portion of the international crowd.
Perhaps most importantly, however, Formula 1 is but one part of a government strategy to use sport to boost tourism by increasing Singapore's profile on the global stage. In 2015 alone, the island nation will play host to the grand prix, the Southeast Asian Games, the Barclays Asia Trophy and the IRB Sevens World Series.
The government has expressed an interest in adding the FINA Swimming World Cup and the Women's Tennis Association Tournament to its roster.
F1 features heavily in Singapore's efforts to market itself both as a tourist destination and as a sporting hub perfectly suited to hosting a variety of events.
The government has a vested interest in ensuring the race continues to be a success, and so puts an unparalleled amount of effort into turning the race into a city-wide celebration with its affiliated concerts and special events.
In contrast, the Indian Grand Prix was effectively torpedoed by its own government, when their refusal to backtrack on the decision to classify F1 as entertainment, not sport, left teams liable for hefty local taxes. When no agreement on the taxes could be reached, the race fell off the calendar and has yet to return.
Where location is one of Singapore's strengths, for Korea it was a weakness. The Yeongam International Circuit was five hours from Seoul by express train, and a long drive from any sizeable population centre.
Big plans to develop the area ran aground when funding ran out, and the Korean Grand Prix became another of F1's white elephants.