Sport & Culture

Race to the Finish: Thailand’s Formula 1 Bid

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Sport & Culture

Race to the Finish: Thailand’s Formula 1 Bid

The Thai government hopes to host a Grand Prix – despite Bangkok’s notorious traffic problems.

In recent years, Formula 1 racing has expanded aggressively out of its European heartland into Asia. Japan is a long-standing destination but some of its regional neighbors have secured championship events. This list includes China, India, South Korea, UAE, Bahrain, Malaysia, Singapore – and now, possibly, Thailand.

Kanokphand Chulakasem, governor of the Sports Authority of Thailand, said last week that an initial, “in principle” deal had been concluded with Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone to allow Thailand to host a Grand Prix in 2014.

There is passion for the sport in Thailand. In December 2010, Australian driver Mark Webber raced a Red Bull show car around Bangkok during the birthday celebrations for the Thai king. Over 100,000 people came out to see him.

Thailand styles itself as Asia’s major tourist hub, but the capital has serious traffic problems that make Formula 1 a difficult proposition. Nonetheless, there appears to be the political will to make it happen.

“It will be a city race like that in Singapore and Monaco. It will be a night race like the Singapore Grand Prix,” Mr Chulakasem told the Bangkok Post.

The Thai government would pay 60% of the costs with the private sector funding the rest. It is a similar set-up to that of Singapore – and it is expected, but not confirmed, that the fee paid to host the race will be the same. Like Singapore, the race could be held at night. It remains to be seen if it will be in the Thai capital.

“It would not be easy to host a race in Bangkok,” a government sports official told the same newspaper. “We may need a public hearing to make sure that Bangkok residents agree with the idea. A large number of Bangkok residents care more about how to make a living and are not devout Formula One fans.”

Yet there are few other options besides the capital. The existing race track in the holiday resort of Pattaya, south of the capital, is a possibility, but it is not ideal for such a large and prestigious event.

Webber drove down Ratchadamnoen Avenue in downtown Bangkok during his celebratory tour of the city in 2010. It was not the first time that that part of the Bangkok had been earmarked for cars. In 1939, Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanuban had plans for a Bangkok Grand Prix until World War II intervened.

Despite the obstacles to be overcome, the government is optimistic that the race will take place. Thailand’s tourism and sports minister Chumpol Silpa-archa told the AFP that 2014 was looking good.

“It's unlikely we'll have any problem,” he said. "We will discuss the possibilities and will know more in the next few weeks.”