February 28, 2008 For all the thrill of attending a Formula One (F1) or MotoGP event, the majority of the live spectators view the races on TV, and the majority of both sports’ income comes from television rights. F1 and MotoGP are both broadcast to more than 200 countries with Formula One attracting television fees of around US$380 million annually for a cumulative season audience of around 580 million unique viewers. In order to “optimize” television rights revenues, both sports are now moving to night Grands Prix in some time zones so the races can be broadcast live in prime time in the key European markets. The first night “test” begins today in Qatar and presents some interesting logistical problems for the teams.
F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has been pressuring the Australian F1 GP organizers for a night race for some time and well he might. The majority of Ecclestone’s TV income (he is one of the richest men in England and the highest salary earner in British history) is based on television rights, so it’s not surprising that he wants to run races in Asia and the Middle East when Europe’s TV audiences are awake and receptive.
The Singapore deal is just the thin end of the wedge and more night Grands prix will follow. Australia’s F1 race is held on a street circuit in a residential area and the local government will not relent. The latest word on the future of the race is that Australia is to lose its place on the calendar due to its reluctance to run a night race. Ecclestone’s TV rights will be worth more with more prime time events, and he’s long since figured out that a 3pm Saturday or Sunday afternoon start time in Asia, Australia and the middle East corresponds with poor programming times in the crucial European TV market.
Singapore is creating a street circuit just to hold the world’s first night Formula One event on September 28 this year. The inaugural Singapore F1 Grand Prix will be staged on a new public road circuit in the Marina Bay Development precinct, with the city's famous skyline providing a spectacular backdrop.
The race was announced in May 2007 following the agreement of a five-year deal between Formula One Management (FOM) CEO Bernie Ecclestone, Singapore entrepreneur Mr Ong Beng Seng, and the Singapore Tourism Board.
The Singapore Grand Prix design proposal also includes powerful lighting provisions that will replicate daylight conditions.
Surprisingly, it is the motorcycle equivalent of Formula One, MotoGP, that is leading the way. A little over a week from now, the first night MotoGP race will be staged at the Losail circuit in Dohar, Qatar – starting at 11pm local time, the primetime advertising bonanza apparently more than compensating for the inherent problems.
The job to put lights on the already state-of-the-art Losail circuit in Qatar fell to the world’s number one construction company for sports lighting, Musco. Musco had previously lit the Daytona International Speedway, which was until Losail came along, the biggest permanent sports lighting fixture on the globe. Losail is much less compact than Daytona and its 5.2 kilometer circuit is much bigger – approximately 70 football pitches in size. The lighting is 50% more efficient than any prior system of similar size, yet will still need 5.4 million watts.
For the riders, there are pros and cons – they’ll be racing at the same time they would normally race in their home European time-zone, but it will be at 11pm until midnight that they’ll need to perform at their best in the local time zone.
It’s still anybody’s guess just what it’ll be like hauling a MotoGP bike down from 325 km/h at the end of the main straight at Losail, on a night where temperatures will be much lower than normal race conditions, with much higher humidity. Sometime tonight we’ll know for sure what the conditions will be like, though everyone seems to be accepting that it’s exciting, novel and inevitable, and everybody gets the same set of problems to deal with.
Until now, the only testing that’s been done at night on the circuit has been on road bikes, with their own lights, and only on a limited number of corners. Today, the first testing session under night race conditions will be held in Qatar. You can follow the action on the official MotoGP site.