The Race of Our Lives: Thoughts on a Manila Grand Prix

A Manila Grand Prix would be a dream. But first, better sewage, right?

The most tantalising news in the past couple of weeks has got to be that Liberty Media, the owners of Formula 1, applied for the trademarks of “Philippine Grand Prix” and “Manila Grand Prix” with the Philippine Intellectual Property Office last January.

So, is the world’s most prestigious motorsport finally coming to the Philippines? The idea of Mercedes and Ferrari duking it out on home soil is an incredible proposition. Like my Formula 1-addicted brother said to me on Viber: “No way!!!”

He’s exactly right. There’s no way it’ll happen. The Independent broke the story and made several key points:

It costs roughly $21.5 million annually to host a race on a proper racetrack.

Street races cost around $53.8 million annually because you have to “rent fencing, grandstands and other structures to turn public roads into a race track.”

Liberty Media charges $30.1 million to host a race, which is also a recurring annual fee.

Supercharged numbers

Let’s do the math. The average Formula 1 race (+ hosting fees) therefore costs 2.7 billion pesos. For a street race you’re looking at 4.4 billion pesos. These are staggering figures. How on earth do you mount a Grand Prix and make a profit?

The article notes that the only racetrack in Manila is the Pradera Verde Racing Circuit, a 3.1-mile track designed by Hermann Tilke, the German architect behind many other Formula 1 racetracks.

The circuit is due to open in 2021 but will not be built to match Formula 1’s exact specifications, so forget it hosting an actual Formula 1 race there. The only feasible option for the Philippines is a street race.

But again, the math: 4.4 billion pesos. Who’s going to foot the bill?

Government intervention

All host countries except the UK have government support. For example, the Singapore Grand Prix, which costs an estimated $135 million (seven billion pesos) a year, is funded 60 per cent by the government, with the remaining cost shouldered by the organiser Singapore GP. That’s $81 million (4.2 billion pesos) paid by the government to bring the Marina Bay Street Circuit to life.

We’ll need similar support from our own government to pull this off. You have full permission to laugh.

The winning formula

But let’s say the government is willing and somehow has the cash to do this. How does it make it back? And how does the organiser make a profit too?

You pray for exceptional turnout from locals and tourists alike. Ticket sales, advertising, and tourism are all key factors to making a successful – and profitable – Grand Prix.

Singapore has so far hosted 19 Grands Prix which, according to the nation’s Minister for Trade, have collectively brought in more than 450,000 foreign visitors and roughly $1.4 billion in tourist income. The minister also claims the race has put Singapore on the map as a glamorous, happening city.

It helps that Singapore actually is a glamorous, happening city. As such, its partnership with Formula 1 is a potent combo.

Monaco is another fabulous city and host to perhaps Formula 1’s most famous street race, the Monaco Grand Prix. It attracts roughly 100,000 people (although total spectators unofficially tally to about 200,000) which in 2008 translated to $16.3 million (850 million pesos) in track side ad revenue.

The same report says Monaco ticket sales vary from €134 (7,900+ pesos) for general admission to €4,877 (287,000+ pesos) for VIP seats.

Sure, Manila Formula 1 tickets won’t cost the same as in Monaco, but what’s a reasonable price range considering the average Filipino income and the incredible cost to organise?

Mean streets

Let’s say that a street race is on the cards. The eager folks at Visor have fantasised about three venues: Makati (an inner city run that includes Ayala Avenue, Greenbelt and Glorietta), Bonifacio Global City (which will be closer to Singapore in terms of look) and Manila Bay which Visor admits is likely “the most realistic track concept”.

The next question is about logistics. How long will the actual streets be locked down? How much traffic will the rerouting of Manila vehicles generate? How much productivity, money and hair will be lost as a result?

It takes six weeks to set up the Monaco Grand Prix, although preparations start way before that. For Singapore, preparations begin four months before the actual race. According to the BBC, the Singapore Grand Prix requires 25,000 people to manage 4,395 safety barriers, ten kilometers of debris fencing, 108,423 meters of power cables, 240 steel pylons and 1,600 light projectors.

Less pit stop, more pipe dream

The logistics alone make the prospect of a Manila Grand Prix a thing of terrifying beauty.

The expense and effort required to run a Philippine Formula 1 race will be otherworldly. Can our government even afford to pay half the event cost? Will the potential returns and glow of international acclaim make a Manila Grand Prix worth it?

Not when you realise we have other pressing concerns as a nation. Like perpetual traffic. Lousy Internet. Horrifying waste problems.

The Manila Bay cleanup has been all over social media lately, although the results have been overshadowed by the fact that only 20 per cent of Metro Manila households are connected to a sewage treatment facility while the rest of our collective “sludge, toxic waste and solid garbage eventually wash out into Manila Bay.” This is up from 11 per cent according to a 2015 report which also said that 85 per cent of Metro Manila households “are served by over two million ill-maintained septic tanks and four per cent of the population has no toilet.”

We’re not flush with cash, but with the cash we have let’s flush

Metro Manila’s poor sewage has been described as worse than ancient Rome. Manila Bay has been likened to a toilet that hasn’t been flushed for years. Waste disposal is an alarming problem – but not without a solution.

Marikina is tackling waste with its Marikina North Sewage Treatment Plant that treats 100 million liters of used water from more than 500,000 residents, daily.

It cost 2.7 billion pesos to build. Or roughly half the cost of a Formula 1 street race.

Granted, it’s not as glamorous as Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes tearing up Roxas Boulevard at 300 kph. But in the race to save our city, it’s just what we need.

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