Michael Roche- Executive Director, Singapore GP Share PDF Print E-mail
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Michael Roche
 is the Executive Director of Singapore GP, the promoter of the Formula One race in the country. In his position at Singapore GP, Michael is in charge of the day-to-day running of the circuit not only during the race weekend, but all year round in ensuring the race is a success. The race made it's debut in 2008, but is already considered one of the classics of Formula One.

By Douglas Elder

The Singapore Grand Prix recently held its fifth race, how has the running of the race changed since the inaugural race in 2008?

I think we know a little bit better what we’re doing now. There were so many unknowns when we first signed the contract and had to rapid fire to make all the plans. It wasn’t as if we just took over a big existing race circuit, what we did is we took over a major part of their busiest downtown area in the city streets and really that posed so many issues because you got buildings in the way, you got these huge heritage trees everywhere and you have so many stakeholders and government agencies to work through to be able to get things done.

If that wasn’t enough, why don’t we try and make it a night race?! So we had to design a light system a Formula One car could race under, with trees and shadows and everything. Once we got through the first year, thankfully, we got through it and because of the uniqueness of the proposition, it looked great on TV and most people thought great and you pulled it off. For us it was a massive steep learning curve, but we still learn all the time.

However, it’s still not easy. Tens of thousands of people are in involved with the whole process. Once you’ve gone through it, it does become easier because you know where some of the pitfalls are, or what your problems maybe and then it’s refining that as you move forward.

How has the global economic crisis affected the way you run the race, if at all?

I don’t mean to be flippant about it, but we don’t see that there’s a global economic crisis. We understand that there have been problems in the US and with the Euro, but I think globally there’s been many bright sports and thankfully, Asia is going through one of its upturns, and we’ve been fairly solid. In 2009 we were affected a bit but outside of that it’s been pretty much a good upswing. But, what was hugely interesting, particularly with this race just gone, we thought with the Eurocentric fan base of Formula One, we thought we may be affected but our European business and British business all went up.

Are there any aspects of the Singapore Grand Prix you would like to change?

There are so many areas we can improve and we try and cover every touch point; how our website looks, how our Facebook looks, our ticketing website and how you book a ticket, when you get the confirmation of a ticket and then when you receive the ticket’s in beautiful packaging, so the whole experience must follow through to when you get to the circuit. You can always improve and you must improve because what you did five years ago is now passé. You set that benchmark five years ago, if all you do is deliver what you did before, people will say it’s not as good, as perception is ‘oh, I already been to that.’ So, all the time you have to sharpen your pencil and look at all areas and say ‘how do I innovate, how do I make it different, how do I put a spin on it?” We can’t affect what happens on the track that much, but it naturally changes every year. Everything off track, from painting the run offs to how the lighting looks, is where we concentrate our efforts.

How much do you learn from other Formula One circuits, or do you try and do things your own way?

We always wanted to go our own way. There were some lessons that we learnt from the Australian Grand Prix, who were very accommodating to show us the ropes and our Singapore police went to interface with the Melbourne police, so we learnt some things about what to expect, but we never wanted to mirror another Formula One circuit and most of us were absolute green horns.

We didn’t know about motor racing or about the pureness of Formula One, we were much more concerned about the lifestyle and putting on an event that centred around this Formula One race, but then building a whole total experience event around it. People said “you’re a Monaco”, well we didn’t want to be Monaco, we wanted to be Singapore and we tried to ‘Singapor-ify’ it as much as possible, by bringing in street food and hawker food from all around town, and trendy bars and clubs from around town, and bring it all into the circuit. So people said: “oh, we wanted the circuit to represent Singapore in microcosm.”

How difficult was it to raise the idea of a night race, or was it something both you and Formula One wanted to do?

It was more that Mr Ecclestone was aware that he was moving certain races away from the major European base, therefore there was time differences that affect viewership. We want to brand market Singapore as much as put on the event, therefore we wanted the largest possible audience and therefore I made sense for us. And, because of the inconvenience of taking out half of the city centre to put on a Formula One race and lock streets down, you’re doing that because you want to showcase the old architecture, the colonial architecture, the new modern skyscrapers, the marina, the best way to do that was not to do it in bright sunshine. It was actually at night and you see how spectacular it looks on TV.

It all kind of fitted. Bernie said: “I like that and we’re going to get some good viewing times across Europe” and for us, we were showcasing our city at the very best dressed and we managed to pull it off by creating the lighting system that could do that.

In recent years, more Asian races have been added to the calendar, why do you think this is?

Well, I think Asia did look to the West for quite a long time for content and innovation and still does in some respect, whether it’s designer fashion, music and other trends. But also, the tiger economies: Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Seoul were these emerging Asian cities that were just burgeoning populations on a huge economic upswing and as everybody got more confident, that spread to Bangkok, Shanghai and that changed the whole playing field.

Asians became more affluent, huge rising middle classes, they were educating their kids overseas and also travelling all the time and getting more exposure to the rest of the world and then there was a natural progression of content that’s come in and the rising affluence, and a huge part of the world’s population was on this side of the world and they had an appetite for things new and dynamic and they wanted to showcase what they were about and I think Formula One, in that case, does allow that.

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