F1 car in town raises hope for HK Grand Prix

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 June, 2011, 12:00am

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A Formula One car on the streets of Hong Kong for the first time today could be the opening gambit towards hosting a grand prix race, says Automobile Association president Wesley Wan Wai-hei.

'This is the first step in gaining the support of the people. We want to raise the exposure of Formula One by staging this live show, and I hope it will lead to Hong Kong hosting a grand prix race one day,' Wan said yesterday.

Spanish Formula One ace Jaime Alguersuari will take part in the Red Bull Dragon Run in Central this evening, when he gets behind the wheel of the car driven by David Coulthard in 2005, when the reigning world champions made their debut. Organisers expect nearly 40,000 spectators to turn up for the one-hour demonstration on a 600-metre stretch of Lung Wo Road, between the IFC and the Wan Chai Convention Centre.

'This is not a race, this is just exposure. We need to expose the people of Hong Kong to the noise of a Formula One engine and its speed. We need to show them the car,' Wan said. 'My dream is that Hong Kong, like Singapore, Malaysia and China, will be a stop on the grand prix circuit.'

Red Bull Racing support team manager Tony Burrows believes Hong Kong would be a fantastic stopover for the circuit, which has 20 legs worldwide. 'I think Hong Kong would most certainly be capable of hosting a leg. But it is an expensive exercise,' Burrows warned.

It is an exercise virtually impossible without government help, according to Wan, who said it would cost around US$150 million to get a Formula One licence. He also said only the government could clear the obvious roadblock of running the race through the streets.

'The application fee for five years will amount to nearly US$150 million,' Wan said. 'In Singapore, the city's tourism board bears 60 per cent of the cost, while the balance is borne by a private promoter. In Shanghai, the municipal government bears the cost and likewise by the Malaysian government.

'Without the help of the Hong Kong government, we would not be able to progress. But one should remember this is an investment as there are many economic benefits, especially from tourism.

'And as far as a street circuit is concerned, if Monte Carlo and Singapore can have it, why can't Hong Kong?'

A top government official said the biggest obstacle would be winning over the hearts and minds of the people.

Jonathan McKinley, deputy secretary of Home Affairs, said: 'We would be happy to review a proposed route for such a race and to take advice from the police and Transport Department regarding its viability, but I find it difficult to imagine this getting a high level of public support, especially with a base-line price tag of over HK$1 billion.'

Wan, who presented Alguersuari with a Hong Kong memento at a Chai Wan garage yesterday, said the city had missed a golden opportunity to steal a march on its regional rivals when it turned down overtures made by Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone.

'I know Hong Kong was approached pre-handover by Bernie Ecclestone to host a leg. The Formula One management spoke to the Hong Kong government but they turned it down, perhaps due to the uncertainty surrounding the city and as they probably didn't want to commit to any long-term projects,' Wan said.

'It's a shame we didn't grab that opportunity. Hong Kong used to be the dragon head in Southeast Asia but today we are losing out to places like Singapore and Malaysia. We must get into the picture too and stage a grand prix leg.'