As Formula One Expands, Vietnam Becomes a New Destination

From early roots in the 1950s as a largely European-based racing series, Formula One has expanded across the world into five continents. In the last 15 years, races were added in Bahrain, China, South Korea, India and Azerbaijan.

But the addition of a grand prix in Vietnam in April 2020 will be especially significant because it will be the first race added under the sport’s new owner, Liberty Media Corporation.

Since acquiring the series in 2017, Liberty has been clear in its desire to take the series to what the company called “destination cities,” such as Miami, Las Vegas and London. The company said it planned to expand to 24 or 25 races in the next five years and also had its eyes on Africa and on adding another race in the United States.

But Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, will be the first city to join the schedule under Liberty’s stewardship, hosting the Vietnam Grand Prix on the streets in the west of the city in April.

“With Liberty, we are taking a much more strategic approach to where we go racing,” said Chloe Targett-Adams, the sport’s global director of promoters and business relations.

“We’re looking at locations that are going to give us a destination and iconic capabilities, both from a live event experience and a TV audience perspective, and where we’re going to be able to create a really great racing spectacle.”

The Formula One calendar currently has 21 races. The locations are at a mix of rural, traditional circuits, like those in Spielberg, Austria, and Spa, Belgium, and at downtown tracks laid out on city streets in Singapore; Baku, Azerbaijan; and Monaco.

Targett-Adams said that strong trade relations between Hanoi and Melbourne, the host city for Australia’s race, stimulated interest from Vietnamese officials in holding a grand prix. Formula One saw an opportunity to capitalize on its growing Asian market, building on existing races in Singapore, China and Japan.

“In Vietnam, we have an incredibly exciting and emerging market,” she said. It is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and it hasn’t before hosted major events on a global scale.

“It was very much looking to attract tourism to the country. We knew we had over nine million Vietnamese F1 fans there already without having a race, so it was a very interesting market for us strategically.”

Because it will be first new race as part of Liberty’s strategy, with a new race in the Netherlands coming up in May, Targett-Adams said there would be “a lot of attention on Vietnam,” but offered a positive overall outlook of Formula One’s future race schedule.

“I think we’re in a great place with our existing races right now,” she said. “We’ve just announced renewals for our Mexico race and previously our Silverstone race” in England. “We’re also going to be returning to the Netherlands in the coming year,” the first time a grand prix will be held there since 1985, when Niki Lauda won. The two new grands prix will bring the 2020 schedule to 22.

“We have to be very strategic in terms of where we are adding, so that we maintain our existing races and that we also grow that reach and calendar opportunity.”

But not everyone is convinced by Liberty’s strategy. While adding the two new races, Formula One is also losing one next year. The German Grand Prix, first held in 1951, is set to drop off the schedule. Races in Britain, Spain and Italy have also faced uncertainty in recent years because of the challenge of raising money to meet Formula One’s hosting fees, which can be as high as $40 million.

Races outside of Europe typically require higher hosting fees. But those races are often supported by government funding to stimulate tourism and create jobs. Other circuits have a greater reliance on private support and ticket sales.

The loss of Germany for 2020 comes despite German success in the sport. From 1994 to 2004, Michael Schumacher of Germany won seven drivers’ championships and remains the all-time leader. A German driver has also won five of the nine titles since 2010, and Mercedes has won the championship every year since 2014.

“I’m not quite sure what’s in the future, whether there’s a chance to keep it, but certainly when it comes to passion and effort that people put into this race, it’s pretty high up,” Sebastian Vettel of Germany, a four-time world champion, said of his home race.

“I hope people make some decisions on common sense, and not based on how much the wallet is opening. I think we have grands prix that we just mustn’t lose such as Monza in Italy, such as the race at Silverstone in the U.K. Germany and Spain have a long history of racing.

Lewis Hamilton of England, the reigning world champion, praised Liberty for “doing a good job in terms of bringing other places into the sport,” but he urged caution.

“If you start taking away the legendary races, and it’s all just new ones, you lose all the history and all the culture, which makes Formula One what it is,” he said.

Targett-Adams said Formula One realized that. Despite Liberty’s desire to add city-based events, the races at the traditional venues are indeed an important part of its strategy, she said.

“What’s always key is that you’ve got in your mind that you’re acting in the best interests of the sport, as well as in the best interests of the business,” Targett-Adams said. “That’s always a balance to be made.

“I think it’s got to be that core mix of heritage locations and new destination locations where you can still deliver great racing.”

With seven months to go until the race, preparations in Hanoi are underway. They include infrastructure projects around the course, such as the construction of a pit building for the teams, grandstands and laying asphalt.

For Targett-Adams and her team, attention has shifted to delivering a unique and memorable first Vietnam Grand Prix.

She said that for the race weekend, Formula One planned food festivals, concerts with local talent, and heritage and education sites.

“We also want to build on that and create a great fan experience, so when you turn up, you really feel that you’re in Hanoi, you’re at a Formula One event in Vietnam.”