Bernie Ecclestone has revealed that one of his last actions as the boss of Formula One was to give the red light to plans for a Grand Prix in Vietnam - despite the race being worth potentially north of £300million to the sport.
The south-east Asian country is famous for the war which waged there for two decades from 1955 but is looking to reinvent itself. F1 would drive tourism and Ecclestone says the organisers were ready to rev up the plan in summer last year. However, he rejected it as Vietnam has little connection to motorsport and F1 "already has several races in the region."
“Last year I was approached about having a race in Vietnam. I was offered the opportunity to meet the president about doing a deal for a Grand Prix. I could have done the deal and signed it in August. Everything was arranged for this to happen but I didn’t do the deal because we already have quite a few races in that part of the world and I thought it might be a little bit over the top to have another one,” he says.
In January F1 was sold to American investment firm Liberty Media which promptly ejected Ecclestone after almost 40 years in the driving seat. Liberty has pledged its support to F1’s traditional races and said it wants more in the United States where there is currently only one. It has also criticised Ecclestone’s strategy of selling races to the highest bidder which has boosted the hosting fee to an average of £25m annually but taken F1 to far-flung locations like Sochi in Russia, Abu Dhabi and Azerbaijan.
Last month Liberty’s boss Greg Maffei claimed that Ecclestone’s driving force had been to ask “How much can I extract? How much upfront? So we end up with races in places like Baku in Azerbaijan where they paid us a big race fee but it does nothing to build the long-term brand and health of the business.”
Reflecting on the deals he did during his time as F1’s boss Ecclestone acknowledges that Vietnam would have been a step too far even though it would have paid an estimated £320m over the ten years of its contract. “It hasn’t got any racing history at all,” he says. “So I didn’t want to put another race in the same sort of area where we already have very good promoters. And I was criticised for putting the races in Baku and in Russia because they hadn’t got that much racing history.”
F1 already has three races in south-east Asian nations – Malaysia, China and Singapore. Vietnam first vied to join them in 2010 when a track was due to be built near Ho Chi Minh City. The plan hit the buffers and one obstacle was Vietnam’s strict rules which prevented locals from betting on sports events despite being famous for their love of gambling. Last month this law was relaxed for anyone with a monthly income of more than £360 and Vietnam’s first race track opened last year in anticipation of this.
Its standards fall far below those required by F1 but a track which would meet them was reportedly under consideration last year. It is understood that a foreign group was seeking investment to build a track in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi and carried out a feasibility study for it.
Senior F1 figures supported a race in the country with former independent director Martin Sorrell suggesting it as a future race location last year. After the Italian Grand Prix in Monza Gianluca Di Tondo, senior global brand director of F1 sponsor Heineken said that if he could add one race to the calendar it would be “in Asia: Vietnam. We are very present in Vietnam through a local partner and they were our guests in Monza and they were over the moon. So why not have a race in Ho Chi Minh City.”Reuse content