Under the Lights: Scheduling for a Wider Audience

The start of the 2012 Singapore Grand Prix

I t is hard to deny the nighttime spectacle of the Singapore Grand Prix.  The drivers speeding under floodlights parallel actors performing under the spotlight of a Broadway stage.  The novel charm instantly added appeal to the south east Asian race and some even drew comparisons to Monaco.  Many also forgot that the night race in Singapore was encouraged by Formula One Management so the race would air in the traditional mid-afternoon slot in Europe.  With the success of Singapore, there have been pushes to run other races east of Europe at night (Australia, Japan and Malaysia).  This would seem like a strategy for F1 to cater to Europe while expanding elsewhere.
There are many issues with hosting a night race in Formula One.  The most predominate issue is the cost of the lighting system to illuminate the circuit.  The cost for a permanent lighting system at a Grand Prix venue is estimated to be in the high eight-figure range in US dollars. A temporary system like the one used in Singapore is even more expensive.  Lighting up road & street circuits maybe a rare occurrence but illuminating ovals in the United States is commonplace.  An oval maybe the equivalent of any other sports stadium but Losail Circuit in Qatar and Yaz Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi were lit by an American company, Musco Lighting.
Attendance at the track is surprisingly an issue that is overlooked.  More night races in F1 might cause attendance to suffer as those who might want to go to a race are discouraged because of a race ending around 22:00 Sunday night and having to go to work the next day.  This is forgotten because Singapore is run at night to benefit TV audiences and not attendees at the venue.  The rule-of-thumb is that a night race in will benefit TV audiences west of that time zone.

Monaco at night
The Saturday Night Show
     It would be in the best interests of Formula One to keep as many day races as possible to maintain attendance levels but they should consider running qualifying on Saturday nights.  Qualifying sessions are perfectly formatted for television.  Qualifying is split into 3 timed sessions that currently add up to one hour with breaks included.  Qualifying could be advertised as ‘the Party before the Prix’ with stages set up around the venue for live performances during the breaks and the performance on the main stage broadcast on television as a ‘halftime show’.  This strategy would be most effective at Grand Prix weekends in Europe.  Qualifying would be broadcast at prime-time there and in the mid-afternoon in the Americas.  It would offer Formula One to a wider audience in not only Europe but also the Americas.  This is all while still keeping the race in the mid-afternoon.  The only barrier keeping this from occurring is the high cost of having a permanent or temporary lighting system installed at a circuit.     f

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