Last week the motorsport community was treated to the news that Emirates airline has cracked a multi-million dollar deal with Formula 1, which would see them become a major player on the commercial side of the sport. In one swoop, the deal grabbed headlines for days thereafter.
F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone jetted into town (no doubt on board an Emirates flight) and along with Shaikh Ahmad Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Civil Aviation and Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates Airline and Group, announced to the world a five-year deal which was long in the making but kept secret by all concerned until the day it was made public.
Gulf News had this to file on the announcement: ‘Under the agreement that spans five seasons, Emirates will have a strong branding presence at 15 races on the 2013 FIA Formula One World Championship calendar across all five continents. The four races exempt from this partnership are in Melbourne, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and Monaco because of pre-existing title sponsorship commitments.”
Now this is huge exposure, which no doubt comes with a hefty price tag. But make no mistake, Emirates would have done the maths and come to the conclusion that the rewards are also hefty. There is no doubt they know the sports business.
The Dubai airline is now without doubt the premier sponsorship brand in global sport. Their association with top-flight European teams is famous, their horse racing exposure spans just about all continents and their involvement in rugby, tennis, golf, cricket and sailing is substantial.
Now with Formula 1 firmly on their portfolio, they have massive exposure over 15 races for five years with television figures in the billions. As they say, the sky is the limit. And, of course, F1 fans will be the winners.
Along with the abovementioned benefits, exciting plans are afoot as Ecclestone pointed out: “Watching Formula One races live in flight will be something special for Emirates customers and Emirates branding at this many races on the calendar will lend strong support to their ambitious expansion plans.”
Inevitably one of the first questions to arise in the wake of the announcement was: Will Dubai now stand a chance to host a grand prix?
Ecclestone’s response, “Why not? Everything is possible. Abu Dhabi does not have an exclusivity of hosting races in the UAE.”
What transpired was immediate speculation about where such a race could take place. As Dubai Autodrome communications manager I was inundated with calls and e-mails regarding such a scenario. With the mantra in mind that in Dubai anything is possible, we tackled the questions as sensibly and realistically as possible.
First, let’s not forget that long before anyone dreamt of Formula 1 in the Middle East, there was the 1978 Dubai Grand Prix through the streets of the city. It did not count for the world championship and was more an exhibition race than a fully-fledged grand prix. Nevertheless, Stirling Moss, John Watson, Jack Brabham, John Surtees, Denny Hulme and Juan Manuel Fangio were present at the festival-style event.
There are two possibilities for hosting a ‘modern era’ grand prix in Dubai, and these would be: to run it on a temporary street circuit, bypassing the city’s iconic landmarks, or give Dubai Autodrome a facelift and stage it there, on a track that already has Grade 1 circuit license signed by FIA President.
When asked about the possibility, Dubai Autodrome general executive Hamish Brown commented, “UAE has the capability of hosting many world-class events and does so succesfully. Dubai Autdrome is a FIA circuit venue, showing the tremendous views and images of Dubai’s impressive skyline.”
But Brown is realistic, “Dubai would look at what’s best for the global brand image and view. Our venue would require much more infrastructure and facilities for ‘fly away team support’, FIA and FOM organization facilities, media facilities, corporate areas, grandstands etc.”
When asked about a timeline regarding such a project, he stated, “Dubai Autodrome was built and hosted its first FIA international event, back in 2004, within twelve months – that gives a good idea Dubai’s capability.”
And how realistic is a Dubai Grand Prix? “Let’s wait and see,” responded Brown with a smile.