Illustration by Trịnh Lập
By Paul Kennedy
One of the greatest Formula One drivers to ever get behind the wheel of a car passed away last week at the age of 70.
Austrian Niki Lauda was world champion on three different occasions in 1975, 77 and 84.
Other than his meticulous skills and total professionalism, Lauda will also be remembered for his fierce battles on the track with Britain’s James Hunt, a driver who can only be described as chalk to Lauda’s cheese.
Their head-to-head race for the title in 1976 was immortalised in the 2013 movie Rush with German-Spanish actor Daniel Bruhl playing Lauda.
If he had been alive come April next year, no doubt Lauda would have visited Việt Nam for the F1 race planned for Hà Nội, the first time the capital has ever hosted such a prestigious event.
But what exactly would he have thought about the whole thing?
Lauda was a stickler for making sure just about everything he ever touched was perfect. Things had to be just right. Nearly and not quite were words not in the Austrian’s vocabulary.
Each minute detail had to be checked, double checked and checked again whenever the Austrian raced.
We will never know Lauda’s thoughts on Việt Nam’s debut season in Formula One, but if you listen to some of those in the know, it’s fair to say, at this stage from the outside looking in, he may not be too impressed.
On one hand, bringing F1 to Hà Nội is a remarkable achievement, and one that will certainly boost the city’s value across the globe.
The number of visitors will increase, for sure, but will Hà Nội be able to cope with such a huge influx of racegoers for the week-long event?
Formula One is the crème-de-la-crème of spectator sports. Devoted followers spend nothing short of a small fortune during the race season travelling all over the world to watch the likes of Hamilton, Vettel et al fly around tracks in cars reaching speeds north of 300km an hour.
Supporters expect the best, but will they get it here in Hà Nội?
Let’s say for example a fan has decided to book a week in a hotel in the Old Quarter. Each day they will need to travel to Mỹ Đình and back to watch the races, and they will not be alone.
Thousands of people will need to make the same trip, at the same time.
Right now, google maps estimates the 30km journey will take around one hour by car, or twice that on public transport.
Hà Nội is busy at the best of times, but come race week, with tens of thousands more people here, the roads will be as crazy as the first corner of Silverstone.
Would it be an exaggeration to suggest a one-way trip from downtown to the racetrack could take up to three hours for each supporter? Maybe, unless some serious changes are made that will considerably improve the infrastructure and logistics of the route to Mỹ Đình.
One thing for certain is that an increase in visitors will mean an obvious increase in revenue, especially for the smaller cafes and bars dotted around the racetrack.
The race itself will be broadcast all over the globe meaning millions of pairs of eyes will be focused on Hà Nội. The positive publicity generated for Việt Nam will be mind-boggling.
But what about hard cash? How much exactly will Việt Nam benefit from hosting the race?
Formula One revenue and expenditure are closely guarded secrets and few statistics are available to compare.
Forbes magazine in 2017 carried out a study and estimated that to hold a street race, the annual running costs are somewhere in the region of US$57.5 million, with the majority of the cost going towards staffing.
On top of that is also the cost to host the race.
According to Liberty’s filings in 2015, the average cost to host a race is around $31.5 million, and remember Hà Nội has signed up a number of years. It all adds up.
That means the city will be spending a pretty hefty chunk of change to bring, host and maintain Formula One in Hà Nội.
The returns from sponsorship deals will be astronomical, and as for the woman who sells bánh mì close to Mỹ Đình, well she will be rubbing her hands with glee.
That said, there’s still a lot of work to do. Formula One Hà Nội needs to be perfect in every way. Fans who visit for the event must have the times of their lives and want to come back again and again.
Those in charge need to get it right. They need to be meticulous and determined in every single detail. In fact they need to be just like the late, great Niki Lauda himself. VNS