Singapore: Formula One cars will continue to swerve around the skyscrapers of Singapore for the next five years after the government agreed on Saturday to help cover the USD122.61 million cost of hosting the unique night race.

There had been some doubt about the future of the event, the only night race on the calendar, as media reports said the government was keen to drive down the cost of staging a race drivers describe as one of the toughest in F1.

"We have just concluded the terms of the agreement today," second minister for trade and industry S. Iswaran told reporters at the Marina Bay Street Circuit just after final practice on the eve of the fifth edition.

"The negotiations have taken some time because all parties have had very specific objectives and wanted to arrive at a mutually beneficial outcome."

Iswaran said the race had attracted more than 150,000 international visitors over the last four years with an average annual tourism spend of S$140-150 million.    

"The Singapore government in particular has taken a very deliberate study of the costs and benefits of continuing with this race from a national perspective. Our view is that F1 has been good for Singapore," he added.

"We had estimated 150 million dollars a year to run the race and the government would share 60 percent of the approved costs.

"We have been able to manage it slightly below that and going forward we think there will be additional scope for savings."

The event also traditionally includes a stellar lineup of musical acts from around the world. This year American pop star Katy Perry will headline with British singer-songwriter Noel Gallagher, formerly of Oasis, also performing.

Worldwide Popularity

"It has helped to strengthen Singapore's standing as a global city with a vibrant lifestyle," Iswaran said.

"Equally we believe Singapore has been good for F1. We have added a new dimension to the sport with a unique night race against the backdrop of our distinctive skyline."

Sat alongside Iswaran was Formula One's commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who had said in June a contract was all but signed for a five-year extension only for the government to deny it.

Ecclestone, 81, said he was "more than happy" with the Singapore race continuing and paid tribute to the government's enterprise in bringing a night race to the calendar, a move which he said could be copied by other nations.

"All of us like being here. So we are all here for another five years," Ecclestone told reporters.

"The trouble is they've started something that's so popular worldwide that I'm sure other people are going to want to do this.

"Now, whether or not we are going to be happy with that I don't know. We're very happy with what we've got in Singapore, more than happy, and I'm very proud that they had the courage to do this in the first place."

Ecclestone gave no further news about Formula One's plans for a stock market flotation in Singapore worth up to $3 billion which has been put on hold due to weak and volatile financial markets.

The Singapore Grand Prix was first held in 2008 and has become a social highlight of the Formula One calendar that rivals Monaco and Abu Dhabi as a draw for dealmakers and corporate heavy-hitters.

Controversy And Complaints

It has not been without controversy, however, after it emerged Renault had asked their driver Nelson Piquet junior to crash on purpose for tactical reasons on the event's debut, one of the sport's biggest scandals.

Complaints have also been raised by drivers about the bumpy track with the chicane at turn 10 becoming infamous in the paddock for its difficulty.

Some locals have also moaned that the race imposes too much on their daily life and the closing of much of the bustling central business district during F1 week is unpopular with some.

With Singapore due to open its much vaunted sports and entertainment hub in 2014 close to the current Marina Bay Street Circuit, there have been suggestions to move the 23-turn route outside of the central business district to appease residents.

Although the government is keen to move all of the country's sporting bodies to the billion-dollar hub, which will boast a 55,000 stadium with retractable roof, Iswaran said no plans were in place to alter the successful F1 product.

"Beyond the economic benefits, many Singaporeans take great pride in hosting a high quality international event of such a scale here in Singapore," he said.

"The race has also created significant opportunities for business and for Singaporean workers."

(Agencies)

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