June 6, 2013

Pretty Thai’d up

Some Bangkok residents are not keen on an F1 invasion © Getty Images

There’s a lot of enthusiasm in the paddock for a Thai Grand Prix. Not only do Red Bull have significant business links to the country (like, umm, the foundation of their entire business), but the bulk of F1 types are pretty keen on the concept of a night race in Bangkok.

What can I say? We work hard and play hard, and Bangkok is a great city to play in.

But even the most self-centred among us (yes, me) took a look at the proposed circuit and raised a wary eyebrow. Anyone who’s spent time in Bangkok will have noticed that the Khao San Road – AKA backpacker central – is in the middle of the proposed track, which also takes in a number of historically significant buildings.

Which is why it comes as no surprise to discover that there’s already a bit of a to-do in the Thai press over the rights and wrongs of a race.

Residents of the Rattanakosin Island area have this week launched a campaign protesting the race, as they are dead set against F1 coming to their neighbourhood in 2015. Instrumental to the movement is Parnthip Likkachai, leader of the Youth Banglamphu Community.

“So far we have heard about this project from the media and others, but we have yet to see what is in the plan of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports. We have to see the proposal in detail and study the impact on historical sites and our way of life,” said Parnthip. “Each community will make its own 'No F1' banners and gather at Democracy Monument at 4pm on Saturday to form a bicycle parade around Rattanakosin Island. We will distribute leaflets to residents in the area to inform them about the impact from the F1 race to the environment and their lives.”

Parnthip was at pains to emphasise that no one was against the concept of a Thai GP and the money it would bring, per se, but that they were concerned about potential damage to historic buildings, and chaos on the roads in a city already struggling with hefty traffic.

While it would be easy to moan about NIMBY attitudes, the residents of the Rattanakosin Island neighbourhood do have a point.

Bangkok currently has a law in place banning traffic noises above 90dB, significantly lower than the decibels generated by a single F1 car tearing around a circuit. The Thai government has strict controls governing building and work in the area, to the extent that billboards above a certain size are not permitted. Traffic planning in Rattanakosin Island has been designed to prevent congestion and vibrations that could cause damage to the historic structures.

And if idling engines of road cars are considered to be a potential problem, how exactly does one justify 22 (or more!) engines revving at 15,000rpm? Answers on a postcard, please…


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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'. Kate Walker