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SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - The race for tickets and views for Singapore's Formula One grand prix has slowed this year after the country's worst recession, but restaurants along the street circuit are still putting the champagne on ice.
Investment banks in the Asian financial center have scaled back parties for clients for the September 25-27 race after seeing earnings battered by the financial crisis.
Tickets for practice runs and the race have yet to sell out, with the buzz from the sport's first ever night street race in Singapore in 2008 not evident this time, though the event is attracting attention from a scandal over last year's result.
Singapore officials are confident the allegations will not hurt the event, and marketers hope rich fans will still show up.
The Annix Group is organizing an exhibition that will showcase goods including 70 watches worth over S$15 million ($11 million), as it targets 35,000 high net-worth individuals expected to attend, the event's marketing director Prita Leenheer told Reuters.
The F1 will see the launch of a invitation-only club called "O" -- half of whom will be Lamborghini owners and others will be picked from among models, designers, movie stars and royalty.
MillionaireAsia magazine's private aviation show will be returning to Singapore, after $150 million worth of aircraft orders and sales generated by last year's show during the F1.
"As we prepare to exit the economic crisis, we hope that the show will help increase jet sales by at least 10 percent," the magazine's managing editor Brian Yim said.
But banks such as the Royal Bank of Scotland, which sponsors the Williams F1 team and has been part-nationalized by the British government, will be significantly cutting its hospitality this year, said its country executive Muhammad Aurangzeb.
Restaurants in the center of town near the floodlit course, which weaves through the business district and historic landmarks, are ramping up efforts to revive last year's race fever, with F1 themed cocktails, champagne buffets and parties.
Gourmet restaurant Le Saint Julien, located at a bend on the circuit, is again offering a package including free flow of champagne -- but at prices half last year's.
Hotel Ritz Carlton will play host to party The Podium Lounge, auctioning a Fernando Alonso autographed replica F1 vehicle.
Last year's Grand Prix in Singapore, won by Renault's Fernando Alonso after a pitstop blunder finished the chances of rival Ferrari's Felipe Massa, is still a talking point.
The sport's governing body said Renault will face charges of fixing the race by staging a crash that helped Alonso win.
This year Brawn's Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello are fighting for the title. Button is 14 points clear of his teammate, a factor that may be deterring viewers compared to a year ago when the title race was finely poised.
"I think the buzz for the Formula One is definitely at a lower scale this year partly due to the downturn and also because fans are not happy with how the season is going," Tan Chong Hoe, a product controller from Credit Suisse, told Reuters.
"To put things into perspective, one of my friends has a deal to buy tickets at a discounted rate but my friends are not buying on the basis that it's just not exciting this year."
But whoever wins, fans will have a chance to hob nob with race drivers at Party Amber Lounge, founded by ex-Ferrari F1 star Eddie Irvine's sister Sonia Irvine.
Writing by Neil Chatterjee; Editing by Miral Fahmy