F1: Singapore Grand Prix preview

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarWednesday, September 24th, 2008

 
 

With F1 making headlines for all the wrong reasons again, with the debut Valencia street circuit proving a major disappointment and with weather forecasts predicting a potential washout, there’s a remarkable lack of occasion about the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix.

While it’s been made as easy as possible for UK fans to watch the race, with times barely differing from a standard European meeting, we get the feeling that a substantial minority might not actually bother.

It’s not helped by the lack of narrative that accompanies any new race – and without which motorsport can be particularly impenetrable for viewers. We all know what to expect from Spa, from Monza and from the winding streets of Monaco – and are keen to tune in and enjoy the spectacle.

But the potential thrill of F1’s first night race has been overshadowed by the sorry sight of the sport’s governing body tying itself in knots trying to claim that one of its own former officials had made a statement that he was, at the same time, publicly disowning.

So forgive us if we don’t feel very much like acting as cheerleaders for this race.

However, in the spirit of seeing out this thankfully nearly-complete F1 season, here’s 10 quick facts about the new circuit:

  1. The race will be run over a five-kilometre street course in the Marina Bay area of Singapore.
  2. It will be the fifth street course that F1 has raced on this season (Melbourne, Montreal, Monaco and Valencia are the others.)
  3. You can view a circuit diagram here.
  4. The race is due to start at sunset – which, as cricket fans know, can lead to an awkward period when there’s no natural light but when the floodlights aren’t all that effective.
  5. The drivers may resort to specially-tinted helmet visors to protect their eyes from the glare of the artificial lights.
  6. Organisers claim there are three overtaking opportunities – but, after Valencia, most fans will be taking that statement with a pinch of salt.
  7. Many of the teams and drivers will be trying to avoid acclimatising to Singapore time – working at night and sleeping during the day. Others are pinning their hopes on staying sharp into the night, while David Coulthard and Rubens Barrichello say they will be taking maximum advantage of the city’s legendary nightlife to practise staying up late.
  8. Bridgestone is taking soft and super-soft tyres along – the same combination as was used in Monaco.
  9. Each pit garage measures six metres by 20 metres and each team will have a minimum of three to work in.
  10. This will be BMW Sauber’s 50th grand prix.

In its team preview McLaren explained how it plans to tackle the time-difference issue: “[We] will be adopting a bespoke night-time work programme to ensure the drivers and all other team members are able to function to their optimum level during the night.

“Usually the acclimatisation process is vital for the flyaway races that are in significantly different timezones to Europe, however for the Singapore Grand Prix the opposite is true.”

Lewis Hamilton explained further: “Singapore is going to be a unique challenge for every member of the team. Our doctor has prepared a very precise schedule for the drivers to stick to because all the sessions are so late in the day.

“Essentially, we must not acclimatise to the local time, which is totally different to how we normally operate.

“Our training programmes ensure that over a race weekend we are at peak performance during the afternoons and as a result we are going to be staying in European time so this doesn’t get disrupted. Apparently not acclimatising is much harder than adapting, because your body naturally wants to change.

“For the drivers, our meal, waking and sleeping rhythms will all be in European time, for example we will get up early afternoon for breakfast, have supper at 1am and go to bed at around 3am.

“It will be very different preparation to any other race but we’ll try and do the best job we can.”

At Honda, Jenson Button is taking a similar approach: “For a flyaway race, it is always better to arrive as early as possible to acclimatise to the time zone, however for the night race in Singapore the situation is quite the opposite.

“I have spent some time on our simulator at the factory this week to familiarise myself as much as possible with the track layout before we get there.

“Then I plan to arrive into Singapore just prior to the start of the race weekend to give myself a better chance of ensuring that I don’t become accustomed to the time zone.

“We will be operating to a European timeframe which will be tough as it means staying awake throughout the night and sleeping for practically the whole day before starting the engineering and running schedule from 1700.”

He said the team had approached the race weekend timing very carefully and will concentrate on getting rest and nutrition right.

“The first night race is very exciting for the sport and I can’t wait to see what conditions the floodlighting will present. It’s going to be quite a challenge but one that I’m really looking forward to.”

Team principal Ross Brawn added: “We have done a great deal of research into [running under lights], particularly at the Moto GP race earlier this year, and our sporting drector visited the Singapore track for the lighting test and was very impressed with the facilities.

“Talking to our test and reserve driver Alex Wurz about his experience of the Le Mans 24-Hour Race has also been invaluable.”

He said the weather would be a key factor in the weekend: “It will be hot, wet and very humid and local statistics tell us that there is a 50 per cent chance of rain on any given day in September.

“These are difficult conditions to work in for both the team and the drivers; however it could lead to some very exciting on-track moments on a circuit which is lined with barriers.”

The Honda drivers have been preparing for the new track by working on the simulator at Honda’s Brackley HQ to learn he track layout, gears and downforce levels.

“The circuit itself is tight, twisty and very narrow in places and it will be even slower than Monaco, with all of Monaco’s traditional challenges. It will be a tough circuit for keeping the brakes cool and managing the engine, even more so in the high temperatures that we are expecting. ”

He said Honda will run “the highest levels of wing of the season on the RA108 to give as much downforce as possible” as well as pinpointing “the unique challenge” of track temperatures that will be more or less the same as the air temperatures and likely to fall as the evening progresses.

Red Bull are doing their best to treat the race as business as usual. Mark Webber said: “I don’t think that it will be much different to all the other races, even if we start six hours later than usual.

“The biggest trouble is the second practice session and the qualifying as they start really late and with the debriefing and the meeting with the engineers to discuss the race strategy we will not be able to leave the track until way after midnight. We will face some very long days.”

David Coulthard may be joking about how he plans to prepare for the late night, but he’s clearly determined to ensure that he is as prepared as possible when going into the only opportunity he will ever have to race on this circuit.

Speaking last week, he said: “I am staying up late at night, I am going out to nightclubs, and I’m eating a lot of carrots because they apparently help you to see better in the dark. I will work on the simulator on Monday.

“You see I’m doing all the preparations that I can possibly do. I will touch down in Singapore Tuesday morning and then I will head for the track. I will walk it, crawl it, will cycle it, have someone take me around it on their back – you name it, I’ll do it.”

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