You simply have to give it to the Singaporeans: the city state is a fantastic place to hold a grand prix. Particularly one run on a warm equatorial evening on streets cutting past aesthetically illuminated landmarks, under grandstands.
In just three years the race established itself as one of the highlights (pun intended) of the calendar, and while its running causes considerable inconvenience to Asia’s financial hub through road closures etc., the collateral benefits to the city certainly outweigh the negatives.
Already the race has one of the largest audience ratings for any grand prix, and the stands were absolutely packed on race day (night) Sunday. Hotels and flights are booked out for months ahead, and already such establishments are reporting enquiries for the 2011 event despite next season’s calendar being confirmed just a fortnight ago.
Talk to F1 folk – whether team bosses, drivers, technicians or media people – and this event ranks right up there up with classics such as Melbourne, Monaco and Montreal, and many a journalist tells of offering to swap two Euro events for a trip to Singapore when travel budgets get tight. Usually hacks steer well clear of flyaways on account of time spent away from home…
There is, though, a downside: The strange hours demanded to keep audiences enthralled by floodlit scenes of grand prix racing cars careering along public roads at 10 pm. Effectively watches aren’t changed off Central European Time for the full five days, meaning breakfast, lunch and dinner when folk at home have it despite six – seven time zone shifts, all of which means a first meal at 14 00 – having gotten out of bed an hour before – with the next one served at 18 00 and dinner well after midnight. Then it’s off to bed at 05 00, Wednesday to Monday!
Sure its madcap, and hotel staff suppress queer looks when beers are ordered at 04 00 by totally sober guests just getting into the swings of things, while cleaners simply can’t understand why their services should be unwelcome for the full grand prix period (to facilitate a modicum of shuteye). Worse, Do Not Disturb signs are serially ignore by baffled staff members.
Taxi drivers, too, are unhappy on account of the enforced road closures, but admit – albeit grudgingly – to raking in more during grand prix periods than any other time, while electronics and fashion outlets simply love the weekend.
Anybody who watched Sunday’s race at a reasonable hour, was enthralled by the spectacle of Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel going head-to-head for the full 61 laps of this tough 23-turn course before crossing the line just 0,20 seconds apart can appreciate the effort F1 and the city go to specifically for this race.
1500 projector lights illuminating the full five kilometres to 3000 lux levels – four times the intensity required by World Cup football stadiums – are just the start of it, while erecting (temporary) grandstand seating for 90 000 punters and ten kilometres of safety fencing and FIA-standard crash barriers takes more than a moment or two. Yet the first race took just two years from initial dream to delivery in 2008.
But it is not all roses in Asia: For months now F1 has been denial about the situation in Korea’s Yeongam province, where the country’s inaugural grand prix is due to be held on 24 October. Yet, as of this weekend – just four weeks before the race – the top layer of tarmac had not been laid, while even the most basic team and media facilities are conspicuous by their total absence.
Although the FIA’s own procedure states track inspections should be undertaken at least 90 days prior to a newly inscribed a Formula 1 event, the governing body has twice postponed the crucial inspection. A new date has now been set: 11 October, or less than a fortnight before the event. This appears in conflict with the contents of Art 3.4 of App L of the FIA’s International Sporting Code, which states:
3.4 On site inspections will be performed by the Commission’s delegates as necessary, with at least one preliminary inspection and one final inspection. For permanent circuits, the final inspection should be made not later than 60 days (or 90 days for FIA Formula One World Championship events) before the first international event to be held, at which inspection all work relating to the track surface, permanent features and safety installations should be completed to the FIA’s satisfaction.
No doubt it all hinges on F1 tsar Bernie Ecclestone’s interpretation of the word ‘should’…
However, in Singapore he for the first time admitted the race could (should?) be in danger, and with it Korea’s chances of hosting a race in 2012, for here the FIA’s own statutes state that any event cancelled with less than 90 days’ notice is automatically banned from hosting an event the following year.
In the meantime, though, we head for Japan – an Asian country where, like Singapore, everything works. The race on 10 October at the wonderful Suzuka circuit should be another humdinger.