Well, that’s it, at the airport, through security, no turning back now, next stop Marina Bay. The Singapore Grand Prix is a weird, weird race. We’ve been doing it for long enough now that the teams have got pretty blasé about the whole thing – but occasionally it hits you that this is fundamentally not like the other 20 races on the calendar. We’re disappearing down the rabbit hole. Which doesn’t sound like much fun for the rabbit.
There’s a mindset in the paddock that insists F1 stays in the same place and it’s the world that moves around beneath it. The garages are built the same every week, and the teams line-up in the same order: the swipe gates; the people; the sandwich fillings don’t change, and you do have the odd absentminded moment where you forget which race is which – this can be a bit of a shock when the car comes screaming down the pitlane from the wrong direction. Singapore doesn’t have this problem though, because Singapore is just different. Because it’s a night race.
A phrase you’ll hear parroted out at regular intervals this weekend is ‘on European time’. This was the big gimmick a decade ago when the race made its debut. The notion states that, with Singapore six hours ahead of Europe, and the race taking place six hours later that the usual 1400 start, it would actually be held at the normal time. And thus, everyone could ignore the pesky requirement of adapting to the time zone and simply stay on European Time. It’s a neat idea – and just a shame it’s drivel.
Because you really can’t stay on European time. The body flatly refuses to accept it and, however hard you try, you find yourself waking up in the morning and getting grumpy when you’re rebuilding brake hubs at 2am. At first, the teams went to extraordinary lengths to make it work: hotel rooms with blackout blinds, and hoteliers convinced to serve a fried breakfast at two in the afternoon.* The last vestiges of that are still around but frankly, everyone just gets on with it. The old bas… the more mature members of the team simply cackle around their one remaining tooth and tell the younger lads that this is how F1 used to be, before the curfew, when you might work all night just because you could.**
Of course, you do have the curfew now, and the teams are hurried out of the paddock at the appointed hour. It’s weird rushing to get out of the swipe gate because its nearly 0530, and even weirder when the team-manager threatens everyone with a punishment too horrible to contemplate if they’re caught sneaking off straight to bed. Singapore is a lively place – but it isn’t an all-night city, and so you have the strange sight of 20 blokes lounging uncomfortably around a pool waiting for the sun to come up. Maybe this is why vampires are always so morose in modern cinema: they’re bored of spending a century going to the same 24-hour noodle bar night after night.
* Spy would like the record to reflect he’s perfectly happy with a fried breakfast at any time of day.
** and because team managers tend to have a vicious streak a mile wide.