The Singapore Grand Prix has only existed (as a Formula One race) for a dozen years, but for at least a decade it’s been impossible to imagine the World Championship calendar without the dazzling city-state hosting the night race that anchors the latter stages of the racing year. The impact of the race has been massive. F1 has expanded into many new and exciting places in the 21st Century but no race better taps into the vibe than Singapore. It’s simply the sort of place F1 should be.
Singapore was F1’s original night race, and on debut in 2008 it instantly redefined what was possible. It dropped the sport into the very centre of a global Alpha City, on an illuminated track threading its way between the skyscrapers of Marina Bay that instantly provided spectacle. It’s been a huge hit with spectators and racing in the middle of the city in the evening produced an atmosphere unlike that at a traditional race. It’s become a holiday event, with crowds flocking to Singapore to see the sights before migrating to the grandstands in the early evening, and then out to dinner or the outdoor concert venue once the chequered flag falls. It’s a very convivial way to go racing.
That said, for the drivers, cars and crews, the race is punishing; definitely at the far reaches of a bell curve describing what constitutes a ‘normal’ grand prix. Very few things tax a modern grand prix driver but the extremes of heat and humidity in Singapore push even these super-fit athletes to the limit of endurance.
It isn’t solely the ambient conditions though. This is exacerbated by the configuration of the circuit and, concomitantly, the length of the race. The Marina Bay Street Circuit is a 23-corner maze, characterised by large bumps, low grip and razor-thin margins between the racing line and the walls. There’s no real let-up and no chance for the drivers to relax; they’re working the wheel the whole time. This wouldn’t be so bad were the race short, but, because the speeds are comparatively low (though the drivers will say it feels like the fastest), it’s typically the longest. While the Italian Grand Prix was all over in an hour and a quarter, Singapore typically pushes the two hour cut-off. In fact, four times in 11 races it’s gone over the two-hour mark, with three of those races being halted on time rather than distance.
The drivers prepare as best they can. They’ll try to arrive early to acclimatise, possibly having worked in a heat chamber after Monza. They’ll spend most of the week hydrating – and you’ll rarely see them out of the car without a drinks bottle in hand. Across the race – or even a busy practice session, they’ll lose a couple of kilos through perspiration.
Singapore has been a good circuit for us. It’s often described as a ‘Red Bull circuit’, as it places a premium on aerodynamic performance, which has been an enduring strong point for the Team for many years. We’ve finished on the podium here a record twelve times, including a hat-trick of victories between 2011 and 2013 for Sebastian Vettel. Slightly more annoyingly, we’ve finished second in each of the last five years, with Max taking the most recent runner-up position last year. We’re hoping to break that particular sequence in 2019.