There really isn’t another Formula One race even remotely like the Singapore Grand Prix. Every race is unique, of course, but Singapore is, quite simply a race apart from all the rest.
F1 visits several alpha cities, and it has several street races – but the Singapore Grand Prix is the only street race in an alpha city, with the magnificent Marina Bay Street Circuit carving its way through the downtown skyscraper canyons of the South East Asian city-state. We’re into the 11th season of the race now, so it’s become normalised, but the sheer scale of the challenge of building this circuit every year is truly mind-boggling. It’s a huge, huge task in Monaco and Baku – but dropping a racing circuit into the middle of one of the world’s busiest urban areas is simply mind-boggling.
As if this were not special enough, the race promoters decided they’d do it under lights too. Other floodlit races have followed but Singapore was the pioneer, and while the FIA had signed off on the technology, no-one travelling to the grand prix in 2008 really knew what to expect. What we got was – and is – absolutely spectacular. There’s nothing new in holding a sporting event under floodlights but the scale of providing brilliant, daylight quality illumination on a track over 5km long was quite a challenge. There’s nearly 1,600 light projectors and 108km of cabling snaking around the circuit. Think of it as lining 50 Wembley Stadiums up end-to-end.
And then we have the weather. 140km from the equator, the climate in Singapore is, unsurprisingly, equatorial. It isn’t quite the hottest place F1 goes, but it is the most humid. Without doubt it is the most energy-sapping venue in F1, with drivers capable of losing up to 2kg of body mass during the race, through sweat. That’s the sort of dehydration that can lead to heat stress, and so they’re carefully monitored over the weekend and rarely seen without a drinks bottle in hand.
What we haven’t had so far is a Singaporean deluge during the race. While it isn’t exactly like clockwork, the rain usually falls early afternoon and – annoying for the garage crew – during packdown after the race. We’ve been lucky in this regard – though the crew may argue otherwise – in that, as has been the case at Sepang, the volume of water that falls out of the sky is likely to be of the sort that promotes a red flag rather than a tyre change. That said, last year there was an anxious ten minutes on the grid as light rain fell on the pitlane.
This has been a good track for us. In ten years, so far we’ve never come away from Singapore empty handed and, with 11 podium finishes in total, we’ve got more than twice as many trophies as anyone else. Back in the V8 era we notched up three victories, with a hat-trick in 2011-2013 courtesy of Sebastian Vettel, who also gave us pole positions in 2011 and 2013. Vettel’s feats in 2013 were particularly memorable as he grabbed a rare grand chelem, bagging pole, victory, fastest lap and leading every lap of the race.
Things have been a little tougher in the hybrid era although, underlining the strength of our chassis, we’ve taken second place every year. Seb and Daniel were second and third respectively in 2014, with Daniel finishing second the last three years. (To say he’s desperate to go one better this weekend would be the understatement of the season). Daniel also recorded the fastest lap in 2015 and 2016. Max hasn’t quite reached those heights yet – though he looked in good shape last year having qualified on the front row, only to get crunched in somebody else’s accident on the run to the first corner. He too will go into the weekend with high hopes of giving us a fourth victory of 2018.