Sebastian Vettel popping the champagne after his vctory in Singapore
Held annually in Singapore since 2008, the Singapore Grand Prix is the world’s first night race on the Formula One calendar, as well as Asia’s sole street race in Grand Prix history. Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel took home the winner’s trophy at this year’s edition, which ran from September 18 to 20 at the Marina Bay Street Circuit. The high-speed racing was also paired with an eclectic concert line-up. Headlining acts Bon Jovi, Pharrell Williams, Maroon 5, and many more wowed the crowds throughout the race weekend.
Avid Formula One fan, car aficionado and our Guest Columnist Rishi Kumar was in Singapore to catch the action live. In this candid article, Rishi gives us a lowdown on what was his 'third consecutive' visit to the Singapore Grand Prix.
Rishi Kumar hanging out with double Formula One champiom Mika Hakkinen
If you are a Formula1 fan, or just into racing (street racing more likely in Calcutta), then the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix is a must visit. It’s a convenient GP, just a short flight away from Calcutta and the downtown street circuit at night with after party atmosphere is world class and very affordable. Sure I wasn’t in the paddock or VIP invitee area sipping champagne and beluga caviar. But hey, I’m there to race with my favourite team to win.
Our crack of dawn arrival at Singapore’s Changi Airport on September 18 at 6.30 am was met by sleepy immigration officials. Another contingent from India had arrived alongside. The airport had banners and decorations welcoming F1 spectators and the mood had set in for me. I look around to see that except for about five lads in the other line, not a soul was in the least interested in the great race which was due over the weekend. In fact the zero enthusiasm made it look like, pardon my expression, just another 'carrier' flight.
As half the 'arrived from India' lines had dissolved arrives a Jumbo jet with 400 Europeans who set the mood off instantly. Finnish, Germans, Swedish, Dutch waving country flags and Ferrari fans routing for Raikonnen and Vettel brought back the smile on my face. Instantaneously everyone was awake. That’s called the East West divide and hey I thought India fields a F1 team.
Race action at the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix
This year we took the ‘walkabout’ tickets which are coincidentally the most inexpensive and on Raceday we had an extra guest so buying another walkabout ticket was just a matter of 5 minutes from the street counter at the entrance. The freedom of roaming almost anywhere and see the cars at ground level gives you an unbelievable rush. Having sat in the Marina Bay stands on the two previous years were very scenic but way too far away from the action. It also gets boring seeing the same 100 metres over again over for 2.5 hours and that too from 100 feet above the racetrack.
On Friday, September 18 the fun began on Orchard Road which is the most happening address in Singapore. The supercar clubs start their stuff from Friday morning. I hit Orchard at 3pm. The Singapore Ferrari Club Vs the Singapore Lamborghini Club is worth a watch. I sat on the sidewalk bench and saw a demo of sound, looks and acceleration. It’s a ‘car pride’ parade which carries on into the early evening. No racing, just making a statement that ‘I have arrived’. A McLaren, a few Maseratis, Audi R8s, Porsches and BMW I8s seem to be on individual listing and didn’t attack in numbers. The big boys are the Ferrari Vs Lambo. Period.
The supercars parked on Orchard Road
I skipped Friday practice as Saturday and Sunday are more than enough to soak the adrenaline for next few months. The formula cars can be heard a kilometre away at the end of Orchard Road, Plaza Singapura.
Come Saturday, September 19, at 4pm the wave of spectators could be seen drifting downtown, with their flags, shirts, caps, et al. Some lads even had trumpets. By 5pm the Porsche Carrera Cup had started. There are fast and beautiful cars whizzing by at 10 yards distance. But since I don’t follow that series and the also ran TCR series, I just wished my need for speed on a race track someday.
The supercars lined up on Orchard Road
Finally, it was Sunday, September 20. The whole city had shut down for the Raceday. All the action focused downtown. Beer gardens, multi-cuisine restaurants galore open for one last racing community lunch before the flag drops and the bullshit stops. Super Car club also start reverberating the streets soon after heading for the pre-booked VIP car parks. On that day everyone is a race driver and even the cops turn a blind eye as they whizz downtown. Its 2.30pm.
Fast forward and the F1 action begin with the Track Parade at 7.30pm. I recognised two drivers and the monster TV screens around did help. Followed by the warm up which seemed more like a traffic jam with 20 starters on a race track which suddenly shrunk in width.
Sebastian Vettel in action
A good start from team Ferrari put the reds ahead right away. When they crossed me Vettel had already separated by 1 second and the 20 cars passing right in front is indeed a moment to remember. Our Force Indias were strong till Massa's Williams rams Hulkenberg off the track on lap 11. Then a man on the track adds to the confusion. Twice the safety car was deployed thus bunching up the cars, yet the Ferrari always pulled away. Hamilton and Rosberg, the favourites were expected to make a last 5 lap dash to victory but that never happened. It was a clear victory for Vettel and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, a distant 2nd. Ferrari’s Raikonen, a close 3rd which was debatable because of the two safety car intrusions.
I’m a firm believer of a One Stop Strategy and a Safety Car bunch up to turn the tables even on the fastest team. However, this year it proved otherwise. The not so narrow track and tyre wear affected Team Mercedes and thus no podium even after several wins in a row. Force India missing out by a whisker thanks to the safety car. Just bad luck.
As a spectator it was enough of an adrenalin rush to last another year. Walking passes for the budget racer is the best of the rest. We also took one hour off to grab dinner, between lap 15 to 45, and watched it live on television. Choose one of the 50 odd pubs on track. A beer in hand and a pizza in the other and you are good to go.
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