|Singapore at night|
This year’s Singapore Grand Prix may be third time the F1 circus has descended on the tiny island city-state, but its night race status and quirky timetable still make it a novelty for the F1 teams. It’s a change from the normal routine and has become one of the most popular races of the year with the teams.
Ironically, the night race means that although the teams have to work night shifts, they can remain on a European time zone, as Renault Sporting Director Steve Nielsen explains: “Although there’s a seven-hour time difference to Europe, we can step off the plane and remain on European time. Travelling to Singapore therefore impacts on us much less than a race like China because we don’t have the jet lag.”
Sticking to a European schedule also means the team can travel out later to Singapore than for a typical fly-away race. “We would normally allow an extra day when travelling to Asia to give the team time to acclimatize to the time difference, but for Singapore it’s not an issue and that’s why we can travel out a day later,” confirms Steve.
So what are the normal working hours in Singapore? Well, all the usual European race timings are offset by about seven or eight hours. So instead of arriving at the circuit at 8:00am, the working day begins at around 3:00pm and ends in the small hours of the morning. “Sometimes we see the sun rising as we walk home,” says Steve. “So it really is a proper night shift for us.”
Of course, hosting a night race really only works in a place like Singapore, which lends itself perfectly to the occasion. And as a 24-hour city, you won’t struggle to find a restaurant open in the middle of the night. Similarly, the hotels work around the team, with a special breakfast service arranged between 2:00pm and 4:00pm each afternoon.
As for the artificial lighting, it’s as close to daylight as you can get, so there’s no need for the teams to bring extra lighting. “Before the first Singapore Grand Prix we thought we might need to fit miners’ lamps on the pit crew helmets,” reveals Steve. “But in reality the ambient light level is so high and so well dispersed that no extra precautions are required. Unless you look up above you into the night sky, you almost forget you’re working at night at all.”
In fact, the light reading values show that the Singapore pit lane has a lighting level of 2,200 Lux, which is brighter than the levels expected in a typical TV studio (normally 1000 Lux). The garage lighting generates about 800 Lux, which is more than double the lighting level of a well lit office (400 Lux). The main straight and turn one have lighting values of 1,600 Lux.
In terms of the challenge facing the drivers this weekend, their biggest concern is unlikely to be the schedule, but rather the high humidity, as Dr Riccardo Ceccarelli explains: “Even though the race is at night, it’s still very humid, which makes it difficult for the drivers to stay cool. That’s because the sweat stays on the surface of the skin, rather than evaporating and cooling down the body. So the driver’s body temperature becomes very high and they can overheat, which leads to loss of energy, loss of concentration and slower reaction times.”
And when you combine the humidity with the unforgiving confines of the Marina Bay street circuit, it’s clear to see why Singapore is regarded as one of the toughest tests of the season. “It’s a bit like combining the mental challenge of Monaco with the physical endurance needed for Sepang,” concludes Riccardo.
How do you prepare for racing in Singapore?
Singapore is one of the hardest races of the entire season. The circuit layout is very bumpy and you’re fighting the car all the time. You’re continually in the corners and the only place where you get a breather for a couple of seconds is on the start-finish straight. After this, you also have the strange timetable that means we work late, go to bed late and wake up in the afternoon. You don’t feel any difference during the race weekend itself, but each year it has felt a bit strange to come back to a normal schedule afterwards.
You enjoy street circuits. Are you looking forward to this one?
Yes. There are lots of bumps, curbs, and bits of track where you have to keep some margin for mistakes because the walls are very close – especially in the last sector. I always enjoy driving there and, although the race is very long and demanding, it’s a good track for racing.
What do you focus on in terms of car set-up?
The aero side is still very important but because it’s bumpy and there are many low-speed corners, the car has to be as good as possible in terms of mechanical grip. The behavior of the car needs to be right: you’re often using the curbs in the low speed corners, and limited for mechanical grip, so the car must be easy to drive and give the driver confidence to attack the curbs, if you want to extract the maximum from the package. The other factor is that because this is a temporary circuit, the grip levels develop much faster and much more than on a permanent track. So you need to anticipate the track evolution and what it will change for the car balance.
You had an excellent weekend in Monaco. Can you repeat it in Singapore?
I think we must be careful not to take anything for granted. It’s true that Singapore is the closest circuit to Monaco in the calendar, but Monaco was over four months ago. I’d like the car to be as competitive and easy to drive as it was back then, because it makes it easy for me to push straight away and easier for the engineers to work on extracting the final bit of performance. But things change quickly in Formula 1 and it may not be the case. My approach will be as usual: I will keep in mind that we are fighting in a very strong pack of cars, and lately teams like Williams have come very strong, so we need to wait and see. But I’m definitely looking forward to a good performance.
Vitaly, sum up your feelings after Monza…
Monza was difficult for me because it was the first time I drove there in F1 and the first time with the low downforce. It was difficult to find the right set-up and we had some mechanical problems over the weekend. I didn’t feel 100% comfortable to be able to deliver a good result. The two important lessons I learnt from the weekend are first the experience I have drawn from racing on this circuit and the way the car is set up there. Secondly, I finished the race and that is always important so I can use the experience for next year.
We are starting the last leg of the season with five flyaway races and all the remaining circuits will be new to you. Does it represent a big challenge and do you enjoy discovering new circuits?
It will be a new challenge for me. I don’t know these circuits at all so I will do the maximum to prepare for them. I have been watching videos of previous races and reading data. We also hope that our car will be much more competitive in Singapore and for the last few races. I look forward to racing there and to the challenge that lies ahead. There are a lot of difficult corners in Singapore and, from what I saw in the videos, the track is bumpy, the car is jumping a lot and it looks easy to lock the wheels.
Do you enjoy street circuits generally?
Yes, and I like tracks where you need maximum concentration and where you cannot afford to make any mistakes. Street circuits also suit our car.
Singapore is a night race – is it the first time you will be racing at night?
I have experience of racing at night because I took part in the GP2 Series night race in Qatar. So the night race won’t be a problem for me.
Have you been working on a specific program to prepare for the race in Singapore, in extreme hot and humid conditions, plus working at night and sleeping during the day?
The conditions are the same as we had in Malaysia. I’m training and will maybe go to the sauna a few times. We obviously can’t simulate the same weather conditions here in Europe. I like the fact that we will be working at night and sleeping during the day – I actually think that I will be able to sleep more! I will arrive in Singapore as early as possible to adapt and start living in race weekend conditions: going to bed late at night and getting up late in the morning.
What are your hopes for Singapore?
My objective is to fight in the top 10 and to get into Q3. Our objective remains to try and beat Mercedes. It will be a challenge because everything will be new for me, but it will be a challenging weekend for everybody.