F1: Singapore GP Preview

With tickets selling fast and party suites costing up to $70,000 a night, Singapore is putting the pedal to the metal when it hosts Asia’s first Formula One race this weekend since the pandemic.

Formula One racing makes its return to Singapore from 30 September to 2 October, after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The F1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix will be held for the 13th time as a night race at the floodlit Marina Bay street circuit, and continue to do so until 2028, following a contract extension signed in January this year.

Singapore holds a special place in the imagination of Formula One fans: it was the original night race, the first time F1 cars would dazzle under the floodlights, regaling us with pictures of the shiny machines blasting past Raffles Boulevard and breath-taking aerial shots of the lit up city. It was one of the first, authentic destination races, in which the city is as much part of the show as the action on track: the Little Red Dot, with its inspiring looks, proud history and vision for the future, is the perfect backdrop for racing and a metaphor for F1 itself. In just a short time – the first race was held here in 2008 – Singapore has established itself as a Formula One classic, earning its place in the calendar after historical Monza.

Singapore is a special race for the world of Formula One, too. It’s a peculiar one, a race in which to juggle European times on South-East Asian soil; a race of late wake-ups, even later bed times, heat and humidity. But far from being displeasing, these elements all make Singapore a race like no other: you haven’t really fully been in the sport unless you have a fun Singapore story to share

The bumpy 23-turn 5km-circuit, located in the Marina Bay district, takes Formula 1 drivers past some of Singapore’s famous landmarks, including the National Gallery, the Esplanade Concert Hall, and Singapore Flyer. The floodlit architecture provides a stunning backdrop to one of Formula 1’s most challenging events.

As the Marina Bay Street Circuit holds one of the slowest average lap speeds it frequently makes the grand prix itself the longest of the season. It has occasionally become a timed event under the two-hour regulation, most recently in 2017. Even the fastest Singapore round took 1 hour 51 minutes to complete, around half an hour longer than the average Monza race, making it a tough event physically and mentally for drivers and teams alike, a predicament accentuated by the heat and humidity in the city. Track position and tire preservation are also crucial at a race where passing can be difficult.

Also returning are the entertainment acts on the sideline of the event, as stars such as Green Day, Black Eyed Peas and Westlife are set to thrill their fans amid the rip-roaring action on the race track.

 

SINGAPORE GP RACE DETAILS

Race date: 30 September to 2 October

Marina Bay circuit length: 5.063 kilometers

Number of laps: 61

Past winners: Sebastian Vettel (2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2019), Lewis Hamilton (2009, 2014, 2017, 2018), Fernando Alonso (2008, 2010), Nico Rosberg (2016).

September 30 race schedule: TSS The Super Series practice session (2.30pm, 3.45pm), F1 first practice session (6pm), W Series practice session (7.45pm), F1 second practice session (9pm)

October 1 race schedule: TSS The Super Series first race (3.10pm), W Series qualifying session (4.45pm), F1 third practice session (6pm), F1 qualifying session (9pm).

October 2 race schedule: TSS The Super Series second race (3.10pm), W Series race (4.45pm), F1 drivers’ track parade (6pm), F1 race (8pm).

Weather Forecast

Friday, September 30 – FP1 and FP2

After the risk of some daytime light showers, the threat of rain then begins to drop as the evening arrives, though come the start of FP1 at 6:00pm local time, there remains a greater than 50% chance of rain. Even as the sun begins to set for FP1, drivers can still expect to contend with a temperature of 30 degrees Celsius and 67% humidity, with light winds.

After that first hour of practice, the second hour begins at 9:00pm local time, by which point temperatures will have dropped a degree at most, with winds remaining light. Humidity climbs to around 74%, as the chance of rain hovers at around 40%.

Saturday, October 1 – FP3 and qualifying

Like on Friday, Saturday’s action starts at 6:00pm local time with the last hour of practice, for which thundery showers are possible with the threat of rain again at around 40%. With a temperature of 30c and 70% humidity, the challenging conditions will continue for the drivers.

The qualifying action then begins from 9:00pm, for which the threat of catching a downpour remains about the same, while temperatures drop by a degree or two at best. Humidity climbs to around 77%, with any breeze remaining subtle.

Sunday, October 2 – race

It is a local start time of 8:00pm as the spectacle that is the Singapore Grand Prix race day under the lights returns to Formula 1.

In terms of the weather, it is a similar story. There remains a chance of rain, that prospect dipping below 40% come lights out but building slightly again into the 40s as the race progresses.

The winds will remain light, with 76% humidity at the race start, climbing to 78% as the race is scheduled to reach its conclusion.

Fact File: Singapore Grand Prix

  • The night race in Singapore is made possible by 1,600 lighting projectors illuminating the track.
  • Because it is a street circuit, track evolution is incredibly high in Singapore. The surface can ramp up by as much as three seconds between first practice on Friday afternoon and Qualifying on Saturday evening.
  • All 12 of the previous Singapore Grands Prix have featured at least one Safety Car deployment.
  • The concrete used on the Esplanade Bridge is underpinned by steel beams which are magnetized. The magnetic fields involved are strong enough to interfere with certain sensors on the cars, requiring teams to replace a number of sensors with special versions, less susceptible to interference. Fitting magnetic shields to the gear shift valves has become a normal part of Singapore prep but it has previously caused cars to stop on track, particularly in the first years of running in Singapore.
  • The Singapore GP is one of the most physically and mentally demanding races of the season, with intense humidity and warm temperatures, alongside being a stop/start track. Drivers can therefore lose around 3kg of weight during the race through sweating alone.
  • Fluid loss is also a factor for team members so keeping hydrated is vitally important to ensure peak performance across the weekend. On a hot day, the recommended daily fluid intake ranges from three to five liters.
  • The track is very bumpy, which also adds to the stress being put through the drivers and the cars – even more so this year, with the new generation of cars and typically lower ride heights.
  • Marina Bay only has a couple of big braking zones, but with 23 corners, the brakes are still put through their paces. The lack of long straights and breaks between turns also put less air through the brakes for cooling, so we have to run the cooling as open as possible.
  • The stop/start nature of the track also impacts the tires because the surface temperatures can never properly cool down. The tarmac is also aggressive on the tires, increasing wear and degradation.
  • F1 works on European time in Singapore so the schedule is very unusual, with breakfast typically at midday, lunch around 6pm and dinner taking place at various times from 1am onwards, depending on the day and workload. Because of the unusual schedule, teams ensure accommodation includes blackout curtains or blinds.
  • Singapore has the third-longest lap time of the year, and it’s the longest race of the season, in terms of total race time. It also has the second-lowest average speed, after Monaco, due to the high number of slow-speed corners and lack of long straights.
  • It has the biggest fuel effect of the year, which means the amount of time you lose each lap for every kilogram of extra fuel in the car. This is because of the stop-start nature of the track, as you have to constantly re-accelerate that mass and slow it down.
  • The track also has the highest fuel consumption of the year, alongside being one of the toughest for heat rejection (risk of overheating the car, engine, brakes and driver).
  • A lap of the Marina Bay track requires 91 gearshifts, the most of any track in F1.

THREE KEY TALKING POINTS

Can Max Verstappen clinch the overall title in Singapore?

Last year’s overall champion Max Verstappen has had a dominant 2022 season, racking up 11 wins from 16 races so far this season. The Dutchman has earned 335 points, a massive 116 points ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and 125 points ahead of his Red Bull Racing teammate Sergio Perez in the drivers’ standings.

What this means is that Verstappen could clinch this season’s overall title at the Marina Bay street circuit, if he wins the night race and takes the fastest lap, while Leclerc finishes no higher than eighth and Perez does not make the podium. If he does manage that, it will be the first time that the F1 drivers’ title is won in Singapore.

Last hurrah for Sebastian Vettel, and it can’t come soon enough

Not only is Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel technically the defending champion of the Singapore Grand Prix, having won the 2019 race before it went on a two-year hiatus, but the German is also the undisputed king of Marina Bay with five race wins (2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2019).

2019 winner of the Singapore GP, Sebastian Vettel

The 36-year-old announced in July that he will retire from F1 racing at the end of the season, putting an end to a glorious career in which he won the drivers’ title four times in the 2010s, so he can pursue his environmental goals such as hugging trees. It will be an especially poignant send-off for Vettel in a circuit where his brilliance thrilled thousands of fans in the last decade.

2019 Singapore Grand Prix, Vettel battles Hamilton – LAT Images

Can Hamilton salvage a disappointing season?

Along with Vettel, Lewis Hamilton has been the leading light for F1 in the past decade. This season, however, the Briton has struggled with his Mercedes car, has yet to win a race ahead of Singapore and is in danger of going winless for the first time in his 16-year F1 career.

Still, with four race wins in Singapore to his name, it will be unwise to count Hamilton out of contention, especially if conditions get wet. With six races left in the season, he will be desperate to end a disappointing year on a positive note.

What to watch for

Race disruptions: Every race here has featured at least one Safety Car, including 10 in the last five races – they are certainly a key consideration when it comes to determining strategy. The high pit-loss time – in part due to a 60km/h pitlane speed limit – can make pitting under a Safety Car or VSC highly beneficial.

Overtaking: Despite there being three DRS zones, this remains one of the toughest circuits upon which to overtake – just 44 percent of passes are made with the system. Moves tend to be made at the start or on Safety Car restarts, with Turn Seven being the optimal place to make a move. Turns One and Five are also key spots.

Strategy: The bumpy, dusty nature of the circuit, mixed with its many corners, means that tire degradation is very high. Despite that, this is usually a one-stop race due to the difficulty in passing and the high pit-loss time. Sometimes, this race even hits the two-hour time-limit before the lap counter elapses.

Unlocking the Lap

Turn Five is the first critical part of the lap – it’s the corner that precedes the lengthy run down to Turn Seven. Picking out a braking point can be tough, as the wall comes up on the left very quickly. Spotting the apex and the exit is tricky, but it’s a vital spot for setting up an overtake along the next straight.

Three DRS zones will remain for the Singapore Grand Prix giving drivers plenty of opportunities to carry out overtakes

The run over the Anderson Bridge into Turn 13 may prove to be more challenging than ever with the 2022 generation of cars. The approach to it requires braking while turning – preventing a lock-up on this downhill section is a challenge at the best of times. Getting this corner right is important, as another lengthy straight follows.

Turn 18 is one of the most unique corners on the F1 calendar as the exit goes underneath part of a grandstand. It is also a deceptively tight corner with a wall on the inside. It starts a demanding sequence of corners where the tires will likely be well past their best by this point in qualifying. Getting just one of these wrong can ruin what was set to be a great lap.

Three DRS Zones Remain

In the last 12 Singapore Grand Prix’s just an average number of 25 overtake moves have occurred.

The increase in DRS zones in 2019 led to the largest number of position changes happening, with 59 overtakes in the race won by Sebastian Vettel.

This in contrast to 2009 when there were just three overtakes in the race that was eventually won by Lewis Hamilton.

All eyes on Verstappen

Max Verstappen will garner much of the attention, with a scintillating run of form having given the Red Bull driver the opportunity to seal his second title in as many years, and the earliest coronation in two decades.

To do so, Verstappen must outscore Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by 22 points, team-mate Sergio Perez by nine, and Mercedes’ George Russell by six.

That means the Dutchman needs to win his sixth race in a row, and then rely on misfortune for others, to wrap up the defense of the championship.

Verstappen is on a career-best streak of five straight victories and in fact has won 11 of the 16 races – which eclipses his total from last season’s title triumph and gives him a great chance of an F1 record.

“I need a bit of luck for that!” admitted Verstappen to Sky Sports F1.

Admittedly, Verstappen has never won under the lights of Singapore and the track could also suit Ferrari, as well as Mercedes, more than the last of the European races.

“I don’t think about it,” added Verstappen. “I want to go to Singapore and try to win that race as well. We are having a great season, so we should really try and appreciate it and enjoy the moment.”

Verstappen is 116 points clear of his previously close title rival Leclerc, while his team-mate Perez is nine points further back. Russell is the only other driver in mathematical contention for the title.

There will be five races remaining after Singapore and a maximum of 138 points available – 26 for a race win with a fastest lap and eight extra for the Sprint race at the penultimate Brazilian GP.

“We haven’t been to Singapore for a while so it will be interesting to see how the track has evolved,” said Verstappen.

“It’s definitely one of the best races of the year, and it’s a beautiful place to be. It’s important to have a good qualifying lap here, so we’ll be focussing on that. During the race we just have to be ready for anything as there’s usually a lot of safety cars. In general, it’s a challenging circuit, the humidity is tough on the body, and it’s very difficult to do a perfect lap because of tight turns and how close the walls are. I don’t really think about the Championship, I just want to have a positive weekend on track and take it race by race, there’s no rush.”

Verstappen can win the title in Singapore if…

  • He wins the race with a fastest lap (26 points) and Leclerc finishes eighth (4 points) or lower and Perez finishes fourth (12 points) or lower
  • He wins the race without a fastest lap (25 points) and Leclerc finishes ninth (2 points) or lower and Perez finishes fourth or lower without a fastest lap (12 points) or fifth with a fastest lap (11 points)

Driver Perspective – Haas driver Kevin Magnussen

“Singapore is definitely a special race track and I’m looking forward to it. Up until now I’ve been once… and that was at the airport for a stopover, but even there it looked great! I’m very excited about getting to experience the track for myself. A lot of people say it’s a tough one because of humidity but also just the features of the track – so we’ll see what we can do.”

Since its first running in 2008, the Singapore Grand Prix has featured at least one safety car every season. Knowing a statistic like that, do you do extra preparation with the team to understand previous examples and how best to stay out of trouble?

“We have our pre-event meetings, which are key factors for examples such as safety cars. It does flow into race strategy and preparation but on the other hand I go there with a fresh mind so I just have to get in as many laps as I can and hopefully get a good feel for it so we can perform well in qualifying and then have a clean start so we are in points contention.”

You proudly hold the lap record around the Marina Bay Circuit with a time 1:41.905 in 2018 and also achieved the fastest lap of the race in 2019. Do you think it’s a record you’ll retain after the race this weekend and are you the type of driver that keeps track of records and stats?

“I got the fastest lap twice – in 2018 and 2019 – with new tires on at the end of the race. In those two races we didn’t score points I don’t think so it’s not something that I’m that proud of, as it didn’t come with points. I’d be way more proud to score points and hope to do so this year.”

It’s arguably one of the toughest races for drivers with humid weather and bumpy street surfaces all while having to navigate 23 corners. How as drivers can you best prepare your body for those conditions and how do you feel straight after coming out of the car after racing in such heat?

“It’s one of the toughest races because of the weather and also just because the track layout is how it is with corner, after corner, after corner without any rest. On most tracks you get a couple of straights around the lap where you can get a breather but in Singapore, even on the so-called ‘straight’, it’s still kind of turning. It’s also very bumpy so you can’t really relax.

“There’s no specific way to prepare, at least for me. I train as hard as I can, and as I said, Singapore is the race that I think of when I need some motivation to keep pushing in the gym. You can always remind yourself that you’re going to Singapore and that’s going to be a super tough one.

“In addition to the on-track physicality, the race schedule is four hours later in Singapore as we race at night. How exactly does that change your own routine – e.g. when do you wake up and go to sleep – and by race day is your mind and body adjusted or do you continue to feel that you’re eating meals at the wrong time and being allowed a lie-in?

“Often, you try to stay on European time for the weekend. It can be difficult because you have to stay up very late into the night but it’s ok, it actually helps as you don’t need to adjust to the time zone when you get there, you just continue. Of course, we go straight to Japan afterwards, so we will probably move our time zone but not too much as the race is late in the evening on Sunday, so we’ll start adjusting on Monday.”

Pirelli Tires

Pirelli are providing their softest compounds for this event, which is a combination teams last used in Canada. The layout of the circuit means that traction is the biggest demand placed on the tires, and how well each compound deals with this will depend heavily on the track conditions on the day. Teams will need to assess all three compounds on Friday before deciding on the likely race strategy.

MARIO ISOLA – MOTORSPORT DIRECTOR

“With completely different tires to last time in Singapore, it’s almost like a totally new race”

“We’ve missed the spectacular night action of Singapore’s streets! With 18-inch tires that have a completely different compound and structure compared to the ones used three years ago – as well as new asphalt this year – it’s almost like a totally new race. Singapore is all about slow corners – all 23 of them – and maximizing traction. We’ve got the three softest compounds for maximum speed and grip but looking after the rear tires in order to ensure the drive needed will be key. With the tendency of the latest cars to understeer, it will be even more important to find the right set-up balance to ensure a strong front end without compromising acceleration at the rear.”

  • The three softest compounds have been chosen for Singapore (for the first time since Austria): the P Zero White hard is the C3, the P Zero Yellow medium is the C4, and the P Zero Red soft is the C5. These compounds have been chosen to match the typical street circuit characteristics of the Marina Bay track, ensuring high levels of mechanical grip.
  • There’s some new asphalt for Singapore this year, laid by Italian firm Dromo. This isn’t as smooth as the asphalt usually seen on street circuits, having been put down with a view to the grand prix. However, as a street circuit, the Marina Bay circuit is used by normal road traffic most of the time – and the surface contains street furniture such as white lines and manhole covers. A high degree of track evolution is expected; also because there are not many support races scheduled, which help to lay down rubber.
  • With the race starting at 8pm local time (GMT +8)  and continuing for about two hours, track temperatures are generally stable for most of the race, while high humidity levels provide a big physical challenge for the drivers, the cars and also for the tires, with thermal degradation.

ENTERTAINMENT ACTS, F1 PARTIES

A key draw for the Singapore Grand Prix is the slew of trackside entertainment for fans to party on before and after the races on all three days. Here is the line-up of entertainment acts for this year’s race:

About 25 corporate meetings and events, including the Forbes Global CEO Conference, are also scheduled, allowing executives to mix work and play.

“It signals to the world that Singapore is back in business and that our ability to stage world-class, high-quality events remains undimmed,” Ong Ling Lee, an executive director at Singapore Tourism Board (STB), told AFP.

Authorities have not released numbers, but ticket sales for Singapore’s biggest event since the pandemic have already exceeded 2019, when 268,000 spectators watched, said Ong.

“This is Singapore’s grand coming-out-of-COVID party.”

Covid wrecked Singapore’s economy with its deepest-ever recession in 2020 and in 2021 visitor arrivals plunged to 330,000, from 19.12 million in 2019.

But it shifted to endemicity earlier this year and last week overtook Hong Kong as Asia’s premier finance centre in a global ranking list.

Seeing Singapore emphatically open up has “put pressure” on other Asian economies such as Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong to also relax travel curbs, said Song.

“Formula One is also shining the spotlight on Asia in terms of who is seriously going back to business.”

Hotel bookings have been brisk, even with room rates estimated to be up to 50 per cent higher than they were pre-COVID.

Prices have surged past $2,000 a night, especially for those around the circuit.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand for those race enthusiasts looking forward to come back to Singapore,” said Marcus Hanna, managing director of Fairmont Singapore and Swissotel The Stamford.

F1 parties

Away from the track, Singapore is hosting F1 parties to dance the night away. Here are a selected few:

  • Amber Lounge: The ultra-luxe post-race event will be held within the iconic waterfront jewel of The Clifford Pier.
  • Amber Lounge
  • Mandala Weekender: Mandala Club will be taking over Hall C at Sands Expo and Convention Centre with top acts such as Kelis, Armand Van Helden and Basement Jaxx.
  • Cé La Vi Presents Grand Prix Cyber Rally 2022: The iconic rooftop destination Cé La Vi gears up with a four-day futuristic race-themed celebration.
  • Marquee Singapore 2022 Race Weekend: Marquee Singapore is throwing a stellar party with international DJs Steve Aoki and Afrojack headlining the race weekend.
  • GLAMboyant: A Kampong Gelam Party: The Kampong Gelam precinct is set to welcome guests with musical performances, fusion food fiestas, traditional dance displays and more.
  • PR1X at 1-Arden: The weekend party at the rooftop of CapitaSpring includes an impressive line-up of international and local DJs, as well as a collaboration with Silverleaf, London’s hottest new cocktail bar.
  • Andaz Singapore’s Race Party: Mr Stork at Andaz Singapore will be hosting a rooftop race party with a rotation of live DJ performances.