Saturday, September 22, 2012

F1 Singapore Practice

Formula 1 has returned to Singapore, the 5th year that the race has been on the calendar. It is the biggest sports weekend in the country and certainly not an event I could skip. Last year at this time I was visiting Singapore on short notice and managed to get a limited walkabout pass on the day of the race. This year though, with time to prepare, I took advantage of the fact that far too many locals buy far too many tickets and there are always decent offers available online. I prefer the walkabout tickets to a single grandstand location and bought a Friday/Sunday Premier Walkabout combination, which is not available through normal outlets.

Friday is the "cheap" day with two F1 practices, while Saturday has a third practice and the qualifying before the race on Sunday. There are three other car types as well that hold practice and qualifying throughout the weekend, along with several concerts, with Maroon 5 and Katy Perry headlining this year.

I am now working in the Marina Bay area and my office building (Millenia Tower, on the left above) is just a couple of minutes from Gate 2, so at 5:30 I bounded out of the office and crossed the street to enter the circuit. Never before had I been so conveniently located to a major sporting event! I immediately made my way to Zone 1, which is where the start/finish line, pits, and suites are all located. I arrived just as the first of two practices was getting started. My friend Sajith, who also recently moved to Singapore from Japan, joined me.

My main goal of the practice session was to figure out the best place to stand for the race on Sunday. I started next to Turn 1, which is where the cars exit the pit. That is Mercedes' driver Michael Schumacher starting his run below.

I found this area to offer the best view as the cars are decelerating into the first turn and you can see them move into Turns 2 and 3 as well. The Pit Grandstand is further down the track and it seems like all you would see is the cars zooming by or being attended to in the pit, although I can't say for sure. I prefer to be next to the turns in any case.

In order to check out the views from other areas, we moved down the track, going against the direction of cars, past the grandstands and start line to Turn 23, the last turn before the straight. Here, you are somewhat farther away from the track and it is not as interesting as being near Turn 1, and pictures are not as good.

By this time, the first practice was nearing its end, so we made our way over to zone 2. As I came down from the overpass, I saw the GP2 cars waiting to enter the track for their qualifying run. The GP2 is sort of the minor leagues for F1 and many current F1 stars participated in GP2, including Lewis Hamilton. It is rare to be so close to a race car with the driver inside and I was amazed at Nigel Melker of the Netherlands (above) whose concentration was so intense that he simply stared ahead for ten minutes, the occasional blink the only sign he was alive. Below is the car belonging to Stephane Richelmi of Monaco.

Once the GP2 cars had moved out onto the track, Sajith and I continued over to the Singapore Flyer, the world's largest ferris wheel. Those with Premier Walkabout tickets were entitled to unlimited free rides, normally a $33 value. Because the Flyer is inside the circuit, the general public is not able to get inside during the weekend. Even then, I expected long lines, but was surprised to see that few fans were taking advantage of this offer. That allowed us enough time to grab dinner at the Singapore Food Trail, an upscale hawker centre (outdoor food court) just underneath the Flyer, where 10 satay sticks will cost you $10, much cheaper than the other options scattered around the circuit.

After eating, we entered the Flyer and were quickly aboard one of the 28 capsules, along with about 20 others. The second F1 practice had yet to begin, so we were left with taking pictures of the Singapore skyline (above, with the Bay Grandstand off to the right).

It takes about 30 minutes to make one revolution, and we were back on the ground at around 9:15. With the next practice scheduled to begin in just 15 minutes, we decided to ride one more time, hoping to capture some of the action from 165 metres above the track.

We could hear the first roars of the engine as we entered the capsule and were fortunate that the second practice took place in perfect conditions, clear and dry. As the wheel takes you higher, you have a great view of the straightaway (above). Below you can see one of the Red Bull cars crossing the finish line, a possible outcome on Sunday as well. This photo also serves as a reminder that it is time to get a better camera!

On the way back down, you see the other side of the track, starting at Turn 5 and going all the way around to the Esplanade Bridge before making its way back to the Bay Grandstand, where the cars briefly disappear as they actually drive underneath the seats. Below is Heikki Kovalainen of Caterham at Turn 5.

After completing our second go-around, we made our way trackside, where I heard that Bruno Senna had crashed at Turn 19, very close to where we were. Just then we saw the track marshals bringing Senna's car off the track and they set it down right in front of us, causing a large crowd to gather. From the shot below, you can't really see the damage as he just touched the wall, but it was enough to end his evening.

That was also enough for me as there was just a few minutes of practice left, so I walked back to my office to collect my stuff and head home. Even from the office, the engines were incredibly loud and I was able to see a small portion of the track coming out of Turn 5, but not enough that it would be worth watching the race from there.

This was a great evening and a bargain at just $60. The crowd is perhaps a third of what will show up for the race, so it is easier to move around and see a variety of different attractions. It was a definitely one of the more interesting sport spectator experiences and for those who may not be racing fans, worth checking out just for the other options.


Sebastian Vettel won the race on Sunday after Lewis Hamilton suffered a gearbox failure while leading midway through.

Next Up

Lots of travel in the next month, with a few sporting events thrown in. I'll be in Hong Kong this coming week but have yet to spot anything worth attending. After spending a single day in Singapore next Saturday, I'll be off to Sri Lanka for a few matches in cricket's Twenty20 World Cup. The week following, I'll be back to Tokyo, where a ball game and a tennis tournament are possibilities, not to mention the world-famous Yamato Cup, at which I'll be helping out. Check back for updates.



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