SINGAPORE — Following an incident-packed Italian Grand Prix, Formula One leaves Europe behind and embarks on a championship end game that will see the teams and drivers take on seven long-haul ‘flyaway’ races in 10 action-packed weeks.
And first on that list is the Singapore Grand Prix — the sport’s only true night race.
Singapore’s Marina Bay Street Circuit is the antithesis of high-speed, low downforce Monza. Here, on the winding roads of the Lion City, average speeds are some of the lowest in Formula One and the teams employ their highest downforce settings in an effort to ensure maximum grip around the 23 corners of the floodlit track.
In keeping with its street-circuit nature, grip is at a premium in the early practice sessions. The bumpy surface does ‘rubber in’ over the course of the event but, as the track is constantly evolving, teams are often left chasing the perfect set-up across the race weekend.
The night-race schedule presents its own challenges too, and in a bid to keep personnel at optimum performance levels at the right times, teams opt to keep everyone, including their drivers, on European time to cope with the demands of racing at 8pm. It’s also a long and demanding race, with all four of the races staged so far stretching to within five minutes of the two-hour mark. With temperatures and humidity still high despite the late start, it all adds up to one the toughest races of the year.
As the 2012 Formula One season heads into its final third, Fernando Alonso still leads the Drivers’ Championship. The Ferrari driver now has 179 points, 37 clear of Italian GP winner Lewis Hamilton, who has 142. Meanwhile, dark horse Kimi Raikkonen has snuck up on the rails and sits in third place, just a point behind Hamilton. In the Constructors’ battle, leaders Red Bull Racing, on 272 points, go to Singapore just 29 points clear of McLaren, while Ferrari have 226 points, nine ahead of Lotus.
► Pirelli will offer its yellow-banded soft and red-banded Supersoft tyre compounds this weekend. This combination was last used at the Canadian Grand Prix in June and before that in Monaco.
► As F-1’s only full night race, the Singapore Grand Prix needs light –
a lot of light. In all, it requires 1,600 light projectors, with a total power requirement of 3,180,000 watts, all fed by 108,423 meters of power cables. The circuit lighting system pumps out around 3000 lux, making the track about four times brighter than a regularly floodlit sports stadium.
► The Marina Bay circuit is the second slowest of the year after Monaco, with an average speed of just 172 kph (106.8 mph) and an average cornering speed of 105 kph (65.2 mph). Approximately 46 per cent of the lap is taken at full throttle, compared with over 75 per cent at the last race at high-speed, low downforce Monza.
► Singapore’s 23 corners mean that the twisting layout is very hard on brakes. It doesn’t do gearboxes any favors either with drivers changing gear around 80 times per lap.
► Fernando Alonso is the most successful driver at the Singapore Grand Prix with two wins from the four events held so far, in 2008 and 2010. Lewis Hamilton won the 2009 edition and Sebastian Vettel won last year’s race.
► Prior to the inaugural edition of the Formula One race here in 2008, a Singapore Grand Prix had been run regularly from 1966-1973. The race was a Formula Libre event in which drivers raced a variety of car types. The winner of the final event in 1973 was Vern Schuppan, who also racked up 14 F1 races during his career. He made his Formula One race weekend debut in Belgium in 1972, but did not start as his car was raced instead by Helmut Marko. Schuppan’s first start came two years later at the 1974 Belgian GP and his final race was at the Dutch Grand Prix of 1977.
► The 2008 race was a memorable one for David Coulthard. His seventh place for Red Bull Racing netted him the final points of his F-1 career. DC bowed out of F-1 following that season’s final event in Brazil.
► Nick Heidfeld returned to racing here in 2010, having lost his F-1 drive at the end of 2009 following the withdrawal of BMW from the sport. Nick spent the first part of 2010 as Mercedes test driver, then had a stint as Pirelli’s test driver. However, at the Singapore GP he was drafted in by Sauber to replace Pedro de la Rosa for the final five races of the season, thus rejoining a team he had raced for from 2001-2003, and, as BMW-Sauber, from 2006 until 2009. In Singapore, though, he retired following a collision with Force India’s Vitantonio Liuzzi.
► The Singapore GP is usually packed with incident and the safety car has intervened here at least once in every race since 2008.