The first non-European F1 venue on this page takes us to the Far East, and one of the newer destinations – it is also the only race to take place entirely at night – it is of course, Singapore.
Why is the race held at night? One of the main reasons is to make the race accessible to the European audience. A day-time race would mean either a very late or very early start for said audience. Another reason is the weather – even at night, the temperature is considerable (around 28C), and there is often high humidity to contend with. Day-time conditions would be even worse, given Singapore’s location in the tropics.
The heat and humidity conspire to make the Singapore Grand Prix a test of endurance as much as anything else. The first race in 2008 would have been a trial-by-fire for everyone, as they grappled with trying to race a fast car down the street circuit, at night, whilst sweating profusely in their hot cars. Another element to contend with was the bumpy nature of the track, which would jostle drivers throughout the race – oh, and just for good measure, the race runs for the full two-hour permitted length of a grand prix.
What does this mean for the drivers? As I said, it’s about endurance. They battle the environment as much as they battle each other, trying to cope with dehydration and excessive rattling of their bones. To add to all of this, sometimes it rains, but remains hot, creating even more of a challenge for man and machine alike.
So what is a lap of the Marina Bay circuit like?
Unlike most F1 tracks, Singapore is one of a handful of counter-clockwise races. Turn one is a left-hander, swiftly followed by a kink to the right and then a quicker-than-it-looks left again. Turn 5 is something ofa mid-speed corner, and turn 7 is quite sharp – it is also a place for overtaking, being at the end of a DRS zone, though it doesn’t always pay off.
Turn 8 looks like it should be a chance to pass someone, but the reality is it can be hard, given how challenging it is to stay close on the exit of 7. The defining characteristic of Marina Bay used to be the Singapore Sling at turn 10, which used to be a tight zig-zag section with high kerbs that would launch a car into the air. It was removed ahead of the 2013 race, owing to the damage it can cause and danger it can pose.
Turns 11 and 12 are not especially quick, and the track narrows into turn 13, which can be quite hairy. It’s not unusual to see attempts made to pass at 14, which is at the end of a decent straight. From there, 15-23 is about staying as close as possible to the car in front, to get into the DRS zone at the start-finish straight.
Like Monaco, Marina Bay is lined with barriers, but the track is generally wider, and as part of the design there are several run-off areas. Nonetheless, it is an unforgiving track that, like Monaco, will punish mistakes with damage to the car. Given the conditions, it can make mistakes more likely too.
Does Marina Bay offer up some classic races? You bet it does. There is always some form of drama here, with the safety car having been deployed at every single Singapore Grand Prix so far.
The year it all began, and a race marred by controversy. It was the 15th round of the championship, with the battle between Lewis Hamilton of McLaren and Felipe Massa of Ferrari proving to be very close. Massa took pole, with Hamilton behind him, then came Kovalainen and Raikkonen, for McLaren and Ferrari respectively. At the start Massa got away well and led Hamilton, who in turn led Raikkonen, and the front two began to edge away at the front. On lap 12, Fernando Alonso, driving for Renault, pitted, ditching his super-soft tyres for soft ones, and ended up at the back of the field (he had started far down, owing to technical trouble during qualifying. Two laps later, the race would turn on its head…
The accident of Nelson Piquet Jr, Alonso’s teammate, at turn 17, brought out the safety car, which triggered a wave of pit stops. As a result, Alonso, having already pitted, found himself right up the order. Felipe Massa’s title hopes would be massively dented by his pit crew releasing him from his stop with the fuel hose still attached to the car, forcing him to be wheeled back so it could be removed. The incident also earned him a drive-through penalty, further damaging his chances of a good points haul.
As the race unfolded Alonso found himself in a prime position, taking advantage of the strategies of those around him, especially Nico Rosberg of Williams, to get into the lead and stay there. He would become the first F1 winner at the Marina Bay circuit, but there was be a twist to the tale…
The ‘crashgate’ investigation would come after the suggestion, from Piquet Jr himself, that he had been ordered to crash, in order to benefit Alonso. Piquet had left Renault after the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, in somewhat acrimonious circumstances, and the suggestion of foul play found its way to the Brazilian media at the end of August that year. The FIA immediately launched an investigation, and after claims and counter-claims (including the threat of legal action against Piquet and his father by Renault), Renault ultimately did not contest the allegations.
The affair led to Flavio Briatore (a rather passionate figure in F1 at the time) and Pat Symonds, a noted designer, leaving the sport. Renault received a two-year suspended ban and both Briatore and Symonds received bans as well. Alonso was judged to have been unaware of any conspiracy to crash and his reputation came out of it all unsullied.
The race itself was a cruise for Sebastian Vettel in his Ferrari, but it was noted for an act of insanity that saw Marina Bay join the dubious ranks of tracks to have suffered track invaders. To describe the act as ‘stupid’ would be an enormous understatement, for the guy put not only his life in danger, but the lives of the drivers and marshalls as well.
Again, maybe not outstanding for the race itself, but noteworthy because the 2016 Singapore Grand Prix is the first (and so far only) time that a non-championship-winning driver won the race. At the time, Nico Rosberg had not become a world champion.
Oh boy. This one was eventful, and it turned the 2017 title battle between Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari into a one-horse race. Coming to Singapore, Hamilton held a narrow three-point lead on his championship rival, but could only qualify 5th on a track the Mercedes just wasn’t suited for. Meanwhile Vettel was on pole, with the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo behind him, and in 4th was Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen.
At the start, Verstappen got away quite well and Raikkonen was also going strong, up on Verstappen’s left. Vettel meanwhile, aggressively cut across Verstappen to protect his lead into turn 1, but had misjudged where Raikkonen was, triggering a big accident that took himself, his teammate, Verstappen, and the unfortunate McLaren of Fernando Alonso (who would retire a few laps later from damage caused by the crash). From looking like he would retake the championship lead quite easily, suddenly Vettel was watching on as Hamilton gained the lead and won the race.
As mentioned before, this is a unique track with unique challenges. It is only slightly more forgiving than Monaco in terms of run-off areas and the width of the road, but it is more gruelling in terms of the length of the race, in very hot, humid and bumpy conditions. It is one of current F1’s biggest tests.