I am a big fan of the Singapore Grand Prix, even if it is probably the toughest race of the year. The entire F1 programme is shunted six hours backwards in the day. This is fine if you live on European time, going to bed at five or six in the morning and then sleeping until midday or one in the afternoon. It gets rather amusing as the F1 folk arrive at the track at three in the afternoon, saying “Good morning” to one another and eating breakfast… Lunch for them was (obviously) at six pm and dinner was any time after two in the morning. The teams mainly ate at the race track, served by their hospitality units, but the rest of us did what we could, which is where it got complicated because there are not too many places serving dinner at three am. Most of us lived off sandwiches, ice cream, energy bars and coffee that was kindly provided by the Media Centre. Most of the pressmen seemed to be able to adapt to the timings, although a few achieved this only by staying out partying until the dawn. I work on the principle that one sleeps when you need to. Unfortunately I adapt very quickly to time changes, after many years dealing with them, but in Singapore that means that rather than staying on European time I was getting up at eight o’clock in the morning, but would then find myself working until two or three or four in the morning. Sunday night did not really finish until seven o’clock on Monday morning, and then I had a couple of hours asleep before needing to finish off other deadlines that do not move. I spent the rest of the Monday seeing old friends, admittedly in a rather sleepy fashion, although lunch at the Swiss Club was very pleasant. Then it was time for a few swift glasses in the lounge and sleeping most of the way home. Now I am back in Paris and on French time again and I don’t feel too bad, although I have decided to abandon the US visa interview that was supposed to happen tomorrow because I dare not risk having no passports at all, as my second one (British people with a good excuse are allowed two) is with the Indian authorities and I dare not hand the other over to the Americans lest I find myself without a passport to go to Japan and Korea. In recent years visas have become a real problem for F1 journalists because we travel so much and there is no time to do it all. So we juggle like crazy. I personally think that any country agreeing to host an F1 race should have special arrangements for us because we are there to promote their countries, but not all of them see it like that. I will not get into too much detail let’s just say that when it comes to visas, countries that talk a lot about freedom and liberty fare pretty badly alongside countries that are supposed to be restrictive. I have missed races because of visa problems, but that was back in the 1980s when the Czechoslovakian authorities made life very difficult when I wanted to go to Brno, behind The Iron Curtain. It does not really make sense though as motor races are designed to attract people and the journalists are there to tell the world what great places these are.
Anyway Singapore is a great event, apart from a few too many security checks. There are also cab drivers and policemen who do not know what they are doing. The circuit itself runs very smoothly and there is a really super atmosphere with night racing that makes this race unlike any other on the F1 calendar.
There was a fair bit of gossip in the paddock in Singapore but nothing wildly revealing. There was talk of new calendars but no-one seems to be sure whether the draft proposed will actually translate into the calendar, or whether there will be more changes. Singapore re-upped for another five years although the local politicians did not give any assurances about the track layout. I think a change would be a good idea, to help get better overtaking. What was interesting was that the Minister involved came up with numbers about what the race was costing. He said that the event currently costs $120 million to host each year and explained that the government picks up 60 percent of the bill. That is a lot of money compared to similar events elsewhere. Down in Melbourne the whingers get really whiney when it is revealed that the Grand Prix costs the taxpayer $50 million. They always forget to include all the economic benefits in the calculations, but the Minister in Singapore made it very clear that the 150,000 additional visitors each year generate tourism receipts of around $120 million, thanks largely to a mammoth 30 percent levy on all hotel rooms within easy reach of the circuit.
This means that the event costs Singapore nothing and all the intangibles such as image value and secondary receipts come for free. Having said that there is clearly room for cost savings if Melbourne can do it for half the money.
Lighting is expensive, but there must be other ways that money can be saved.
There is also the question of disruption as the current race track messes up the city pretty spectacularly as it shuts down the major traffic artery, known as the Nicholl Highway. The only way to avoid this is to move the track entirely to the east of this road, which would mean that half the track would have to change. We would lose the two bridges over the Singapore River, although you can only see one when you watch TV and it would mean that there would be fewer colonial buildings in the background. However it is a dark race and the background is largely irrelevant so I see no reason to keep that. There is the added problem that nothing can be changed on the western side of the track as the only areas which might offer changes are the Singapore Cricket Club and the War Memorial, and to be honest I am not quite sure which is more sacred ground in Singapore. The cricket club pre-dates the republic by almost 100 years and has rights that even the government cannot challenge.
I suspect that in the future the circuit will change with more of the action in Marina Park, to the north of the current pit and paddock area, where is also room to put the stage for concerts (thus replacing the cricket ground) with the track also zipping into and out of Suntec City. That would retain many elements of the track as it is now, but would also allow for better overtaking places without moving it too far out of town. It would also mean that more of the track facilities could be semi-permanent (and therefore cheaper).
We will see.