Like many, I’ve never been to Singapore.
Ask me six years ago which Grand Prix I’d like to go to out of all those in modern Formula One, and the Far Eastern country sure wouldn’t have been it. On the surface it was to be just another gold-laden flagpole placed by Bernie in the rich flyaway region we as F1 fans have come to know as Asia. Low attendance figures, little in the way of character, and no sense of passion that comes with those more established European races. Spa, anyone?
Upon the sports arrival in 2008 however, things were perhaps not what they immediately seemed. Herman Tilke had, from a trackside point of view at least, designed a wow track. Features such as the Singapore Sling chicane, the run through the heart of The Float arena layout, and the flat-out final left kink are all instantly recognisable to the eye, complete of course with that most stunning of high-rise backdrops.
It’s inaugural race was marred by Crashgate, which was unfortunate in the way that it took the attention away from what was actually a fantastic race, with Fernando Alonso winning (OK, perhaps because of teammate Nelson Piquet Jr’s crash), title contender Felipe Massa retiring, a splattering of overtaking, damage and form-book-destroying drivers all taking grasp.
The following season saw Lewis Hamilton take the win, for what would be only the second time in 2009, ahead of Toyota’s Timo Glock and Alonso. A look at the form book will tell you that Singapore provided us with the only non-Brawn GP & Red Bull podium of the entire season.
Since then the race has gone from strength to strength, building in character and producing soaring ticket sales, with last year’s event attracting no less than 262,000 visitors across the weekend. Compare that with just over 100,000 visitors that the Malaysian Grand Prix managed to attract in its 15th year of F1 existence this season, and the dire figure of 28,000 that rolled into the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain at the start of April, and it’s no exaggeration to say that Singapore is by far and away the biggest success story on the calendar in recent years.
From the armchair of English residence, it seems an ace up the sleeve of the Marina Bay weekend that it provides something that Formula One, as a whole, is currently in crisis over: spectacle.
Firstly, just look at it. From the sky it looks like a beacon of filament lighting working its way in and around the darkness of its city landscape, over arena complexes, alongside links golf courses and under urban flyovers. From the ground view, it’s a track suffocated by the concrete jungle surrounding it, under a canopy of hotel and offices.
Beyond the track, and the weekend is one that is about so much more than the gruelling 61 lap race – one that is lauded as the most mentally draining of the season. The Singapore Flyer, Asia’s answer to the London Eye, takes fans above and beyond the scene of the race, whilst international music acts such as J-Lo and the Pet Shop Boys entwine their performances with the on-track action throughout the weekend.
Singapore, through it’s seven year stint on the calendar, has become so much more than a race. Despite is impressive roster of racing action thus far, it’s become the very thing that Formula One weekends across the globe need. It’s evolved into something Bernie, together with event organisers, should aim to replicate in both new territories and old.
Quite simply, it’s trancended being a race and become an event.