Singapore F1 GP (Yippie?)
The recent announcement for Singapore F1 Grand Prix to be held at night in the city-state in 2008 is getting great cheer from the people in the country, but not from me (more of that later). Hailing it as the other catalyst that will boost their already obscene property and investment boom and well, promote the country with a reputation of being staid and clinical into a multi-faceted "vibrant global city", as Singapore's trade and industry minister S. Iswaran calls it.
I don't doubt the great economic effects of a Formula 1 GP, reputed to bring in the upwards of SDG100 million per year in incremental receipts. It certainly puts a country on the map of millions of people who watch F1 racing. It is believed that other than the Olympics and World Cup, F1 is the most watched sport in the world (Eat your heart out EPL). In a world where corporate figures mix business and pleasure, the F1 GP will provide a great platform to give Singapore a higher top-of-mind recall and sound groundworks for better branding both in business and hospitality sectors.
BUT WHAT'S IT LIKE FOR A TRUE F1 FAN?
Well, it'll very likely be a novelty to F1 fans, but the idea of a night F1 race is just too hard to follow on the long term. It may make sense that the global TV ratings will be higher, since the Europeans don't have to catch it the race in some ungodly hour of the day. But what will a night race be like for F1 fan who is standing there with a ticket to see the race? Imagine this, how many floodlights is needed to light up a football field? Digressing a bit, now I want to establish the fact that the soccer ball (which is about the size of an F1 helmet) travels at about 1/4 the speed of an F1 car at best.
Alright, now multiply that thought of a football field and imagine how much light a 4.8 kilometer street circuit needs. With cars speeding down the roads at about 200-300km/h with high rise buildings in between and corners that's taken at speeds that could have you killed in a road car. Now think of how blinding it could be to a spectator, think of the visibility you have in your car when it rains like when it does in Singapore...
We're not talking about racing your average Mazda 3, BMW 6-series or even the wildest of Lamborghini Murcielago. The grip, as a result of a higher center of gravity, weight and mechanical limitations, is just not enough on the best of road cars to take the corners the way F1 race cars do. FYI, no road car can take on the challenge of an F1 car capable of going 0-100km/h in 2.3 seconds. Or brake from 300km/h to standstill in 3.5 seconds... Everything is on the limit here, so can F1 afford to compromise everything it has going for it - speed, technology, safety and talent for a mere nocturnal spectacle? And on top of that, may I repeat, there is simply no way, you can enjoy a night race as much as a day race, that's A FACT.
On an F1 track... even at the most expensive grand stand section, you'll find it difficult to identify one of driver from the same team. The item that allows you to tell a Kimi Raikkonen from Felipe Massa is the helmet. And trust me, you are seeing so little of the helmet at 300km/h on broad daylight, there's no way the night race will be anything but a "i don't know what's going on. let's just cheer for everyone" fest. Who just overtook who? Who just did what? Who just won the race?!
Fernando Alonso said a few months ago that, based on his experience at the McLaren car launch in Valencia - when he and Lewis drove their F1 cars through the streets at night - that he believe it is impossible for floodlighting to be powerful enough to make racing safe. In Valencia he said he could hardly see anything from the cockpit. Is nobody listening?
Take it from a F1 fan. And I can say I have attended 5 F1 GPs in various sections... from scorching hill stands, luxurious hospitality suites costing RM2,500 (SGD$1130), plus many F1 GP experiences in various grand stands... "at this point, I don't see a true enjoyment or a benefit to attend a night F1 race other than for novelty." And in a country where, people will queue up when they see a queue for no apparent reason (you know you've seen the experiment).. it might prove to be a success! There's little in it, except for the sound of F1 engine... roaring in the revs reaching 19,000+ rpm... tingling down your spine... raising your goosepimples... and deafening your ears. As the fuel burns in the engine, and the throttle floored on an F1 car, you can feel the extreme physics that's happening on the road... through your skin. It's electric!
Today's papers proudly announce said that the Singapore GP will be one of the cheapest in the world... starting at SGD$40. But with a view like that, it's daylight (umm... nighttime) robbery. Don't even get me started on safety... Obviously, after years of uncompromising philosophy of putting driver's safety first... the FIA has reshuffled its priorities. What we need is another Ayrton Senna style death?
If there's going to be a perfect Singapore GP, I say give me smooth roads (fix and make up your mind on that Raffles City roadworks, assure me my favorite driver isn't going to die or have me killed when he hits the barries and chunks of carbon fibre flies like sharp glass all over the grand stand and well... make it a day race.
But as it stands, I think this night race is a race for Singapore's economy rather than an actual F1 GP.