About an hour before the race, it starts to rain. At first, just a little bit – nothing major. But, soon enough, the event staff starts handing out flimsy ponchos to the spectators gathered on the terrace.
“It’s fine,” a media colleague tells me, as we hastily throw on our ponchos before continuing to watch the glistening racetrack below. “This won’t affect the race.” (The back of my pass literally reads ‘RAIN OR SHINE EVENT.’)
‘The race’ is the 2017 Singapore Grand Prix. Held at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, this year marks the 10th year of the Singapore edition. Part of the FIA Formula One World Championship – the revered single-seat series of auto races – the Singapore event is the world’s inaugural Formula One night race and the first street circuit in Asia.
Photo by Shawn Ong
Somehow, I, the person with the least knowledge of motor racing in my F1-mad family, luck out with a round-trip business class flight and Grand Prix Sky Suite pass, courtesy of Thai Airways.
I had been to Singapore once before and thought it humid and clean. But mention the sovereign state to others and they are quick to write it off as any or all of the following: unexciting, sanitary and strict. You can’t chew gum or jaywalk, they say.
But that’s simply the price you pay for a spotless city-state. The Lion City is terrifically comfortable and, contrary to what Instagram would have you believe, offers plenty besides Marina Bay rooftop pools. Like street hawker stalls and even Starbucks food that doesn’t suck.
That being said, my weekend visit is strictly on the ‘fancy’ side. From my relaxed stay at Concorde Hotel Singapore on Orchard Road to the Thai Airways flight and F1 tickets, it’s a lavish trip.
Photo supplied by Concorde Hotel Singapore
I discover that the 2017 Singapore Grand Prix is more than just a race. It’s a massive festival spread across multiple stadiums, including performances by Calvin Harris and Ariana Grande – though I skip both, too far away – as well as ageless rocker Seal. And it’s a buffet and open bar – in the Sky Suite, anyway; which, by the way, has a great view of the Seal set.
Yet, despite the international-level entertainment, and despite having close to zero knowledge about F1 (other than a Wiki dive into racing legend Ayrton Senna beforehand due to family pressure), I’m most excited about the race. It helps that I have the best view possible of the track right in front of me – the first corner turn.
Fast fact time: The first corner is one of 23 turns on the 5.065km Singapore track. That’s more turns than any other current Formula One circuit. Drivers are scheduled to complete 61 laps, with temperatures inside cockpits reaching a scorching 60 degrees Celsius.
A spectacular view from the Sky Suite Terrace
The nature of the street circuit means that, over a six-day period surrounding race day, wide swaths of central Singapore are affected by road closures, disrupting the daily lives of locals. When I talk to Singaporean friends about the Grand Prix, they complain that their commute has been doubled because of it, but then they also ask, “Hey, can you sneak me in?”
On the Sky Suite terrace, my media friends and I make a faux bet about the winner: Either the favorite, Sebastian Vettel, four-time winner of this very Grand Prix, or Lewis Hamilton, who is, well, Lewis Hamilton, touted as the best driver of his generation.
By the start of the race, the rain has stopped, but it doesn’t take long for the bet to implode.
On the first lap, just before the first corner, Ferrari driver Vettel and his teammate Kimi Räikkönen collide with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, resulting in a barrier crash (that also collects a fourth driver). It’s painful to watch. The drivers emerge unscathed but are forced to retire from the race.
Afterwards, 20-year-old Verstappen says that it was Vettel’s fault (“He started squeezing me”). Video footage of the two Ferraris sandwiching the Red Bull car becomes an Internet meme . The Ferrari team blames Verstappen. Yet race officials clear all three from fault.
The crowd watches the race
Post-crash, a safety car (I had never heard of this term before) is brought out to drive in front of the pack for a few laps, before Hamilton’s green and silver Mercedes takes the lead.
The race continues for almost two more hours, but compared to the first exciting minutes, these are largely unremarkable. Cars lap the track, more drivers smash out and Hamilton continues his lead – eventually winning.
During the final lap, fireworks light up the Singapore skyline. The crowd cheers on Hamilton, the Grand Prix and their hundreds (or thousands, depending on the ticket) of dollars spent.
Singapore Grand Prix staff take a selfie
But it’s not really the end. On the first day of the 2017 Singapore event race, organizers signed a four-year contract extension with Formula One Management, until 2021.
So, what was sold as maybe the final Singapore Grand Prix merely turns out to be another spectacle. How grand.
Formula One x Asia
If you want to catch the F1 in Asia but aren’t so keen on Singapore, here are your other options (at the time of writing):
Chinese Grand Prix
Shanghai International Circuit: 2004-present
When: 2018 dates are April 6-8.
Where: Shanghai, China.
Did you know: It was the most expensive Formula One circuit facility at completion in 2004 (US$240 million). It’s since been surpassed by Abu Dhabi (US$6 billion).
Bahrain Grand Prix
Bahrain International Circuit: 2004-2009; 2011-present
When: 2018 dates are April 13-15.
Where: Sakhir, Bahrain.
Did you know: The Bahrain Grand Prix was the first Formula One Grand Prix to be held in the Middle East. The race was canceled in 2011 due to the 2011 Bahraini protests.
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Yas Marina Circuit: 2009-present
When: 2018 dates are November 23-25.
Where: Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Did you know: The inaugural race was Formula One’s first ever day-night race, with a 5pm start (local time).
Japanese Grand Prix
Suzuka Circuit: 2003-present
When: 2018 dates are October 5-7.
Where: Suzaka City, Mie Prefecture, Japan.
Did you know: The Suzuka Circuit is one of the most iconic in Formula One due to its storied history: The long-standing feud between Brazilian hero Ayrton Senna and Frenchman Alain Prost, both considered the best at the time, played out multiple times at the venue. Its placement as one of the last races of the season means that it is often a title-decider for racers.
Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Baku City Circuit: 2017-present
When: 2018 dates are April 27-29.
Where: Baku, Azerbaijan.
Did you know: The inaugural race at the circuit, in 2016, was named the European Grand Prix. According to a statement last December by Baku City Circuit executive director Arif Rahimov: “We wanted to position our country as a part of Europe and to showcase our European mentality to the world. [However] we now feel it is the right time to rename our race.” Note: Azerbaijan is a ‘transcontinental’ country, as it’s located in both Europe and Asia.
Images by Josh Cahill
Thai Airways provided our flights; the airline offers flights daily from Beijing to Singapore via Bangkok. Our hotel stay was courtesy of Concorde Hotel Singapore, the airline's hotel partner, providing guest rooms for cabin crews of Thai Airways in Singapore.