Lights Shine On Singapore

Posted on: 29 September 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

The first night Grand Prix proved a great success on the streets of Singapore.

The first night Grand Prix has been labelled a huge success and it now seems inevitable that the Singapore race on Sunday could change the face of Formula One.

The Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka next season has already been highlighted as the next possible circuit to be held under the lights by F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone who took the idea and followed the lead taken by other motorsport categories.

It is also thought that organisers of the Abu Dhabi race, which is set to make its debut as the season finale next year, had taken note of the impact made in Singapore and would also run their race at night.

Ecclestone would doubtless endorse that idea. Running the Abu Dhabi race at night would ensure the race was televised during the all-important Sunday night prime time slot in Europe.

The European audience is considered vital by Formula One chiefs, and the scheduled timing of races are crucial to the sport as a whole. The new, exotic locations increase the global interest in F1 by enhancing its image. That, combined with more races at a time which appeals to the sport’s core audience, means bigger audiences, and therefore happier television companies who will continue to pay extortionate amounts to show the sport live.

A bigger audience also means more advertising revenue, for those TV companies who collect it – which is nearly all of them – as well as for Ecclestone.

Singapore now has a good chance of challenging Monaco for being the jewel in the crown of Formula One’s calendar after its glittering return to the track, 35 years after the event was discontinued.

Ecclestone wins in another way, too. Countries such as Singapore are prepared to pay far more to host a Grand Prix than most European race circuits can afford, even if they are funded by government.

The track at SingaporeFor these new venues, an F1 event means an opportunity to showcase themselves to the world in the most flattering light - and that is effectively priceless.

It was an opportunity Singapore grabbed with both hands at the weekend. The track was interesting, the event ran almost without a hitch, the cars looked even more spectacular than usual under the floodlights, and Singapore's location and history meant it came already loaded up with a glamour that could soon rival that of Monaco.

That glamour works both ways - Singapore's rubs off on F1 just as the sport's rubs off on its host – a match made in heaven some may argue.

Frank Williams, the team owner of the Williams F1 team has been impressed with Singapore and believes it can rival Monaco in the future.

“It has a good chance of challenging Monaco for being the jewel in the crown of Formula One,” says Williams.

"They have great weather, a very good track, and the grandstands are packed. There is a lot of enthusiasm out there for Singapore.”

Packed grandstands are not something F1 has been used to seeing in the new venues it has adopted around the world in recent years. Places like Malaysia and Bahrain might have the money to buy the sport, but they have been unable to buy an interest among their populations.

Singapore, though, was different - partly because the race was held on a track through the middle of the city, but also because its inhabitants have a fair bit more disposable income than the average resident of Kuala Lumpur or Manama.

However, the race's success is likely to have ramifications that go further than simply increasing the number of Asian night races, according to McLaren team boss Ron Dennis.

“It’s not just a new experience, it’s a real big step in the history of Grand Prix racing,” Dennis says.

“When you see the shots of the city and the way they have brought the whole atmosphere of Singapore into the event, it is just a phenomenal spectacle.”

“We can take this model and apply it to anywhere in the world – either to bring Europe this race at a time when people watch it, or even within Europe to make it more spectacular.

“Now there will be a lot of analysis as to when is the best time to put Grand Prix racing on television. It’s going to set a new trend.”

But F1 might be best advised not to get too carried away by Singapore's success. The great event it undoubtedly was, as a fabulous spectacle on TV, if the sport introduces too many night races there is a danger they will lose their novelty value.

That though, is not a concern of Singapore, which won almost universal praise for its first attempt at hosting a major sporting event. Any criticism levelled at the race from its participants was minimal.

There were a few moans from the drivers about the number of severe bumps on the track surface, which made life quite difficult on a long lap with 23 corners.

There was also some criticism of the lack of overtaking points on the track. And everyone in F1 found it difficult to stay on European time while in a place six or seven time zones away.

"Teaching your body to think it's day time when actually it's night time, it kind of messes with your mind," says Lewis Hamilton.

But these were pretty minor issues in the wider scheme of things. Unlike Monaco, there were a couple of places where overtaking was just about possible if a driver got everything just right - particularly into Turns One and Seven, as was proved during the race.

And the bumps actually made the event more interesting. They made mistakes more likely. A crash on a street circuit means a safety car and that is what made the race as eventful as it was, and which gave Renault's Fernando Alonso a massive helping hand on his way to victory.

Championship Leaders

1) Lewis Hamilton 84

2) Felipe Massa 77

3) Robert Kubica 64

4) Kimi Raikkonen 57

5) Nick Heidfeld 56

6) Hiekki Kovalainen 51

7) Fernando Alonso 38

8) Sebastian Vettel 27

The Spaniard's win after a year-long drought put the icing on a pretty satisfactory weekend all round. Still regarded by many in F1 as the most complete racing driver in the sport, the Spanish double world champion has driven his heart out all year in a difficult car that, frankly, does not deserve him.

Renault had its most competitive weekend of the year in Singapore, and Alonso - as is the way of all great drivers - grabbed the opportunity with both hands when it came to him, even if the win owed a great deal to luck, and the timing of the first safety car period, as Alonso was the first to admit.

Only Ferrari have cause to rue their first visit to Singapore.

A disastrous error at Felipe Massa's first pit stop, when he was given a go signal while the refuelling hose was still attached, ruined his race and dealt his title hopes a heavy blow. But even that was not as bad as it could have been.

The fact that Hamilton could manage only third place meant the McLaren driver extended his lead only to seven points with three races to go when in a normal race the Englishman would probably have converted Massa's misfortune into a win. 

The result means Hamilton can afford to finish second behind Massa at each of the final three races and still emerge as champion.

But the run-in is unlikely to be that simple. This has been a season defined by the quite extraordinary number of mistakes made by the sport's leading contenders.

It would be out of character, then, if there were not to be a few more twists and turns before the destiny of the drivers' crown is finally decided.

Formula One is staying in Asia for the time being. First Japan’s Fuji track takes its turn at playing host on the 12th October and a week later it switches to Shanghai in China with the final round taking place in Brazil’s Interlagos circuit on the 2nd November.

Did you think the Singapore night Grand Prix was a success? Would you like to see more or less night races? Can Lewis Hamilton hold on to his championship lead?

Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment in the box below. Alternatively, share your thoughts with other readers in the 50connect forums.

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