After an absence of two years, the Singapore Grand Prix is back, run as usual at the 5.063 kilometre-long Marina Bay circuit. As always since its inception in 2008, Sunday's 61 lap race, equivalent to 308.706 kilometres will be run entirely at night. Singapore was the very first Formula 1 race to be run from start to finish under floodlights, with over 1700 of them around the track. Even though the sun has set, it is one of the toughest races of the season for drivers, engineers and mechanics because of the heat and high humidity, while the ever present threat of rain can make for unpredictability on track.
The street circuit is very slow and twisty, with the unforgiving walls right up against the side of the track. A high aerodynamic downforce is the order of the day, but despite that, top speeds exceed 310 km/h, thanks in part to the DRS system which can be used at three points: on the main straight, between turns 5 and 7 and between 13 and 14.
The track is very hard on the braking system, given that the drivers hit the brake pedal for about 22 seconds per lap. On the other hand, engine power is less important, with drivers only spending 44% of the lap at full throttle, but the internal combustion engine still comes under significant stress because of heat and high humidity levels. Another key element is fuel consumption with drivers often being advised to "lift and coast", getting off the throttle early, rather than braking hard, to avoid running out of fuel in the closing stages.
Three questions to Andrea Ferrari, Charles Leclerc's trainer.
What physical challenges does a driver face at the Singapore track?
AF: "On the current Formula 1 calendar, Singapore is the most demanding track. It's a traditional street circuit with the walls punishing the slightest lack of concentration. Furthermore, there are no long straights, so the driver can never take a breather, as it is only in a straight line that the heartbeat can slow down a bit to give the athlete a break. Making the situation even more challenging is the Singapore climate, with very high temperatures and levels of humidity. This compromises thermoregulation, the body's ability to dissipate heat. The drivers sweat a lot and so lose mineral salts and calcium, essential for muscle function which in turn affects physical performance on track".
It's well known that humidity and heat are suffocating in Singapore. So how can a Formula 1 driver prepare to face such extremes?
AF: "Over the Singapore Grand Prix race distance, a driver can lose up to three kilos in weight and that can lead to a significant drop in performance. To overcome this, the athlete must remain hydrated constantly throughout the race. To help them get through the weekend in the best possible shape, one aims to get to Singapore as early as possible to adapt to the climate and to carry out some training sessions in these extreme conditions, having started that programme in the previous weeks, with the aid of saunas to simulate the heat and humidity of the city".
As part of the show, the Singapore Grand Prix runs to a unique timetable, with everything starting very late in the day. How does one approach such a different weekend?
AF: "This is the easiest aspect of the weekend to manage: the drivers' schedules mean they stay on European time, arriving at the track late in the afternoon and leaving in the early hours of the morning. Physically and psychologically, this race is much more straightforward than the following weekend's race in Japan, when the drivers will have to get back onto local time".
Ferrari at the Singapore GP
GP entered 12
Debut 2008 (F. Massa 13th; K. Räikkönen 15th)
Wins 3 (25%)
Pole positions 5 (41.67%)
Fastest race laps 2 (16.67%)
Total podiums 8 (22.22%)
Singapore GP: facts & figures
15. The furthest back on the grid from which the Singapore Grand Prix has been won. Fernando Alonso was the driver in question, having made the most of a Safety Car, triggered by his team-mate Nelsinho Piquet, which put the rest of the field on the back foot. There have been eight winners who started from pole position, two from third on the grid and one after starting fifth.
25. The average number of overtaking moves from the 12 Singapore Grands Prix held to date. The largest number of changes of position occurred in 2012 when there were 49 in a race won by Sebastian Vettel, whereas in 2009, there were just three overtakes, with Lewis Hamilton the winner.
65. The number of islands that make up Singapore. The main one is known as "the growing island" as building work continuously reclaims land from the sea and is located between Malaysia to the north and Indonesia to the south. There is a bridge linking it to the Malaysian city of Johor Bahru. The country includes a further 64 smaller satellite islands, the largest of which are: Jurong Island, Pulau Tekong, Pulau Ubin, Sentosa, Brani, Bukom, Hantu, Jong, Kusu, Palawan, Pawai, Pedra Branca, Sakijang Bendera, Sekudu, Semakau, Senanga, Serangoon, Subar Darat, Subar Laut and Sudong.
280. The maximum permitted height in metres for skyscrapers in Singapore. The buildings are therefore relatively low for safety reasons, as Changi Airport is just a short distance from the city centre. There are four buildings that reach this maximum height, they are United Overseas Bank Plaza One, One Raffles Place, Republic Plaza and CapitaSpring. In 2006, the Guoco Tower was given a special exemption to reach a height of 290 metres.
300. The basic fine in Singapore in Euros, which, over the years has earned the island state the nickname of "Fine City" in these parts. You will be fined for importing chewing gum, which is banned to save costs on cleaning streets and pavements. You can only cross the road at designated crossings, with this and littering subject to a 300 Euro fine. Also forbidden is walking around in your own property naked unless curtains are drawn and smoking is strictly forbidden outside a few designated areas.
75 years ago
In late September 1947, Scuderia Ferrari is ready for a home race at Modena. It enters a pair of Tipo 159s, one for Franco Cortese and the other for Tazio Nuvolari, who unfortunately falls ill and is replaced by Fernando Righetti. But he crashes in a race at Stella di Ligorzano and therefore starts in Modena at the wheel of a 125 S Integrale, while Franco Cortese has a cigar-shaped 159, the Competizione model. At the start, the Maseratis go into the lead, but Cortese soon passes them, before car problems force him to pit. Trying to make up time, Cortese arrives in pit lane and stops very suddenly, forcing Giovanni Bracco in a Delage to take avoiding action. But he swerves into the crowd as there are no barriers. The race is stopped after 24 laps and Alberto Ascari is declared the winner for Maserati, followed by his team-mate Luigi Villoresi. Righetti is fifth, while Cortese is in the centre of a legal inquest into the accident which left several spectators dead or injured. The organisers therefore decide it is time to move the race to a permanent circuit and thus comes the idea for the Aerautodromo di Modena, officially opened in 1950.