Singapore GP: Preview - McLaren


Formula 1 continues to break boundaries as it travels to the Republic of Singapore for Asia's first street race and the first night race in the history of the sport.

The anti-clockwise, 5.067km track will wind through the heart of one of the world's most striking and energetic cities. The drivers will race on public roads past landmarks such as the historic Anderson Bridge, St Andrews Road and Raffles Boulevard.

The Singapore event is the second Grand Prix of the season to take place in a city state, Monaco being the other location. However, unlike the tight, twisting Monte Carlo track, the Asian street circuit is wider and significantly faster. An average speed of about 175km/h was calculated for this track. The average speed during qualifying in Monaco this year was about 160km/h. The drivers are expected to reach top speeds of approximately 290km/h along the main straight.

The temporary lighting system is in itself a feat of engineering. 108,423 metres of power cables, 240 steel pylons and around 1,500 light projectors are installed, creating light that is four times brighter than that used at sports stadiums.

The drivers will take to the track for the first time for Friday's opening free practice at 19:00hrs. Qualifying is the latest session of the weekend, kicking off at 22:00hrs, with the race starting at 20:00hrs on Sunday. Vodafone McLaren Mercedes will be adopting a bespoke nighttime work programme, to ensure the drivers and all other team members are able to function to their optimum level during the night. Usually the acclimatisation process is vital for the fly-away races that are in significantly different timezones to Europe, however for the Singapore Grand Prix the opposite is true.

What are you looking forward to in Singapore?
Lewis Hamilton: "I'm looking forward to visiting the country, trying the food, seeing what the track is like, seeing what it will be like to race on. It is going to be an exciting weekend. The race will be quite a fun challenge, and I like a challenge! I've never raced at night before, but I don't think it is going to be a problem. It doesn't seem to be a problem in other sports and there have been huge preparations for this, so I think it will be great. We are racing on another street circuit, which are a particular favourite of mine. From what I understand it is wide and fairly flowing in nature, which is not what you usually expect from a street circuit, but it sounds like it will be pretty spectacular."

Have your physical preparations changed in any way for this race?
LH: "Singapore is going to be a unique challenge for every member of the team. Our doctor has prepared a very precise schedule for the drivers to stick to because all the sessions are so late in the day. Essentially we must not acclimatise to the local time, which is totally different to how we normally operate. Our training programmes ensure that over a race weekend we are at peak performance during the afternoons and as a result we are going to be staying in European time so this doesn't get disrupted. Apparently not acclimatising is much harder than adapting, because your body naturally wants to change. For the drivers, our meal, waking and sleeping rhythms will all be in European time, for example we will get up early afternoon for breakfast, have supper at 1am and go to bed at around 3am. It will be very different preparation to any other race but we'll try and do the best job we can."

Have you raced at night before?
Heikki Kovalainen: "The Race of Champions was in the evening, in the stadium with the lights, but the races weren't long or serious so it's going to be all new. It will be interesting to see how it feels; how it's different, whether it's good or bad. Coming from Finland where we have 24hours of darkness in the winter, I don't think I will have any problems, I am used to that! The circuit looks fantastic, there seem to be a few overtaking opportunities, so hopefully it will be a good race. Races in cities always have a great atmosphere, so I am looking forward to it."

Can you outline your fitness and sleeping regime?
HK: "The main thing to consider is that we remain sharp at a later time in the day. We need to keep the rhythm correct and sleep well. This is all taken care of by the team, but it's still a big challenge. The team is taking every measure possible to ensure the timings of the weekend have no impact on our performance, to make sure we are physically ready. For example, the hotel rooms will be blacked out so we can sleep late into the day, special arrangements will be put in place to make sure the cleaners don't come into the room, as they would not expect people to be sleeping until early afternoon. The telephones will not ring, all those kind of things. We will essentially be isolated from the normal workings of the hotel. It is a much more demanding task to make sure you don't switch to the local time, because your body automatically wants to change, external factors such as light, temperature, humidity are all encouraging it. As with any flyaway race, the process will start from when we land in Singapore, we will stay up until early morning on the day we land."

What will be the key logistical challenge faced at the Singapore Grand Prix?
Martin Whitmarsh, CEO Formula 1, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes: "Inevitably, ensuring all the team personnel have the opportunity to get enough sleep will be the main challenge over the course of the weekend. For example, the mechanics won't be going to bed until 4 - 5am, because we finish running late in the evening and there is a programme of work to complete prior to the next day. There is a clear plan, because we know the timings of the sessions and how much work needs to take place after each of the sessions. The reality is, it will be hard work for the mechanics, engineers, support crew, marketing operation and we will take measures to support this, but I don't believe it will have a massive impact on the cars and the drivers, with the programme for Lewis and Heikki being very carefully planned and monitored."

Is the team planning to take additional lighting?
MW: "Ordinarily, the garage is lit for work at night anyway so that won't be a new phenomenon. There will be some functional lighting on the pitwall which we don't currently have, that will be the only addition. In the car the cockpit display is illuminated so that won't be a problem, and there is an assumption that there will be sufficient ambient luminosity that you can see knobs and buttons in a way you ordinarily could. We are going with a variety of visors with high-contrast, different colourations, as with artificial light you will not have natural shadow and depth perception can be reduced. However, we are expecting the quality of light is so good that we wouldn't have to do anything, the purpose of floodlighting is to be operating as though it was daylight."

Are there any other impacts the timing will have on the race?
MW: "There is the potential for the temperature to drop, but I suspect it will still be warmer at 21:00 in Singapore than during Friday practice at Monza! We expect the ambient will be around 30 degrees centigrade, the track temperature will cool down for the evening but will still be close to 40 degrees centigrade, unless there is rain. If it rains, there is the unknown of whether there will be a problem with glare or the sparkle of light from droplets of rain that is greater than you would ordinarily get. To manage this potential, we are using coatings for the visors that won't allow droplets to collect."

After Monza, Lewis‘s advantage in the Drivers' Championship is only one point. Are you getting nervous now?
Norbert Haug, Vice President, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport: "We see no reason to be. In his 31 Grands Prix so far, Lewis scored 187 points, six on average per race. During this period, no other Formula 1 driver collected more points. In 26 of his 31 Grands Prix, Lewis finished in the points, 20 of those occasions finishing on the podium. We now want to pick up our good shape of the second third of the season, then we head into the right direction."

What went wrong in Monza?
NH: "Following the tyre choice in qualifying which unfortunately led to his 15th grid position, Lewis showed a great race and overtook impressively. With Heikki's second and Lewis's seventh places, the team still scored 10 points in Monza - more were possible. On the other side: In the previous six races Lewis alone scored as many points as both drivers of our toughest competitor."

The Singapore Grand Prix, the first night race in Formula 1, will be the next event. What can we expect?
NH: "The Singapore Grand Prix will be the fifth street race on the calendar after Melbourne, Monte Carlo, Montreal and Valencia and the first ever Grand Prix be held at night. Foremost, we look forward to the atmosphere of this first night race. About 1,500 extremely powerful light projectors have been installed four metres apart around the about five-kilometre long track, and they are said to illuminate the track brightly. In this unusual environment, the drivers have to focus on 23 corners per lap, six of them with speeds lower than 100 km/h. Once per lap, on the 700-metre full-throttle part along the Raffles Boulevard, the cars reach almost 300 km/h. This premiere will certainly be the most exciting in Formula 1 history - in the middle of the night, in the middle of the metropolis."

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Published: 21/09/2008
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