Friday Night Lights – Day 1 at the Singapore Grand Prix

I intended my review of the Singapore Grand Prix to be the inaugural post for my blog, but because I finished my review of the race in Japan before I even started on this one, I decided to defer this and post in installments.  This is my first time in live attendance to a Formula One race weekend. I’ve opted to dedicate one post per day of the Grand Prix weekend so Part 1 is essentially Friday evening where I watched the first two free practice sessions. 

PART 1

I don’t quite remember the exact date when our tickets were bought but I started counting down to the race weekend starting in the middle of August. My mental counter was at 30-plus days at that time. I couldn’t believe that after watching Formula One on television for fifteen years, I would finally get the chance to see and hear the cars live. I was to be accompanied by my dad and my sister, who already lives in Singapore. We had three-day tickets with seats close to the very top of the Bay Grandstand, which has a view of a short straight between Turns 17 and 18 of the track, as well as the Float Stadium and the Marina Bay Sands. Our tickets also gave us access to Zones 3 and 4 walkabouts, encompassing roughly the western half of the circuit.

My three-day Bay Grandstand tickets neatly packed along with a handy little guide
My three-day Bay Grandstand tickets neatly packed along with a handy little guide

My dad and I traveled from Manila to Singapore on a Friday morning flight, which meant I cut all of my classes on that day. We landed at Changi International Airport at 1:35pm after a pretty boring, no-in-flight-entertainment three-hour flight but hey, that’s how you fly on a budget. The haze from Indonesian forest fires had miraculously leveled down on that day and throughout the race weekend, for that matter. That left rain as my only concern, as the sky appeared overcast as I peered out the window from our taxi on the way to my sister’s apartment at the Pasir Panjang neighborhood. After resting up a bit, at about five o’clock my dad and I made our way to the Esplanade MRT station to get into the track through Gate 8, which was beside the Marina Square mall. The commute took longer than I anticipated, so I told my dad that I’d go on ahead as I really wanted to be in time for the start of the first free practice session, which started at six o’clock. At the gate, I had my ID ticket scanned and my bag inspected, as well as a brief security pat-down. Once I’ve gone through, I started rushing to the grandstand, which proved to be quite a distance away!

I bounded up almost four stories worth of stairs to get to the upper rows and just as I emerged out from the entrance to the grandstand, I caught sight of Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull speeding towards the Turn 18 corner, followed by the two Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.

The movement was real. The sound was real. This wasn’t television anymore. A Formula One car was being driven right before my very eyes. It was quite the phenomenon to witness such a thing for the first time. The speed and the sound of the Red Bull driven by Daniel Ricciardo will forever be etched in my memory.

This is the general view of the Bay Grandstand. I took this photo from a level much lower than our actual seats were.
This is the general view of the Bay Grandstand. I took this photo from a level much lower than our actual seats were.

As expected from a Friday free practice session, there weren’t a lot of people in attendance yet. Our grandstand was only less than half-full by the time I arrived, growing to around two-thirds capacity by the end of the one hour and thirty minute session. I tentatively settled down in our seats in the upper rows. The giant screens built in front of the grandstand were far from “giant” from my perspective and the commentary from the loudspeakers was barely audible but to be fair, the cars still overpowered them in terms of noise. Even from quite far back, I still had a good view of the small stretch of track with the cars moving by. I watched them one by one make the left-handed Turn 18. Actually, if I stood up and approached the edge of the grandstand to my left, I could sneak in a view of Turns 20 and 21, where drivers navigate a series of corners, turning right, then left, and then accelerating towards the high speed Turn 22, which was already out of sight from my view. The cars are visibly responsive to the steering and turn so quickly. It was a phenomenon witnessing such nimble and gracious movement from the cars—something that definitely looks better in person.

Like most other spectators, I snuck down to the lower rows to take videos and photos on my iPad. I held the tablet close to my chest in a manner that I didn’t have to look at the screen as I captured photos—that way, I could watch the action directly and not through the iPad screen. The camera had no problem capturing photos of the cars in their movement but after all, Turn 18 is the second-slowest corner of the circuit, if I’m not mistaken.

Nico Rosberg steers his Mercedes W06 into the short tunnel underneath the grandstand.
Nico Rosberg steers his Mercedes W06 into the short tunnel underneath the grandstand.

Towards the end of FP1, Manor’s Alexander Rossi, who was set to make his F1 race debut later that weekend, ran into the barrier in the tunnel underneath our grandstand. Despite the relatively low-speed crash, I was sitting down when I heard a thud and seeing the broadcast on the big screen, it was indeed a light crash at the Turn 18 exit in the tunnel. It looked like the young American just didn’t slow his car down enough for the tight corner and ended up running into the wall, damaging the wheels and suspension on the right side of his Manor. Rossi got out fine and his car had to be taken away on a flatbed truck. The car was extracted right in front of our section, so other spectators and I all clamored to take photos of the stricken Manor dangling from the crane that was fetching it up.

During the second free practice session at nine o’clock, I decided to watch the action in the Zone 4 walkabout area to get a trackside view. Initially, I found a nice spot that had a view of Turns 8 and 14, which is pretty much a large intersection where Esplanade Drive and Nicoll Highway met. On either side were perpendicular corners, both right-handers. Much closer this time, I witness the graceful movement of a Formula One car turning at corners—a beautiful combination of nimbleness and power. The gear downshifts are heard on approach of the corner, the car turns, and the engine roars as the driver steps on the throttle at corner exit. Being on level ground with the cars allows for a better perspective on just how low they sit and how wide they actually appear in person. Even if you’d watch F1 on a widescreen television, the cars would still appear narrower and maybe even smaller.

A half hour later, I sought a better view and settled near a marshal post at the exit of Turn 14, right where the cars start accelerating up Raffles Avenue. One would get a true impression of the power of Formula One cars by witnessing the spectacle from just a few meters away from the track. I took in the sight of the cars speeding past my vista and the sounds of each car’s assertion of power. I found it a rather tranquil experience simply watching all 20 of them pass through lap after lap, even with the obvious noise of the engines.

Now, about the noise. Earplugs were offered along with a raincoat as part of a two-dollar survival kit. I and the people around me never really needed the earplugs despite our close proximity to the angry-sounding V6 engines that were being pushed to their limits. I gave the noise a feel at first and thought I could handle it. I experienced no loss of hearing whatsoever.

So I chose to leave it at that, allowing my ears to absorb the raw sound of power produced by the cars speeding into the hot, muggy Singapore night. I spent the final hour of FP2 peacefully taking in the action like that. Standing trackside and vicariously experiencing the speed, the sound, and the power of F1 cars will always be a beautiful memory for me. I hope I’ve properly illustrated and recreated those moments in my attempt to preserve them through my writing.

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