Stationing myself trackside at Raffles Avenue, I hear the approach of cars as they exit Turn 14, the crescendo of the V6 engines rushing towards me. A white car quickly approaches, the driver’s helmet predominantly dark blue—it’s the Williams of Valtteri Bottas. I follow him with my eyes as he zooms past me from my right at roughly 220 km/h and disappears to my left into the Turn 15 kink before braking for Turn 16. An identical white car follows. The green helmet indicates that it’s Felipe Massa, Bottas’s teammate. Next comes a car with a striking blue livery with an equally striking orange helmet—young Felipe Nasr in his Sauber. One by one, lap after lap, I focus on each car that passes, identifying each driver through his helmet design. Standing so close to the track, I could almost peer in through their helmet visors and catch a glimpse of the concentration of a Formula One driver’s eyes. Each driver is so well-concealed in his car that it’s easy to forget that these high-speed machines are all under human influence. Only the crash helmet that blends in quite seamlessly and barely sticks out of each car’s cockpit is the only evidence for such.
Driving a Formula One car is truly comparable to taming a wild animal. The cars are beasts roaring around the streets of Singapore in the night. One would completely understand that it takes a special kind of strength and athleticism to handle the forces of turning, accelerating, and braking in these cars. I picture the power struggle that goes on between driver and machine: The driver manhandles the car, the car manhandles the driver. I mentally strap myself to a seat in an F1 cockpit and imagine how I would fare if I had the chance to tame such beasts, thinking that I wouldn’t be able to put such a powerful car under the control of my mere hands and feet. I think it would be the car itself that would take me out for a ride, rather than me taking the car for a drive.
The third practice session (FP3) was set to start at 5pm, which meant I had a ton of time to kill after we finished lunch just a little past one o’clock. My dad and sister went back home while I wandered aimlessly around VivoCity for about an hour, just to soak in some cool air-conditioned air as it was punishingly humid outside, typical of Singapore weather. Next, I decided to travel to Bugis Street to do some window shopping then crossed over to Bugis Junction mall. It was more aimless wandering and time-killing until I found a Books Kinokuniya store. I immediately sought their collection of Haruki Murakami books. The editions they sold there with edgier and simpler red, black, and white covers, were different from the ones sold in the Philippines. Before I ended up buying something, I moved to another section and immersed myself in a Korean language vocabulary book.
Because I spent so much time at the bookstore, I missed the Porsche Carrera Cup race, which I initially intended to try watching. Nonetheless, I made it in time for the start of FP3. I went up to the grandstand and decided to soak in the atmosphere of a peaceful Saturday practice session from our seats. It was warm and humid but at least the sun was beginning to set. If I’m not mistaken, the haze level on that day was minimal and the skies were quite clear. With officially only a 10-percent chance of rain, the weather was acceptable—I hesitate to call it “beautiful” because I really detest humidity.
Halfway through the session, I decided to come down the grandstand and return to my spot at the Zone 3 walkabout last night. It was trackside at the short straight on Raffles Avenue again, then. This time, I picked a spot in front of a viewing platform slightly across a bus stop in front of Esplanade Mall. My point of reference was that if I’m looking straight at the mall, slightly off-center is the CBTL branch near the mall entrance. Here, the cars carry much higher speeds compared to where I stood the previous night. Surprisingly, I found no trouble getting to the very front, which was practically only a meter or two away from the track itself. Between the safety barrier that I leaned on and the concrete barrier for the track was only a meter-wide walkway for the marshals and official photographers. Talk about getting up close and personal! It was the best seat in the house, even though I was, well, standing the entire time.
Standing trackside, I could feel the cars zooming past. The engine noise stirs within me the same feeling a powerful electric guitar riff would deliver. The experience was comparable to standing front-row in a rock concert, not that I’ve ever attended a concert in my life—I still haven’t actually been to one.
Towards the end of FP3, I noticed a kawaii Japanese girl standing to my right. She was with a friend and they were smiling and chatting while watching the cars pass. There were quite a number of Japanese fans who made the travel to Singapore to watch the race, which is only a week away from their own race in Suzuka. Most of them sported McLaren gear to support their native Honda brand but I saw a few who came out in either Red Bull or Ferrari attire. If only I knew how to speak a little bit of Japanese, I probably would have attempted to make some comment to the two girls about how fast the cars were. I guess I should have instead studied a Japanese language book at Kinokuniya earlier.
When FP3 ended, I met with my dad and sister at the Marina Square mall to eat dinner before the Qualifying session started. When we finished and came back to the track, they went to the grandstand to watch the action from there, while I returned to the Raffles Avenue spot I occupied in FP3. I made sure to arrive almost a half hour early to ensure that I was still up front and luckily, I did. Although I easily found back my viewing spot, I unfortunately couldn’t find the Japanese girl again.
Conveniently, I stood under an installed speaker that relayed the commentary so I listened carefully to mentally keep a loose record of the order after each of the three qualifying knockout rounds. I was too engrossed watching the cars pass by up close that I didn’t give much thought to the fact that the final qualifying results featured an order shake-up at the front of the grid. Two Ferraris and two Red Bulls locked the first two rows of the grid with Sebastian Vettel on pole. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, the two mighty Silver Arrows, qualified P5 and P6 respectively. But that fact couldn’t sink in for me, even as a Mercedes fan. A man behind me dressed in Mercedes gear and holding a cup of beer was yelling, “Someone better stop Vettel!”
After Qualifying, Maroon 5 was set to play at the Padang stage, which our tickets actually provided access for us. It seems crazy but I actually decided to forgo this opportunity, feeling content after standing front-row in a concert of V6 Formula One engines for hours. My hearing remained perfectly intact though—it was just that my legs and my back felt tired from all the walking and standing that I did all day. So, my sister went to the mini-concert by herself while my dad and I commuted home. The old man and I needed to rest up for the race on Sunday evening.