Race starts at 8:10 pm tonight

With the European season complete, F1’s teams and drivers have come to Singapore this weekend for the 15th round of the 2018 Formula 1 World Championship. Grand Prix racing in Singapore has a history which goes back to 1961 and was once even known as the Malaysian Grand Prix (before the Batu Tiga track in Shah Alam, Selangor was built). It was run annually along Thomson Road till 1973 and then ceased being organised, possible because the government didn’t favour the sport and therefore would not agree to roads being closed. However, in 2008, Bernie Ecclestone must have convinced the Singapore Tourism Board of the value of such an event for the country and got an initial 5-year contract to run races. While Malaysia withdrew from the F1 championship in 2017, Singapore decided to continue and is expected to host a round until 2021.

The Singapore Grand Prix is Formula 1’s original night race and has been run every year since joining the calendar in 2008. Following the introduction of night racing in Singapore, the races in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain were also run at night.

As would be expected, a night race presents the drivers and teams with a unique set of challenges and in Singapore, it’s not just racing after the sun has gone down but also racing on a tight street circuit. For the drivers, the major challenges come from the heat, humidity and the duration of the race which is 61 laps. Cockpit temperatures often rise above 50˚C making the race physically and mentally demanding.

“Drinking is important for the drivers: studies have shown that cognitive performance starts to deteriorate when a person loses 1.5% to 2% of body weight in liquids. So, when a driver weighs 70 kgs and loses 1.05 to 1.4 kgs due to heavy sweating, the cognitive function is likely to go down – which will in turn have an impact on the ability to hit apexes and braking points precisely. To counteract this potential performance loss, our cars will the fitted with the biggest drinks bottles of the season, which hold 1.3 litres of fluid,” said Mercedes-AMG’s Toto Wolff.

Add in a long, tight circuit featuring 23 corners and the high likelihood of safety car interventions, both of which often lead to the race edging towards or reaching the allotted two-hour for the race, and Singapore represents a true test of endurance.

For the race engineers, the challenge centres on ensuring sufficient cooling. With few straights and with the boulevards of Marina Bay surrounded by tall buildings, keeping temperatures in check is a difficult task and teams will bring a variety of solutions to boost airflow to crucial components.

The 23 corners around the 5-km circuit which runs past the Padang also make the race tough on brakes and gearboxes. With upwards of 80 gear changes per lap and brakes deployed more times than at any other circuit on the calendar, the Singapore Grand Prix stretches machinery to the limit.

The Marina Bay Circuit has not changed over the years but for 2018, there has been a small realignment of the circuit between Turns 16 and 17, close to the Marina Bay reservoir.

This means the track is actually slightly shorter at 5.063 km (5.065 kms previously) and it has the added benefit of bringing the track closer to the Esplanade Waterfront Grandstand, and fans closer to the action.

Going into this weekend, Lewis Hamilton starts from pole position with 256 points in the Drivers Championship. 30 points behind is Sebastian Vettel, with Kimi Raikkonen a further 62 points back in third.

Meanwhile, in the race for the Constructors’ title, Mercedes-AMG, already up to 415 points, has a 25-point lead over Ferrari, while Red Bull Racing lies third. On paper, Singapore should favour Ferrari and Red Bull but while the German team has, in recent times, gone into this race not expected to do well, they have won three of the last 4 races (including last year).

Sebastian Vettel is the most successful driver at the Singapore Grand Prix with 4 wins to his name, while Red Bull Racing and Mercedes-AMG share the honours as most successful teams with 3 victories each.

From its first year, the Singapore Grand Prix weekend has been one big party in the city with performances by top international artistes. This year sees Jay Chou, Simply Red and Liam Gallagher, and Dutchman Martin Garrix, from Dua Lipa (the youngest female singer to achieve a billion hits on YouTube) as well as hip-hop heroes The Sugarhill Gang entertaining the visitors which have totalled 2.5 million in the past 10 years (with daily attendances ranging between 73,000 and 100,000 over the years).

[Chips Yap]

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