Singapore lights way to F1 future
By Andrew Benson
The Singapore night race was a great event and produced an eventful race
Formula One’s first night race was a huge success and it seems inevitable that more events will follow Singapore’s lead in the future.
F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone – whose idea it was to follow a lead taken by other motorsport categories – has already hinted he would like the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka next year to be held under lights.
And in the Singapore paddock there were rumours that the organisers of the Abu Dhabi race, which is to make its debut as the season finale next year, had taken note of the impact made by this event and would also run their race at night.
Ecclestone would doubtless endorse that idea. Running Abu Dhabi at night would ensure the race was televised during the all-important Sunday night prime time in Europe.
For anyone wondering why, if the European audience is so crucial to F1, the races are not simply held in that part of the world in the first place, the answer – as always in F1 – lies with money.
New, exotic locations increase interest in F1 by enhancing its image. That, combined with more races at a time which appeals to the sport’s core audience, means bigger audiences, and therefore happier television companies who will keep paying to show the sport.
Bigger audiences mean more advertising revenue, for those TV companies who collect it – which is nearly all of them – as well as for Ecclestone.
Singapore has a good chance of challenging Monaco for being the jewel in the crown of Formula One
And he wins in another way, too. Countries like Singapore are prepared to pay far more to host a Grand Prix than most European races can afford, even if they are funded by government.
For these new venues, an F1 event means an opportunity to showcase themselves to the world in the most flattering light – and that is effectively priceless.
It was an opportunity Singapore grabbed with both hands at the weekend.
The track was interesting, the event ran almost without a hitch, the cars looked even more spectacular than usual under the floodlights, and Singapore’s evocative location and history meant it came already loaded up with a glamour that could soon rival that of Monaco.
That glamour works both ways – Singapore’s rubs off on F1 just as the sport’s rubs off on its host.
“It has a good chance of challenging Monaco for being the jewel in the crown of Formula One,” team owner Frank Williams said.
“They have great weather, a very good track, and the grandstands packed. There is a lot of enthusiasm out there.”
Ferrari’s pit stop error was a blow to Massa’s world title hopes
Packed grandstands are not something F1 has been used to seeing in the new venues it has adopted around the world in recent years.
Places like Malaysia and Bahrain might have the money to buy the sport, but they have not been able to buy an interest among their populations.
Singapore, though, was different – partly because the race was held on a track through the middle of the city, but also because its inhabitants have a fair bit more disposable income than the average resident of Kuala Lumpur or Manama.
The race’s success is likely to have ramifications that go further than simply increasing the number of Asian night races.
“It is not just a new experience, it is a real big step in the history of Grand Prix racing,” said McLaren team boss Ron Dennis.
“When you see the shots of the city and the way they have brought the whole atmosphere of Singapore into the event, it is just a phenomenal spectacle.
“We can take this model and apply it to anywhere in the world – either to bring Europe the race at a time when people watch it, or even within Europe to make it more spectacular.
Teaching your body to think it’s day time when actually it’s night time, it kind of messes with your mind
“Now there will be a lot of analysis as to when is the best time to put Grand Prix racing on television. It is going to set a new trend.”
F1, though, might be best advised not to get too carried away by Singapore’s success.
Great event though it undoubtedly was, as well as a fabulous spectacle on TV, if the sport introduces too many night races there is a danger they will lose their novelty value.
That, though, is not a concern of Singapore, which won almost universal praise for its first attempt at hosting a major sporting event.
Any criticism levelled at the race from its participants was minimal.
There were a few moans from the drivers about the number of severe bumps on the track surface, which made life quite difficult on a long lap with 23 corners.
There was also some criticism of the lack of overtaking points on the track.
Alonso’s win was no more than he deserved after a year of battling the odds
And everyone in F1 found it difficult to stay on European time while in a place six or seven time zones away.
“Teaching your body to think it’s day time when actually it’s night time, it kind of messes with your mind,” said Lewis Hamilton.
But these were pretty minor issues in the wider scheme of things.
Unlike Monaco, there were a couple of places where overtaking was just about possible if a driver got everything just so – particularly into Turns One and Seven, as was proved during the race.
And the bumps actually made the event more interesting. They made mistakes more likely. A crash on a street circuit means a safety car and that is what made the race as eventful as it was, and which gave Renault’s Fernando Alonso a massive helping hand on his way to victory.
The Spaniard’s win after a year-long drought put the icing on a pretty satisfactory weekend all round.
It has been too long since Alonso stood on the top step of the podium.
Still regarded by many in F1 as the most complete racing driver in the sport, the Spanish double world champion has driven his heart out all year in a difficult car that, frankly, does not deserve him.
Renault had its most competitive weekend of the year in Singapore, and Alonso – as is the way of all great drivers – grabbed the opportunity with both hands when it came to him, even if the win owed a great deal to luck, and the timing of the first safety car period, as Alonso was the first to admit.
Only Ferrari have cause to rue their first visit to Singapore.
A disastrous error at Felipe Massa’s first pit stop, when he was given a go signal while the refuelling hose was still attached, ruined his race and dealt his title hopes a heavy blow.
But even that was not as bad as it could have been.
The fact that Hamilton could manage only third place meant the McLaren driver extended his lead only to seven points with three races to go when in a normal race the Englishman would probably have converted Massa’s misfortune into a win.
Hamilton put himself in a strong championship position with third place
The result means Hamilton can afford to finish second behind Massa at each of the final three races and still emerge as champion.
But the run-in is unlikely to be that simple. This has been a season defined by the quite extraordinary number of mistakes made by the sport’s leading contenders.
It would be out of character, then, if there were not to be a few more twists and turns before the destiny of the drivers’ crown is finally decided.