Rencken: Lighting up Marina Bay
Night-time in Singapore – an enchanting sight. Then, when 24 cars with a combined 18 000 horsepower scream through the city for two hours without headlights but under some of the brightest lights known to man, the place becomes simply surreal.
This weekend will see the Round 14 (of 20) of the 2012 FIA Formula 1 World championship run in the financial metropolis and all indications are that the race will be a cracker. F1 has two Blue Riband races – Monaco and Singapore – with the night race having reached this status alongside the classic street race in the principality in only four years.
The race takes place through the Marina Bay area of Singapore on asphalt normally packed with traffic, predominantly city slicker and diesel taxis. As a result, the track’s bumpy surface is inconsistent and offers little grip while incorporating the usual street furniture such as painted white lines and manhole covers.
In all, the lighting system requires 1600 light projectors with a total power requirement of 3.2-million Watts fed through 110km of cabling to illuminate the anti-clockwise 5.073km street circuit. The lighting system pumps around 3000 lux, providing four times the illumination of a traditional flood-lit sports stadium.
All four editions of the event since the scandal-hit inaugural 2008 event - known as ‘Crashgate’ after Nelson Piquet purposely crashed his Renault to aid team mate Fernando Alonso via a ‘convenient’ pace car intervention - have featured at least one such deployment, six being the total to date. Thus, the theoretical incidence is 150% - making it extremely likely that Sunday’s 61-lap race, which starts at 8pm Singapore time, 2pm SA time, will be interrupted.
Although no rain is forecast this weekend – incredibly, for an event held on the Equator, no night race has yet been declared ‘wet’ - drivers will be soaked to the skin through sheer exhaustion under stiflingly humid, 28C skies: they will lose three litres of fluids in two hours, shift gear 80 times a lap (5000 shifts in two hours) and brake at full pressure for 20% of each lap, or almost 1000 times in total.
Nine turns of the rather angular circuit’s 23 (11L and 12R) are taken at less than 100km/h, none above 250km/h – yet the average lap speed pans out at 180km/h, proving just how fearsomely fast the bumpy and confined straights are.
In fact, 71% of each lap is spent on full throttle, while the longest single foot-flat stretch is 9.5 seconds – an age on this confined circuit. As in 2011, the FIA has designated a single DRS zone, its detection point in Turn 4 and activation after the next corner – which should aid overtaking on what is traditionally a processional circuit, but no less challenging for it.
Further indicators of Marina Bay’s difficulty index are the commitment demanded by the first and last sectors: in the opening sequence turns 1 to 3 present a double change in direction, while at the close of the lap drivers need to negotiate 10 corners in 1500m with little or no run-off areas.
Pirelli has specified its Supersoft (red sidewall markings) and soft (yellow) compounds as used in Monaco and Canada and we know how tyre degradation added to the spectacle on those street circuits. Thus two stops are likely to be the minimum, with three - Sebastian Vettel’s 2011 winning strategy - on the cards for aggressive drivers.
However, in making their strategic calculations, teams need to take various factors, including pit-lane travel, into the equation: not only is the speed limit 60km/h throughout the weekend (versus a standard of 100) but at 404m the pit lane is the longest. In addition, cars carry the heaviest fuel loads of all races on the calendar. Thus, pace car laps, vicious tyre degradation, heavy fuel load (which affects tyre wear, particularly the Supersofts), overtaking difficulty and time lost all need to be factored into strategic decisions.
Going to this race Ferrari Superman Fernando Alonso, winner of half of Singapore’s races to date, leads the championship by 179 points to the 142 of Lewis Hamilton so has a race-and-a-half in hand over the enigmatic McLaren driver whose face was a picture of misery - even after winning in Monza - a fortnight ago.
ANYONE COULD WIN
The 2008 champion is under pressure from all sides, not only to renew his contract but also from the rear: Lotus’s comeback star, 2007 champion Kimi Räikkönen is but a single digit off Hamilton despite not (yet) winning a race since returning to F1 from the Finn’s ill-fated World Rally sojourn, with Red Bull’s battling duo of reigning double champion Vettel and Mark Webber on 141 and 132 points respectively.
Thus only 10 points - equal to a single fifth place - separate second to fifth on the log as the 20-race season goes into its final third and, with the likes of Suzuka and Interlagos in the final mix, anything could happen.
There is also pride to play for: Vettel and Alonso can each become the sport’s youngest triple champion; Hamilton is desperate to join them as a double champions. Webber? Well, the Australian is angling for his first crown as age increasingly takes its toll... he's 35.
The rest, led by Jenson Button (McLaren, 101 points) are now effectively out of it but the Briton, winner at Spa, vowed to continue fighting for wins. So has Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg, 18 more points behind but still seven up on Romain Grosjean, who'll be back at the wheel of a Lotus after a one-race ban for causing Spa’s 2012 first-lap crash
The race is the final stand-alone round of the season; the remaining six races will be paired thus: Japan/Korea, India/Abu Dhabi, US/Brazil over a period of seven weeks.
To accommodate Sunday’s night race, all preliminary sessions will be delayed by six hours with qualifying at 2pm South African time on Saturday (8pm Singapore time).
Stay with Wheels24 for the 2012 Singapore F1 GP weekend.