Bouncebackabilitrix Roars in the Lion City: The 2010 F1 Singaporean GP Diary

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I’ve put off writing this entry for as long as I could, hoping to hold on to the semi-euphoria in my head (or perhaps that’s the effect of inhaling engine fumes from the F1 cars). Anyway, here’s the account of my sophomore year of attending the Race Weekend in Singapore:

Day 1

I almost nearly could not sleep the night before, as I was too excited about several things: 1. The whole F1 race weekend, obviously; 2. This was the first time I was going to be traveling alone. I usually travel with my siblings or my friends, but since my destination is Singapore, my ever-protective parents allowed me to go off on my own; 3. I wanted to see my friend J, one of my closest friends since I was barely a teen and a fellow F1 nut like myself.

The whole process to get off the ground was uneventful, as sadly, our international airport is mind-numbingly boring. I went around the duty-free shops around 5 times before deciding to just park myself on some bench and wait until the boarding gate opens. Interestingly, I picked a spot that was directly across the shop that sells G.H. Mumm champagne and had a bottle prominently displayed on a podium. G.H. Mumm happens to be F1’s Official Champagne provider. Must be a sign, eh? It has to be mentioned that I got a few strange looks from the shop assistants while taking a photo of the champagne bottle. That’s me, official Champagne Paparrazzi.

My flight aboard Jetstar was generally pleasant–it was my first time with the airline company and it certainly won’t be the last. My only beef wasn’t with them, but with the annoying toddler that kept crying throughout the whole 3-hour flight. Thank heavens for my mobile phone’s trusty music player. I was almost tempted to put on the earplugs I’ve brought for the race. Hey kid, perhaps you should use that lung power of yours to good use and try to become the female Michael Phelps in the future? Just a thought.

The small amount of annoyance I harbored in the plane vanished as I stepped off and was welcomed by the sight of the Changi Airport, which is just my favorite airport in the world. After spending some time browsing the shops and eating the copious free candy, I arrived at my hotel around 3pm–Settled in, arranged my stuff, found the Football Channel on the telly, before deciding to get out and explore a bit before meeting my friend for dinner. However, within 2 minutes of exiting my hotel, the gentle afternoon drizzle turned into a ferocious torrential downpour, and to my horror, my poor folding umbrella broke in the middle of my traverse of Bencoolen Street.  I took my soaking wet self into the nearest Guardian and bought another folding umbrella, in cheery bright orange, as if to insult the dreary hunter green of my old and injured umbrella. It took another 15 minutes for the rain to fully stop, and as I stepped outside, I realized that the famous Sim Lim Square is within walking distance of my hotel. I stood on the sidewalk, holding my new umbrella, and stared at the white building, debating with myself  whether I should take a peek at all the mobile phones, digital cameras, laptops and gadgets of my techie wet dreams, but then I remembered my credit balance and briskly turned on my heel. Oh, the pain of poverty.

I took a moment to come back to my hotel and blow-dry my damp self, and when I looked presentable again, I set out on another quest, finding a foreign exchange stall with reasonable rates. I was unsuccessful and had to jump in the first taxi I saw, after getting an SMS from J that she was at Suntec City Mall already, where we’d meet for dinner before heading out for the Free Practice Session. As soon as I stepped out of the taxi, I immediately heard the glorious roar of the F1 engines, and that was enough to make me forget I paid 12.00 SGD for a short cab ride (in my defense, I was running late and my feet were already aching so bad that I had to forego the walk to the nearest MRT station).  I can’t believe it has been 12 months since my eardrums were tickled that way. I practically skipped all the way inside the mall.

J and I both sacrificed watching Free Practice 1 to get a decent dinner and to catch up. After all, it has been 6 whole months since we last saw each other. Hey, when you’ve been friends for more than half your lives, 6 months apart is nearly an eternity. Fast forward a couple of hours, and we’re on our way to the track. I couldn’t help but squeeze J’s arm and squeal “This is it!” as we firmly planted ourselves on the area near Turn 14.

My 3-Day Walkabout Race Tickets. This year, I made sure to get them early, and thanks to J, we got a good deal through the Early Bird promo. 🙂

Gate 7. My favorite entry/exit gate for the past 2 years.

Free Practice 2 commenced. Suddenly, a vision appeared: Zooming straight towards me was a silver car with that distinct orange helmet sticking out. I almost could not process the thought that I’m seeing THE Michael Schumacher race live in person for the very first time. I’m even amazed I had enough self-awareness left in me to take a photo of that moment:

7-Times F1 World Champion Michael Schumacher. My mouth hung open as he whizzed by. Yes, he still had that effect on me.

After that, J and pretty much just soaked in the atmosphere and focused on ogling the cars. Here’s a short clip from FP2:

I went back to my hotel that evening thinking, I can’t believe I still have two more nights of that to experience.

Day 2

I woke up brightly and with a clear agenda on my mind: I need, nay, want to shop at Orchard Road. Never mind that I do not boast of a Rockefeller-like credit card limit or a rapper’s exorbitant cash flow, one of the perks of having me as a family member/friend/employee is that I always buy gifts for people close to me whenever I travel. So, with my capacious bag, along with my measly cash and credit card on hand, I set off to Orchard Road on my own, ready to do the necessary lightning-quick currency conversions in my head.

It’s hard to miss the smattering of tents that housed Official Formula One merchandise lined along Orchard, and I had to approach them with a mixture of glee and caution, as I prepared myself to be shocked by the First World prices of the goods.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t too impressed with the goods in the first shop. What’s interesting though, is that this shop had a huge bargain bin outside selling old Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari caps. I was very nearly tempted to buy a blue one, that was, until the Voice of Reason screamed inside my head, “You already have a prefectly good Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari cap at home! You don’t need another one!”

Raikkonen Ferrari caps at half-price off. Make my heart bleed even more, why don’t you?!

I quickly moved on to another shop, and that’s where I’ve decided to linger, since they have cardboard cutouts of Lotus drivers Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli, which I giggled at, and a mini Lotus race simulator, which I had to be content with goggling at, since I chose to wear a dress that day and getting into it is sure to attract some unwarranted attention.

I was lazily browsing when a male sales assistant approached me to ask which driver I’d be supporting that weekend. I automatically replied “Sebastian Vettel” and poked at one of his caps displayed. I could not resist asking if they sell caps with Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari’s number (long story), but the assistant just gave me a puzzled look and said no.

I decided on purchasing a Sebastian Vettel Red Bull cap, a teensy-weensy F1 car-shaped pin/brooch, a Ferrari pit crew member teddy bear and last, but not the least, a small toy replica of Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes GP car. Spend now, worry about my credit card bill later.

My 2010 Race Weekend Souvenirs. They still smell of the cleanliness of Singapore. Honestly.

I then moved on to Wheelock Place to get my geek on at Borders, where I proceeded to speed-read nearly every new issue of all the football and racing magazines I never get at home. By the way, if you are not a football fan, you might want to skip this section, as I am about to wax lyrical about my favorite football player’s book: While I was at the Sports Section, sniggering at all the unauthorized biographies of football players, I suddenly spotted 2 small paperback books that were worth their weight in gold–Michael Owen’s Autobiography, Off the Record was right there, in front of me. I was almost too afraid to touch them, fearing I might be hallucinating. But they were real, and although both copies were not at their premium condition, I would have gladly paid 100.00 SGD for a copy. See, it has taken me 6 full years of hunting down this book, and I will shamelessly admit that my trip has already been 80% made after snagging one. Oh, and there was this one guy who chatted me up whilst I was basking in the sheer beauty of the book’s cover–I think he was flirting, even. Unfortunately, several things went against him: He’s an Everton fan, he had a thick accent that I had trouble comprehending, and no man nor demigod  will be able to distract me while I am holding a copy of Michael Owen’s book. So if you ever get to read this, Francis, sorry to cut our “chat” so abruptly. Don’t worry, it’s not you, it’s me (and my Owen obsession).

THE book I’ve waited 6 whole years for.

A few hours and several hundred SG Dollars later, my friend J and I were back on the track, just in time to catch the parade of gorgeous Ferrari cars that preceded the Qualifying Session:

Gorgeous Ferrari cars lazily drives past, tormenting the petrolheads.

Qualifying Session then commenced, and we were all reduced to constantly transforming ourselves from amateur paparrazzi to boggle-eyed spectators.

My infamous “jinxing powers” worked yet again, as only a few minutes after I was telling J that we need to see an interesting “race incident soon”, the commentators blasted on the sound system that Ferrari’s Felipe Massa just ahd a car problem and had to retire from Qualifying. I was craning my neck to try to catch a glimpse of Felipe’s yellow helmet, and sure enough, I caught sight of him being whisked off back to the pits by a race marshal on a scooter:

Below are some clips from Q1 and Q2, respectively:

Fernando Alonso of Ferrari got the pole, Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull was a close second, and the two McLarens in 3rd and 4th. With all 5 of the Championship contenders in the Top 5, predicting the race winner would have been nothing short of a Herculean task.

Day 3

Two days of non-stop walking, stretching/contorting our bodies to get better views, and screaming, caught up with us fangirls, so J and I were in no rush to get up and channel Road Runner come Sunday morning. We spent nearly 3 hours having brunch, and took a walk around the neighborhood before deciding to drop by The Good Shepherd Church to hear the 11.45am mass. We can’t help it, 11 years of strict Catholic schooling is still ingrained within us. It happened to be World Migrants Day that Sunday, so the mass was lighthearted and peppered with cultural references from several countries whose workers now call Singapore their home.

After doing some last-minute shopping and a lazy late lunch, we’ve decided to head to the track early, for fear that our precious spot near Turn 14 would be occupied by unworthy spectators.  I’m paranoid and territorial like that. Thankfully, our favorite spot for the past 2 days was still free when we got there, and we even got to see the tail-end of the Porsche Carrera Cup race. Unfortunately, the afternoon sun was still blazing hot, and we spent some time hiding under my umbrella to avoid being baked.

A shot from the Porsche Carrera Cup Race.

At the stroke of half-past six, one of my favorite parts of the race weekend finally started– The Drivers’ Parade. It is not very often that a racing fan like myself will see all the F1 drivers up close (well, around 2-3 meters away, anyway), sans their helmets and racesuits, and I’m ever grateful that for this GP, they put all drivers on separate cars instead of lumping them all on one truck. Maximum exposure for them and maximum squealing time for fangirls like me.

Apologies for the quality (or lack, thereof) of the photos below–I was trying to multitask by looking at the Drivers zooming by and taking photos and chatting with my friend all at the same time. Suffice to say, I need more practice before I can join the game show Distraction:

Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel. The red horns I wore during the race were in his honor. 🙂

Red Bull’s Mark Webber. He sort of looked like a giant on top of a top car. 🙂

Lotus Racing’s (Blurry) Heikki Kovalainen. He was moving so quickly!

BMW-Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld. From Mercedes GP to Pirelli Test Driver to his 1st F1 Team in 1 season. WB, Quick Nick!

McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton.

McLaren’s Jenson Button. he got a lot of screams from female fans, to be fair.

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.

After the thrill of the Parade, we took a few moments to compose and to steel ourselves for almost 2 hours or hardcore racing. As soon as the five red lights went off, our area went quiet as everyone held up their digicams, iPhones and camcorders to record the first few laps. And yes, I was one of them:

The first 3 cars were never really in danger of losing their positions, even as some of the cars became casualties as the race wore on. As I was discussing with J the predicted WDC standings if the top 5 contenders finish in their current positions, the biggest surprise of the race occurred, as McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton fell by the wayside after bungling an attempt to pass WDC rival Mark Webber. The spectators, especially the McLaren fans, all gasped in unison as they absorbed the information that their golden boy and the 2009 race winner would not get a victory, nor any points from this race.

The Safety Car leading the pack:

The Race Restart after the SC Period:

Lewis Hamilton gets a ride back to the pits:

The racing sadist in me wanted to see more racing incidents, and just a few minutes later, Lotus Racing’s Heikki Kovalainen spun right in front of us as he had a mild collision with Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi. Here’s Heikki’s swift recovery:

However, Heikki’s “exciting” race was not over yet, as his engine suddenly caught fire and he had to play the part of an impromptu firefighter by taking the car to the start-finish straight to extinugish the flames. Well played to Heikki for his quick-thinking!

EDIT: Here’s a clip taken by a spectator of Heikki channeling his inner firefighter (via WTF1)

The top 5 positions were fully cemented going into the last few laps, and there was a palpable buzz in the air as the spectators prepared for the cars to cross the chequered flag:

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso won from pole, the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were 2nd and 3rd, while Jenson Button of McLaren finished in 4th. 16 cars were classified and barring a few banged-up cars (and buckets of sweat and fire extinguisher remnants, in Kovalainen’s case), everyone was safe and sound.

Now, on to another favorite ‘tradition’ of mine–the Drivers’ saluting the fans post-race, on their way back to the pits:

I was satisfied enough with the race results–the Ferrari fan in me was pleased that Alonso notched another win for the Scuderia, but since I am firmly behind Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel’s bid for WDC, a part of me wished the young German took home the full 25 points. Alonso’s win, however, made the 5-way WDC title-fight even more exciting, and let’s face it, for a true racing fan, it’s extremely hard to be worried and over-analytical when you’ve just witnessed a spectacularly-staged race by a truly efficient and tourist-friendly country with some of the most passionate F1 fans.

So, what’s the best way to let out all the extra energy post-race? TRACK INVASION!

The spectators mob one of the Official F1 Safety Cars. bet the blokes inside felt like proper superstars!

Below are my Personal Tips on Attending the SG GP:

  • Plan ahead and plan early! You can save a lot when you purchase tickets through their website http://www.singaporegp.sg during their Early Bird Promo Period. Keep a lookout for seat sales from your local airlines as well.
  • It often rains in Singapore, mostly during early/late afternoons, so best to bring a small folding umbrella and/or a raincoat with you at all times. It hasn’t rained during the FPs, QLF and Raceday for the past 2 years I’ve attended, but best safe than sorry (and soaking wet).
  • DON’T forget to bring earplugs! The sound of the F1 engines are unbelievably loud and can cause damage to the ears of the uninitiated. Bring your own from home if you’re a cheapskate like me, but if you do forget to take some, there are vendors outside the track that sells some, but they are expensive at 5 SGD a pair. Better to buy the Survival Kit, which contains a pair of earplugs and a disposable plastic poncho,  from inside the track from the Red Cross Volunteers.
  • Speaking of being a cheapskate, I also brought several pieces of bottled water along with me for the entire trip. The track allows each person to bring 1 500mL (max) bottle of water, so if you want to spend your hard-earned SGD on other things, pack light and stock up on water.
  • If you refuse to cough up moolah on overpriced F1 merchandise, then just go walk along Orchard Road or drop by any Singapore Tourist Information Centers and get loads of race-related freebies such as mini race flags, fans, postcards and posters.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes at all times–You’re going to be moving and walking around a LOT! My friend and I had a right giggle at some of the girls who were dressed like they’re attending a party or they’re going out clubbing–Short, shiny dresses and 4-inch stiletto heels to watch a race? Really?
  • Make the most of your ticket– One of the unique, and fantastic things about attending Singapore GP is that spectators will never get bored, what with the constant  stream of entertainment and performances available pre- and post-race. Get out there and go to all the shows while you can!
  • Always have your digital camera/camcorder on hand. Bring extra memory cards and batteries if you can. A lot can happen in a span of 1 FP/Qualifying Session/Race, so you’d better be prepared to capture those moments!
  • Don’t be afraid to make some NOISE! As a crazed football fan, I’m used to hearing (and making) a lot of noise over the smallest and silliest of things. Last year, I was more than a bit puzzled when my fellow spectators seemed to be too timid to make noise throughout the race, and I was probably the loudest fan in our area during the Drivers’ Parade (Yeah, I got a lot of amused looks and laughter with my uninhibited reactions, thankyouverymuch). This year, I was a little bit more restrained, but I still made a lot of noise to show my appreciation and excitement. You are not in a church or in a library, so make yourself heard!
  • Above all, forget about any worries/fears/hang-ups and just ENJOY!

Just like that, my weekend of pleasure and hedonism had to come to an end.

There you have it– 17 years of F1 fandom, 5 months of saving and planning, 3 days of pure bliss.

Thank you, racing gods.

I’ll see you again next year, Singapore. Don’t worry, I will hurry back.

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