*a.k.a I Went To The Singaporean GP And All I Got Was A Chance Encounter And A Smile From A German Racer.
It took me a while to arrange my thoughts with a semblance of coherence, as it is a strange law of the universe that one cannot write effectively when they’re still intoxicated with joy. Now that the sobriety of real life is back, allow me to share my experience yet again.
For the third year running, I made the short trek to Singapore to fulfill what I now call my “Yearly Pilgrimage” in the name of Pure, Racing Madness.
This is what transpired during my trip*:
(*P.S. Brevity is clearly not my strong suit, so be prepared for a lengthy post filled with photos & videos—you have been warned!)
Thursday: It’s hard to chill when you’re feelin’ the thrill.
I traveled to Singapore one day ahead of my usual schedule, hoping to catch more time to soak in the atmosphere, and also so I can play the “tour guide” to a couple of friends who were first-time travelers to the country.
Unfortunately, I was a day too late for the various PR events several drivers attended, but still, as I dragged my friend along to one of my favourite spots in the country, Orchard Road, the atmosphere was positively electric and it’s quite obvious that F1 Fever has hit the nation. And hard.
Friday, I’m In Love.
It seems it’s now a tradition of mine to somehow miss FP1, but for good reason. I sacrificed the first practice session this year to have dinner with one of my very best friends J, who was my F1 buddy last year, but had to pass this year because she and her gracious new-husband A is expecting a baby.
After a sumptuous dinner of modern-meets-traditional Chinese cuisine, I temporarily bid farewell to my friends to make the trek alone to the track for FP2. I’ve to admit that I was a bit distracted before, and during dinner, as the sounds of the F1 engines were truly hard to ignore as they serve as the background music to practically the whole city as we partake our nosh. Have I gotten used or immune to hearing that glorious roar yet? Of course not. For me, it’s like a secret language that welcomes me back to the place– somehow, Singapore at night is just never the same to me without my eardrums being caressed by the symphony of F1 engines.
Free Practice 2 was business as usual. One massive change that I’ve noticed from last year was that Red Bull fans have increased their numbers exponentially and are now as plentiful and loud as the Ferrari and McLaren fans.
Saturday, Crazy Saturday.
To maximize the trip, my friends and I decided to take the short trek (by short, I mean a 4-hour bus ride 1-way) to Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, to soak in the sights, smells and sounds of Singapore’s closest neighbor.
I shall not get into the minute details anymore, let me just say that our brief stay there was nothing short of action-packed, and our misadventures were too many (some were quite embarrassing) to count. By the time we were finally on our way back to Singapore, I’d already missed FP3 and was dangerously close to not making Qualifying as well. My head was positively spinning as I stared at the numbers at the bus’ digital clock, willing time to move slowly in the hopes that I can still make the all-important Qualifying Sessions.
Suffice to say, I was beyond counting minutes by the time the bus rolled into the drop-off point, as I was counting seconds by then. We all jumped into a cab and I basically instructed the driver to drive as fast as he can so I can make it to the track in time for Qualifying. The semi-confused cab driver even attempted to give me a heart attack by saying that Quali is over, but I recovered quickly enough to rebut that it was the FP3 he must be talking about, and there’s no way in the world I could have miscalculated the time enough to miss Quali. To our collective amusement, our cab driver proceeded to regale us with his exploits of driving around Singapore in a Suzuki Swift at staggering speeds without getting caught by authorities. Of course I proceeded to stoke his ego by telling him he can still be Singapore’s first F1 driver if he wants to, and I’d completely cheer for him if he ever decides to switch/upgrade careers in the future. Anything to get me to the track on time. That seemed to work as Mr. Cabbie channeled his inner Michael Schumacher/Sebastian Vettel/Kimi Raikkonen and put the pedal to the metal. After dropping us off to the nearest area where cabs are allowed to go, I still had to channel Road Runner and activate my inner KERS as I barreled through several shopping malls before I got to the Mother Ship, a.k.a Gate 7. Was a few minutes late for Q1 but who cares, I was there amidst the excited crowd, albeit mildly traumatized, hungry, short of breath, with semi-scratched legs (I had to go through shrubbery to get closer to the barrier). Oh, the things I do for racing.
Here are a couple of clips from the madness that was Q3:
Vettel unsurprisingly got pole, the McLarens were hot on his heels, Webber completed the RBR sandwich, the 2 Ferraris and the 2 Mercedes cars lined up after them while the rest are ready to pounce on their every mistake. What will happen in the big race tomorrow? Will Seb be crowned as the youngest double-WDC in the Lion City?
Every Sunday I Love You More And More.
THAT Chance Encounter.
Hectic was the word of the day once Sunday rolled around. We went to hear mass to give thanks for our collective safety and intact sanity, had a quick lunch and then went off to finish some last-minute shopping (hey, we’re women, don’t judge us!) before we decided that we have far too many carrier bags and we need to go back to the hotel to dump them before we can go to the track. We unanimously agreed to take a taxi instead of the usual commuter trains since we were in a hurry, so we and our shopping bags hobbled towards the taxi queue in luxurious Ion Orchard. There were a couple of people ahead of us and while my friends chatted amongst themselves, I tuned out and made mental plans on the fastest way to get to the track and where to position ourselves. Suddenly, I noticed this tall, blonde man join the queue with a couple of women. He looked very familiar but since my mind was somewhere else, I didn’t immediately realize who he was. What transpired went something like this, in a nutshell:
Me: * absently looks at the guy, trying to place where I saw him or who he looks like while making plans in my head*
Blonde Guy: *Notices me staring at him, smiles at me then looks away*
Me: *Suddenly hit by a lightning of a realization that the blonde guy is Force India Reserve Driver Nico Hulkenberg*
Nico Hulkenberg: *looks at me again, sees that my eyes are wide as flying saucers, smiles, then turns around and slowly takes a seat and hides behind the guy in front of him in the queue*
Me: *pulls 1 of my friends towards me and furiously whispers my discovery*
Taxi Queue Attendant: *shouts “Next!” and guides my friends and still a shell-shocked me inside the cab*
So there. That’s the sitcom-like, yet true story of how I almost met Nico Hulkenberg and semi-freaked him out. Just for the record, he looks similar to Kimi Raikkonen but he looks leaner and somehow “smilier” up close. Until next time, Nico. I promise to recognize you faster and not freak you out (so much).
No Rest For The Wicked.
And so after a few minutes of ranting and raving about that encounter in the hotel, my friend N (who happens to be a Formula One first-timer! Every year I somehow manage to convert 1 friend of mine into becoming an F1 fan. Call me if you need PR help, Mr. Ecclestone!) and I hauled our butts off to the track, but not before making a quick (pit) stop to the Swissotel to claim my friend’s ticket. I gawked at a couple of FIA officials we passed by outside the hotel but decided not to disturb them anymore as they were clearly enjoying a private cigarette break before heading to the track. My drill sargent-like obsession with punctuality prevailed amidst all the detours, and we got to the track just a few minutes late of my original estimate. Much to my delight, my “beloved spot” for the past 3 years near Turn 14 was still available and we watched it like hawks as we sat down to rest our tired legs and to enjoy the tail-end of the support race Porsche Carrera Cup.
As half-past six drew closer, we positioned ourselves as close to the barrier as possible, to have maximum viewing capacity of the track. The much-anticipated Drivers’ Parade started shortly thereafter, and fans screamed and cheered their lungs out (especially me) as their fave drivers made their way around the track, each with their own special classic car. This is one of the reasons I love the Singaporean GP, the parade is longer and the fans can see the drivers better because they’re not just lumped in one truck!
Before we can fully recover from seeing our fave drivers up close, the warm-up lap started, and as the cars lined up in the starting straight, I can feel the thickness of the tension and anticipation in our area, as we all seemingly held our breaths, along with our respective photographic equipment, to await the illumination of the 5 red lights to signal the start of the 4th F1 Singaporean GP!
Pole-sitter Vettel immediately stamped his authority by taking an early lead, leaving the McLarens, Ferraris and Mercedes’ to play catch-up. The German’s Red Bull was hardly disturbed even as the cars behind him seemingly played a mash-up of musical chairs/chess and got locked in a battle of wits and tactics for positions.
The real shocker of the night was Michael Schumacher’s retirement, which was the result of an incident with Sauber’s Sergio Perez. It took a couple of minutes before I confirmed this and although I was obviously dismayed, I had to brush it off and just focus on enjoying the remaining laps. After all, we’re talking about Schumi here, if he’s gonna go down, he’s gonna go down fighting—and that’s exactly what he did.
The race was not short of nail-biting incidents—Timo Glock spun and hit the barriers, Massa and Hamilton’s constant on-track duels, Alonso and Webber’s cat-and-mouse routines, and even Vettel nearly getting clipped by Kovalainen in the pit lane. Unfortunately, my “jinxing powers” did not work this year as Turn 14 was undisturbed by any major racing incidents.
Things really started to heat up once the Safety Car Period began and teams regrouped and revised their respective tactics:
An HRT clipping the barriers:
Here’s a clip of Jarno Trulli getting a ride back to the pits after his retirement:
Surprisingly, former Singaporean GP race winners Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, who both started the race strongly, became hugely inconspicuous as the race wore on. And by inconspicuous, I mean ultimately coming up short in challenging for a win.
Golden boy Vettel romped his way to the Chequered Flag, with McLaren’s Jenson Button and teammate Mark Webber behind him. 17 more cars survived the challenge and crossed the finish line. Button’s 2nd place finish meant that Vettel still needed 1 measly point in the next round to confirm his 2011 WDC title, but that technicality hardly mattered as Red Bull and even rival fans applauded the German heartily as he did his Salute Lap to the crowd.
As the dust settled and the marshalls opened the track for the crowd, there’s really only one thing left to do: PARTY!
So there you go, eight months of planning, anticipation and excitement, all compressed into four absolutely grandtastic action-packed days.
There’s no tidy ultimate conclusion for all this–In racing, you take both the good and the bad. You don’t dwell on the negatives nor over-exalt the positives, what matters most is the experience as a whole. This is why I find it so difficult to turn down the chance to watch the race in person–it reminds me to fully appreciate and soak in those fleeting episodes in life when you are simply in the moment.
May you too, give in to the wonderful temptation. It’s well worth it, believe me.
Here are my Customary “Helpful Hints” for a more enjoyable Singaporean GP Experience:
- If you can afford to, travel to Singapore ahead and arrive on the Tuesday or Wednesday of the race weekend. The F1 circus usually arrives on a Tuesday, so you might just bump into some of them on the airport. The meet-and-greets and sponsor events are usually held on Wednesday, just around various points at Orchard Road, so there’s a good chance you can get up-close to your fave driver! (I will certainly heed this advice and arrive on a Wednesday next year!)
- If you want to do your very own “track walk”, the track is open to the public until the Wednesday of the race weekend (Again, a chance to bump into F1 personalities!).
- Upon getting to Singapore, you might want to purchase the Singapore Tourist Pass (www.singaporetouristpass.com for more info), a card that works for all train and almost all bus lines in the country. You can get a 1-, 2- or 3-day pass which will give you unlimited access to public transportation around the city. Screw taking expensive cab rides, in Singapore, taking public transportation is where it’s at!
- If you want to know which other important spots to visit in between F1 schedules, head on over to the Singapore Visitors Centre and consult their ever-friendly staff. (Bonus: You can also get free leg and foot massages there after shopping at Orchard Road!)
- For smartphone users, you might want to download the Singapore Street Directory App. It has a cool feature that not only gives you directions but also gives you extremely detailed transportation options, down to the exact fare prices! (Check out http://www.streetdirectory.com to try it out.)
- Every year, various weather forecasts predict some rain during the race weekend, and yet every year, my ardent prayers have somehow fended them off (or at least, that’s what I choose to believe). Even so, bring a disposable poncho or your own raincoat/mac when you go the track, as well as your own set of earplugs as well. If you’re too lazy to bring some, you can always buy the “Survival Kit” on-site for the price of 2.00 Sgd. I’m a cheapo though, so I always bring my own.
- Wear comfortable clothing and footwear! I cannot stress this enough, as you will be walking a LOT amidst heat and humidity, and this is not the time to channel your inner supermodel or fashionista. If, like me, you have a preference for getting the Walkabout Zone tickets, then expect to stand for a couple of hours, at the least, so you better damn make sure that your feet are in comfortable gear to support you.
- Speaking of heat and humidity, each spectator is allowed to bring in 500ml of bottled water inside the track, so if you want to save some dollars it’s better to buy from the various convenience stores outside the track as the beverage prices inside the track are a bit more expensive.
- Always have your ticket/s with you, as loads of stores around Singapore offer discounts and freebies if you are part of the F1 crowd.
- Pack light. I don’t always heed this advice because I almost always shop before heading to the track, but if you don’t want the hassle of having several bags inspected at the entrance, just bring the absolute essentials. Also, read the tiny brochure that comes with your ticket/s and review the list of what you can and cannot bring inside the track.
- Unfortunately, there’s no free Wi-Fi zone inside the track (at least where Zone 4 is), so if you want to be able to update your status on various social networking sites, make sure that your mobile phone/tablet is able to connect to the web through your local service provider. You can also buy prepaid Singaporean SIM cards in convenience stores and shops and just register for their data service promotions while you’re there.
- Speaking of gadgets, make sure to fully recharge your mobile phones and digital cameras, or better yet, bring extra batteries, just in case! It’s also good to bring extra memory cards as well so you won’t have to worry about running out of disk space for your precious racing photos and videos.
- Explore the whole track if you can! This year, there was a complimentary tattoo booth, the usual classic car exhibit, race simulator challenge booth, and various photo stations where you can channel your inner F1 driver.
- After the race on Sunday, the track is opened for the whole audience to enjoy. Go ahead and kiss the ground where your fave driver raced on! (If that’s your thing, that is.)
- Make some noise! You’re not in a library, so don’t be afraid to cheer, whoop and scream for your favorite drivers and teams!
- Above all, let loose and have fun!