Madness. Absolute madness. This was my fourth consecutive year of attending the race weekend and yet, I always bring back a renewed sense of wonder and affection with each return. Let me just say though, that this will be long, wordy and descriptive—mostly for my own benefit so I won’t ever forget a moment of what transpired in this extended race weekend. This won’t be objective or technical and for sure this will be tongue-in-cheek, emotional and at times, maybe a tad hyperbolic.
So there, you all have been warned.
Wednesday, 19 September: It’s Like I’ve Never Been Away…
This year, I have decided to fly to Singapore early for the race weekend, mainly because I wanted to try to catch some of the PR events of the drivers and also because I wanted to get some shopping done (yes, I’m still very much female, in that regard). I arrived in Singapore a little before high noon, and decided to catch a powernap first before heading out mid-afternoon for my first meal of the day and to check out the shops and the events. I knew that Mercedes GP driver Nico Rosberg had a 5pm event at a Puma pop-up store, but I did sort of lose track of time while doing some retail therapy, and before I knew it, it was well past 5pm and I had to channel my inner F1 driver to get to Raffles City quickly. When I got there, the emcee was already thanking the crowd outside for coming, and as I got closer I realized that it was an invite-only event and that Nico was already well ensconced inside. There was a sizable group of fans outside the store but as time went by, a lot of them became impatient and left, so I was able to get just in front of the velvet ropes, opposite the store entrance. From there, I briefly chatted with some hardcore F1 fans who’ve managed to meet Nico previously, and they told me that he’s very nice to fans. They’ve also met loads of other drivers and the consensus is that the most elusive of the bunch are Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher (no big surprise there!)—either they’re both heavily guarded or they just zoom past the fans. We’ve been waiting outside for nearly 2 hours then, and my feet and back were already hurting from standing for so long with a heavy handbag and shopping bags to boot, and I was already considering leaving the venue when all of a sudden, Nico Rosberg came out of the shop and went straight to the area where the fans were waiting. There was a lot of jostling—ironically, it was the male fans who got rowdy and kept screaming “Nicoo!!”—which made the security guys become a bit strict and surrounded him even more. I managed to get some shots of him and before I knew it, he was holding out his hand to reach for my notebook and pen (at that point, I didn’t even realize I was holding them out to him, must be an automatic “fan response”). One security guy started pushing Nico away and I got worried that he won’t be able to sign, so I called out a very polite, “Nico, please sign..?” and thankfully he heard me and reached out again to take my pen and signed my notebook. After that, he managed to sign quite a few more things (and certainly looked like he was willing to sign more) but the security team got impatient and hustled him to the waiting car, ready to take him to his next event at Butter Factory. To be fair though, Nico said, “Sorry, guys!” to those fans he wasn’t able to sign stuff for, before getting into the car and speeding away.
That was my first experience of getting that close to a Formula 1 driver, and I honestly couldn’t believe I was able to stay that calm. I even joked to my friends online and through SMS that I finally popped my “stalker cherry”, much to their amusement. The trip certainly started off on a good foot. What better way to celebrate that small victory? Why, with more retail therapy, of course!
Thursday, 20 September: Putting the “I” in Multitasking…
I started off Thursday by making a detailed “To Do” list, and on top of that list was to claim my race tickets at the Swissotel Stamford. I knew that there’s a big possibility that F1 personalities and other famous people would be staying at that hotel, given its proximity to one of the track gates, so I spent quite a bit of time people-watching (to no avail) before finally getting my race tickets. I was pleasantly surprised that the organizers have redesigned the ticket packaging, doing away with the box and replacing it with a sleeker, slimmer ziplock pouch for easier carriage, and this year also marked my first purchase of the Premier Walkabout Tickets (I’ve always bought the Zone 4 Walkabout Tickets previously) so I was quite excited to finally have “branded” lanyards and not the ordinary ones. Having quite a bit of time to kill, I then took the train back to Orchard Road to hit the shops. Hard. And the first shop on my agenda? The Official Grand Prix Merchandise store!
It was like being a kid let loose in a candy shop. Looking around, everyone had smiles and grins on their faces as they perused the different items on the store. I had to keep my hands wrapped around the strap of my bag several times as I walked around to keep myself from grabbing all the stuff I wanted, but in the end, I decided to purchase a Fernando Alonso Scuderia Ferrari cap (children’s size, it’s less expensive and fits me, anyway!), a Michael Schumacher keyfob, and a Lotus GP Ladies shirt as keepsakes. My wallet was screaming in pain but my heart certainly was happy.
By mid-afternoon, I was yearning for some rest and nourishment, but I noticed a bit of a commotion at the opposite side of Orchard Road and suddenly remembered that McLaren driver Jenson Button had an event at the Wisma Atria Tag Heuer store. Even though I’m not really a fan of the British driver, I decided to brave the heat and the crowd and crossed over to check out the event.
Jenson arrived looking dapper in a suit, albeit a few ticks late, and I have to admit that he does look good in person, He seemed very amiable, joked around a lot and thanked the crowd several times for braving the heat to see the event.
After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, he was taken inside the store for the private party, and I knew that it would take at least an hour for him to come out again, so I didn’t hang around anymore and decided to move along to do some more window-shopping and exploring.
Yet again, I lost track of time and had to hurry to make it to Orchard Central to check out the opening of the Red Bull GP store, which was to be attended by Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. The event hasn’t started yet when I got there, but the place was already jam-packed with fans and my only consolation was that I managed to find a semi-decent spot near the “stage” where I was squished against an English version of footballer Juan Mata (Thank you, lucky stars). The crowd went even wilder when the 2 drivers arrived, with Vettel and Webber fans trying to outdo each other with cheers for their fave drivers. Sadly, it was a very brief appearance for the both of them, as Vettel was scheduled to do the Drivers’ Press Conference that day later at 6pm, so they only got to do a few signings and interviews before they were rushed out of the venue.
I knew Michael Schumacher also had an appearance the same day, but it was a private, invite-only event in a place not very near where I was at the moment, so I decided to forego that and end the day early—after all, getting to see 4 drivers and finishing all my shopping in 2 days wasn’t a bad accomplishment at all.
Friday, 21 September. No Rest For The Wicked…
Proper rest, preparation and nourishment were crucial for the day, as this was the “official” start of the race weekend on track. For the past 3 years, I’ve always passed on watching FP1s, mainly because I always meet my now Singapore-based dear friend J for dinner after her work to catch up. However, this year, the new mom took a child-care leave and was able to meet me for lunch instead so I can finally meet her adorable new son. As normal with two close friends, we spent nearly 5 hours chatting and eating (mostly chatting), and with a bit of a heavy heart, I had to bid her and cute Baby A farewell to make the trek to the track to catch FP1.
I arrived at the track early in order to familiarize myself with the new areas that are now available to me, as a Premier Walkabout Ticket holder. You also get unlimited rides at the Singapore Flyer with your ticket, so after four years of delaying this experience, I finally managed to try out the flyer, and I have to say watching the FP1 up there was really quite a whole new perspective! Afterwards, I walked around some more to check out the different viewing platforms and to “plan” my route for Saturday and Sunday, and settled at the Greek Theatre to rest my legs for FP2 and savored the sights and sounds of the handsome beasts on track (the cars are quite alright, too).
FP1 Views from ground-level and from the Singapore Flyer:
Saturday, 22 September: When There’s A Will, There’s A Way…
I woke up late, but with an inexplicable feeling of excitement and…purpose. I knew that I had a very full day ahead, but I had no idea just how much the day was out to surprise me. Just before I left, I received an SMS from a fellow KRS member, asking me if I wanted to meet up later in the day at the track, and this only heightened my excitement as I wanted to personally thank her for all her invaluable help towards me on this trip. For once in the trip, I willed the time to move faster, as I spent the afternoon lazily going in and out of nearby shopping centers to escape the heat and window-shop, and finally decided to just head to the track early to avoid the crowds at the train stations and entrance gates.
There was a bit of a “traffic jam” near the area where the pedestrians can cross over to get to the Singapore Flyer, for the reason that it was just moments after the GP2 Sprint Race and security temporarily closed the path to give way to the teams’ logistical transfers and handling of the cars parked along the road. At some point, this guy in a racing suit came around our area, and he looked so happy and was pumping his fist repeatedly. Amusingly, the crowd with me didn’t really took much notice of him, so I decided to call out, “Congratulations!” in a whim as he walked past me, and he replied with a cheerful “Thanks!”. It was only much later when I found out that the guy was Davide Valsecchi–he finished 4th in the race but was crowned GP2 champion that day.
Qualifying, honestly, went by in a blur. I hopped around different areas to test out viewing and photo-taking opportunities, but as soon as Kimi Raikkonen went out of the running for pole as he clocked in at P12, I pretty much stayed in a viewing platform opposite a widescreen and finished watching Q3 from there.
Post-qualifying, I hurried over to the opposite side of the track, the Padang Stage, to catch one of my favorite bands, Maroon 5, perform. The place was absolutely packed with people, and while they gave a really good (but quick) show, before it was finished, I was already barreling my way towards the Singapore Flyer yet again, half-excited and half-afraid I’d miss the opportunity to see the drivers up close.
And this is where it got really, really interesting.
A from KRS and I casually waited outside the pathway of the Entrance/Exit, and while there were several other fans with us, it wasn’t exactly crowded. Several luxury cars as well as golf buggies came around, and we thought those were probably sent to fetch the drivers. One of the cars backed up and stayed close to the exit. The first driver we spotted leaving was McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, and 2 or 3 of fans who managed to escape security went up to him and had flags and things signed. From the zoomed lens of my camera, I saw that Lewis didn’t mind at all and was very nice to them, chatting and agreeing to take photos before getting into the car and going the opposite way, not passing by the path that me and the other fans were waiting in. More cars arrived and at this point, I was getting scared that most of the drivers (if not, the more popular ones like Kimi and Michael), would be leaving the track by tinted cars and not pass by us. Next to leave was Williams’ Bruno Senna, who stopped to sign for some fans but quickly left. Nico Hulkenberg also briefly signed and posed for photos but did not look to be in a cheerful mood (or was that just his “default” expression? He was so much more cheerful when I saw him last year). Lotus GP Team Boss Eric Boullier left on foot but didn’t stop to sign for fans, though he looked to be in a jovial mood as he acknowledged some fans who bade him good night.
Now, this needs a separate paragraph. Right, just when we started to relax a bit, the crowd erupted into massive cheers and I craned my neck to have a good look at an incoming golf buggy, saw that it was carrying Lotus personnel and then realized that THE Kimi Raikkonen was on it, sitting on the middle bench and hunched over, pretty face resting on his left hand. People started screaming “KIMIII!!!” and as the buggy drove past me, merely inches away, all my photo-taking capabilities flew out the window as I could only stare as time stopped while I got a good look at him. He looked half-grumpy and half-sleepy, but yes, I can now attest to the fact that photos and videos do not do him justice as he looks a zillion times better in person (how is that even possible?!) and his pointy nose and his eyes and his skin are supernaturally magnificent. Oh, and he was wearing his usual, now-famous plaid shorts. To be honest, after that, my weekend was made.
However, there was more fun to be had, as Marussia’s Charles Pic exited next, and several minutes later, cheers erupted yet again from some fans at the sight of a guy wearing Ferrari gear, and It turned out to be test driver Marc Gene. I took photos of him and quickly grabbed my Sharpie, but my notebook got lost in my blackhole of a bag, so I just held out my collapsible cloth fan for him to sign and he did so (his was the biggest sig in there, funnily enough). Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne was next, and while I originally wanted to just take a photo of him, we somehow got face-to-face with each other, and he was looking at me expectantly so I held out my fan yet again and he signed it (what was I going to do, say, “Oh no, I don’t want your autograph, thank you. Go on.”? Haha.) Romain Grosjean and Kamui Kobayashi sauntered out next, and I decided to catch my breath for a bit and take a few steps back from the crowd, thinking that it might be several minutes before another significant driver/personality-sighting.
I was wrong.
There was this rather audible collective gasp, and at first I thought it was just one of the team bosses exiting. But then I heard someone scream, “MICHAEL!!!” and I literally froze in place as I said to A, “Who’s that? Michael, as in Michael SCHUMACHER?!”
I stood on tiptoes and caught sight of a guy wearing an orange t-shirt, with that unmistakable prominent chin, starting to sign stuff for fans several meters away. I could not believe my eyes—Schumi was exiting the track on foot. Mingling with us mortals. I rushed to the side to take some photos but a security guy restrained me from getting too close, so I patiently waited until he reached my area and prayed to all entities that would listen that he won’t suddenly rush off and walk away. Before I knew it, he was signing the magazine of the guy besides me, and as he turned to me, I willed myself to be calm/keep a straight face/not scream “I love you, Schumi!!” or other inappropriate things to his face. So here’s how our exchange went:
Me: *holds out my fan and sharpie* “Michael, please?”
Schumi: *takes pen* “Sure.”
*looks at me, must have seen the star-struck look on my face, smiles and holds the edge of the fan because my hand was shaking before signing it*
Me: *dying inside, but stays calm and composed*
Schumi: *returns pen*
Me: *smiles* “Thank you very much, Michael. Good luck.”
Schumi: *smiles back* “No problem at all. Bye.” *waves and walks away*
Me: *feels the earth start spinning on its axis again*
Did that just really happen?! Yes, it did, and I’m very surprised I did not faint right then and there and/or did a silly and ridiculously embarrassing celebratory dance worthy of becoming a viral video. Forgive me for stretching this out, but see, I’ve been a Schumacher supporter for 19 years now, and while I’ve dreamed of seeing him up close many, many times, that unexpected encounter will forever be embedded in my memory. Also, I half-expected him to be aloof and not-so-accommodating to fans, he could have just walked past us all and I would have forgiven him—after all, he is the F1 icon Michael Schumacher—he doesn’t have to please fans or prove anything to us anymore, but he was completely nice and down-to-earth and…normal, that it was difficult not to be awestruck by his presence. So I guess he just disproved what they say about not meeting your heroes, because sometimes, they will surprise you in ways that will renew your faith in humanity.
So there. After that Twilight Zone moment, #Bottas, Paul DiResta, Mark Webber and Heikki Kovalainen left in quick succession. Funny story about Heikki, though: As I held out my fan and Sharpie to him, this overzealous guy besides me grabbed my pen because Heikki was trying to sign his magazine but the pen wasn’t working. Heikki looked at me and must have seen the annoyed look on my face, because he laughed and signed my fan first, signed the guy’s mag and then returned my pen. The guy apologized to me after and thanked me for the pen, so all’s well that ends well. Next up was another fan favorite of a driver, defending champion Sebastian Vettel. I rushed to the front of the line to get an autograph for fear that he’ll only sign a few and leave immediately, but he was very patient and signed nearly everybody’s things. By the time I got back to the end of the path way, I got to say, “Bye Seb, Good luck!” to him and he acknowledged with a smile. Really good guy, and he has that certain “X Factor” quality that endears him to you in person, too.
Team owner Peter Sauber looked to be in a hurry to leave and might have said something about not having the time to sign stuff, but after the fans collectively groaned, “Awwwww!”, he mocked-exasperatingly said, “Oh, alright!!” and stopped for autographs. Timo Glock wasn’t very smiley or cheerful but was nevertheless very accommodating to fans. Sauber’s Sergio Perez proved to be quite popular too, and I have to say that he has every right to smile all the time as his teeth really do look blindingly-white and near-perfect up close. I’m jealous, actually.
Last, but certainly not the least, was Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. There were a lot of Ferrari fans in the group and so he spent quite a bit of time signing stuff. I originally wanted to speak to him in Spanish, but by the time he got to me, I could only manage a meek, “Fernando, please?” (I suppose that is my “signature line” to the drivers now?) and he replied with an accented “Suuure!” and signed my fan, smiling.
It was nearly 3.00am by that time, and I decided to follow A out of the track to finally head back to the hotel. My whole body, from the tips of my toes to the roots of my hair was screaming in agony out of sheer exhaustion, but it was nothing a little Tiger Balm and Paracetamol couldn’t take care of. Besides, I wouldn’t have traded that experience for anything in the world. I honestly could have skipped, hopped, and crawled my way back to the hotel after that.
Mission Impossible? Accomplished.
Sunday, 23 September: Keep Calm And Race On.
Raceday. Truth be told, after the night/early morning I had, my expectations for the race were well and truly in check, as I didn’t want to push my luck with the racing gods for asking for too much. My body by then had returned to “European time” and I woke to find out I’ve missed both the morning Mass and lunch. Never mind, I quickly got ready, headed over to a nearby church to say a quick prayer of thanksgiving (and yes, a prayer for my fave drivers and for good weather later), and then went to Orchard Road to meet up with the brother of my friend for some late lunch. Time whizzed by and I decided to forego any more last-minute shopping and went straight to the track to try to catch the support races.
Of course, one of the things I look forward to during the raceday is the Driver’s Parade, but I have to say that I was a little less obsessive and a bit more relaxed this year after seeing most of them up close just several hours before:
Now, I won’t even attempt to gloss this over—the race wasn’t the most exciting or thrilling one, and it only ever started to get interesting after race leader Lewis Hamilton retired, HRT’s Narain Karthikeyan’s incident and of course, the Schumacher-Vergne collision. During the first SC period, I was in Zone 3 moving around the different viewing platforms when I heard huge gasps from the commentators, and as soon as I heard the word “Schumacher”, I quickly ran over to the nearest widescreen and watched in horror the replays of his surprising crash, collecting Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne in the process. I held my breath as I watched the two drivers get out of their cars and walk towards each other (Ooh, will there be a fistfight?) but as soon as Schumi put his hand around Vergne, and the Frenchman did the same thing, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief, although loads of people in my area were very audibly disappointed, as they wanted to see Vergne having a go at Schumi! Interesting to note as well that the incident happened near Turn 14, which used to be my favourite spot to watch for the past 3 years. I was tempted to make a run for it to see if I can catch sight of Schumi or the stranded cars, but calculated in my head that the area was too far away from where I was and I won’t beat the Marshals’ efficiency in clearing it out.
Here’s a video of the first lap:
And a clip from the Safety Car Period:
With Schumacher’s DNF, I focused nearly all of my attention on Raikkonen—the Singapore street circuit has not been very kind to him in the past and he has yet to score points there—and so I cheered and willed him on to push and get that car to the chequered flag. While the first half of the race seemed to drag on, the last part seemed to have gone by in a blur, (despite the extended SC period making it literally a race against time and not the number of laps) and before I knew it, the chequered flag was waved and Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel was crowned the winner, followed by McLaren’s Jenson Button and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. I thanked the racing gods for letting Kimi finish 6th and score good points, and although Schumi retired, at least he was safe and unscathed from the crash. The final results belied the vanilla-quality of the race and certainly made the WDC fight more exciting, as it looks to be a possible 3 to 4-horse race to the finish this year.
As fireworks erupted in the Singapore skyline, I felt myself getting a bit emotional, as they were, in a way, a signal of the end of that memorable trip. I trekked to the viewing platform nearest the area where I can just about see the podium, but after a few minutes, I saw spectators spilling onto the track—the track invasion has begun! But wait, how do I get in there?!
I quickly ran over to where people were exiting, but to my dismay, the security people did not open the metal barriers, and so everyone had to climb through them to get onto the track. I crossed my fingers, sent a silent prayer to protect me from injuries, threw my heavy handbag to the other side and proceeded to climb through 3 barriers and a 6-foot hill, and ta-daa! I barely had time to marvel at my newfound athleticism—I guess when you have adrenaline pumping through your system, you can truly do some anecdote-worthy things. What’s important was that I was able to get into the track and watch the podium ceremonies up close!
The “much-awaited” podium interview with BBC pundit Eddie Jordan was barely audible in our area because loads of the spectators were too busy laughing and making fun of what he was wearing, but just the same, it was an unbelievable experience to be one of those people on track watching the podium finishers celebrate up close—something that I’ve only seen in the telly for the past 19 years!
I walked around and checked out the different garages (behind the barrier, of course) for a bit before the marshals shooed the crowd away and closed that section of the track. I began the long walk back to Zone 4, soaking in the sights and sounds of all the happy spectators taking photographs and whatever track “souvenirs” they could get their hands on. I watched a bit of Katy Perry’s concert and perused the many activities and offerings in the F1 Village before deciding to finally call it a night.
As I slowly made my way to the Gate 7 Exit, I stood on the steps, turned around and blew a huge farewell kiss to the track. I do intend to return of course, but if ever this was my last trip to this track for some time, then I have absolutely no reason to complain, as it was well worth every body ache, sweat, effort, and penny. The things I do for love of racing.
The following day, everything will have gone and things will have gone back to normal, and yet, amazingly, I will never be the same.
I’ve always included some friendly, personally-tested tips on attending the Singaporean GP at the end of my trip reviews, but this year, I have decided to make a more comprehensive guide on attending the GP, so there will be a separate article on it posted soon. Thank you for reading!