Simon's snapshots #8


A series in which Motor Sport’s features editor raids the loft to salvage grainy fragments from his racing past

Singapore Grand Prix, Marina Bay, September 25-27 2009

Hitherto this series has focused on distant times, when Kodak Tri-X was all the rage and a single, 36-exposure film would have to last a whole race meeting. Nowadays, some people rattle off that many photographs in a matter of seconds…

On this occasion we’re switching to more modern matters, although five years have elapsed since it was taken. It’s the Friday evening of Singapore’s second Formula 1 Grand Prix and Lewis Hamilton is a study in wide-eyed concentration as he prepares to head out during free practice. Of all the ‘new’ fixtures on the F1 calendar, Singapore is among those that always felt likely to remain in the longer term, as a well organised event that attracts a sizeable and appreciative audience.

The 2008 Singapore GP is the one that tends to be most widely discussed (funny, that), but the following year’s race was memorable in its own way – albeit for different reasons. On the surface it was little more than a routine lights-to-flag victory for Hamilton, but he’d needed his wits about him. Early in the race, his KERS malfunctioned and he’d had to take on board a series of precise instructions while threading his way between the concrete walls at Marina Bay, one of the most challenging and physically demanding of all F1 tracks. “We had a problem with our KERS cooling system,” said McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, “because the pump that circulates fluid around the batteries wasn’t working. They would have overheated if Lewis had continued using KERS, so we had to tell him how to reset the pump to get it going again, which he did.”

He had to nurse his final set of super-soft Bridgestones for longer than anticipated, too, the team calling him early for his second stop to guard against a possible a safety car after an exploding brake disc caused Mark Webber to crash his Red Bull at Turn One. But Hamilton continued on his way to complete a faultless victory – a fine drive with unseen complications and a nugget that is sometimes overlooked.

He wasn’t always a serious contender in 2009 – the first KERS-equipped McLaren was too inconsistent for that – but he’d come close to winning the world title as a rookie two years earlier, had stumbled into it in 2008 and it seemed only a matter of time before he became a multiple champion, although we’re waiting still.

Life seemed simpler, even then, with the paddock less prone to pointless hysteria than it has since become. It might be recent history, but it feels an awfully long time ago.

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