Singapore Grand Prix – prologue


For a city that regards sleep as optional, Singapore seems quite somnolent at times. As a captive audience drifts from the Marina Bay racetrack on three nights a year, many of the foremost bars and restaurants are just closing their doors. The words “missed” and “opportunity” spring to mind, but visitors can find superior alternatives tucked away from the limelight.

The city has many 24-hour food malls that serve wonderful dishes representing a variety of Asian cultures: the traditional set-up involves a cocktail of wooden tables, plastic chairs, cardboard plates, divine aromas and prices far lower than you’d usually find within a continent of the F1 paddock. This is Singapore at its vibrant best, a perfect complement to one of the calendar’s biggest recent success stories.

The modern template is for tracks littered with slow- to medium-speed corners that conveniently allow sponsors’ logos to linger in the frame for several seconds at readable speeds. Singapore has twiddly sections, too, in common with most street circuits, but its defining characteristic is proximity. Here, in places, spectators are separated from the action by only single-layer breeze blocks, some debris wire and a couple of metres. There are parts that make Monaco feel remote.

It’s a rare breed, a modern circuit that seems designed for paying punters rather than armchair viewers, and it generates an atmosphere comparable with those at Silverstone, Suzuka, Interlagos and other paragons of tradition.

Split strategies will not be confined to the racetrack this weekend. The evening schedule persuades most paddock dwellers to stick to European time while they’re here, turning in at about 6.30am, having lunch for breakfast and then heading to the track. I prefer to embrace the Singaporean clock, which makes for long days but leaves time to explore the city and its surroundings – something most races don’t permit. Thus you discover that the local zoo has white tigers, free-ranging orangutans (a bit more interesting than the deer and peacocks you see in the UK)… and possibly the world’s most climatically confused polar bear.

In an alternative animal kingdom, meanwhile, much attention is focused on the Lotus seat that will soon be vacated by Kimi Räikkönen. Popular rumour suggests that Nico Hülkenberg – long thought to be on Ferrari’s shopping list – is favourite to land the deal, although Pastor Maldonado’s management has also been sniffing around. The Venezuelan, though, has a firm 2014 contract with Williams… to whom the deposed Felipe Massa has also been linked. The silly season rumbles on.

“My priority,” said Hülkenberg, “is to find a good deal, but nothing is yet finalised. There was a chance with Ferrari, but there’s no point thinking too much about that. I need to move on.” He denied, though, that he’d been informed of Ferrari’s decision via text message.

The driver who least likes speaking at press conferences – clue: he’s Finnish – predictably had to answer questions during the weekend’s first FIA media briefing. Räikkönen declined to answer some of them, on the grounds that they were based on newspaper stories he didn’t perceive to be true, but confirmed that financial considerations (not least overdue payments from current employer Lotus, allegedly linked to points bonuses) were a fundamental factor. “I’m leaving purely because of the money side,” he said, “and the things I haven’t got, my salary. It’s an unfortunate thing.”

Does he think there will be any friction when he lines up alongside Fernando Alonso? “I don’t see why things won’t work out between us,” he said. “We’re no longer 20 years old and are mature enough to know what to do. If there are issues I’m sure we’ll be able to talk them through, but I might be wrong…”

He seems fairly confident about being paid, though.

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