Formula One is headed to the Lion City’s Marina Bay Street Circuit to compete under the stars and twinkling lights for the Singapore Grand Prix. It’s a young track by F1 standards, but one with a bit of notoriety.
The Singapore GP debuted in 2008 as the sport’s first night race, but the race was quickly tainted by the “Crashgate” scandal (which returned to the news just last month). The Marina Bay track layout is tight and twisty, leaving little room for error as the 20 drivers zip through the streets. It’s fairly hard on the brakes, and changes have been made ahead of the 2023 edition of the race, cutting the number of corners down from 23 to 19.
The bumpy track, which was initially designed by the renowned Hermann Tilke (whose CV includes circuits in Jeddah, Baku, Austin and Abu Dhabi) and refined by KBR Inc., also presents a physical challenge for the drivers and teams, not just because of its characteristics but also because of Singapore’s hot and humid tropical climate. And though it’s the first Asian race of the season, the paddock operates on European time — meaning no jet lag but inverted sleep schedules.
“You need to put a lot of work into the car to get a good lap,” Lewis Hamilton said in 2008. “I’d say it requires double the energy of Monaco over a single lap. One lap around here is like two laps of Monaco.”
Before F1 hops into the thick of the sticky Singapore night, here’s what you need to know about the Marina Bay Street Circuit.
A debut to remember
The championship battle between McLaren and Ferrari was tense heading into the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix weekend.
Given the hype around the historic weekend and the ongoing battle, Singapore looked poised to succeed as the race weekend progressed. Racing under the floodlights didn’t seem as big of a factor as many fans may expect, and the track was a hit for the paddock. But the landmark grand prix soon became known for Crashgate.
To simplify a complicated controversy: Renault’s Fernando Alonso secured the first victory despite qualifying 15th after his teammate Nelson Piquet Jr. crashed and shuffled the grid order.
Piquet Jr. later revealed that he had purposely crashed, on team orders, and a subsequent investigation led to punishments for multiple Renault team personnel. The race impacted the championship battle, which Massa eventually lost to Hamilton by one point. Now, Massa is considering legal action against the FIA and Formula One Management, sending a Letter Before Claim to the two parties last month.
The FIA and FOM are required to respond to Massa’s letter, and the deadline has been extended to Oct. 12, Bernardo Viana, one of Massa’s lawyers, said in a statement.
— Madeline Coleman (@mwc13_3) September 15, 2023
Hello to the longer straight
The Marina Bay Street Circuit layout is changing this season.
Near the end of the lap, Turns 16-19 used to run under a grandstand. They have been re-aligned this year to form a longer straight, decreasing the number of corners from 23 to 19. With the circuit length decreasing, the Singapore Grand Prix increased the number of laps by one.
“I feel it’s definitely a bit less intense,” Nico Hülkenberg said. “It’s a few seconds in a straight line rather than grip-limited zones and walls where you really tip-toe with the car and the walls. It could change a little bit, but it still isn’t going to be a walk in the park.”
Swapping the nearly 90-degree turns for a straight should make things a tad easier on the brake systems and the tires. Pirelli sent the softest compounds of tires (C3 for the hard tire, C4 for medium, and C5 for the softs), which degrade quicker than the harder range.
This move could also make Turn 16 into a passing opportunity, potentially adding on-track action to a circuit known for its lack of overtaking possibilities.
How Singapore’s Marina Bay Circuit is striving to be net zero by 2028
Formula One’s push to be net zero by 2030 presents unique challenges for each circuit as different markets vary in resources and what is actually possible for that community.
Take the Singapore Grand Prix, a race under the lights and stars, for example. Race organizers conducted their first carbon footprint report and discovered energy made up 96.1% of the 2022 emissions while 3.9% came from water, transport and waste. Based on the results, changes are being made, starting with this year’s race. A feasibility trial will occur during the 2023 grand prix where diesel fuel will be substituted with renewable fuel options, like Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO). The Singapore GP aims to have half of its power generators at Circuit Park powered by HVO by 2025 and the remaining half by 2028. According to the race organizers, this move alone should drop its carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 52%.
Other sustainability-focused measures have been taken ahead of this year’s race. Solar panels were installed on top of the pit building by the Singapore Tourism Board earlier in 2023, and the track lights have been replaced with “energy-efficient LED lights.” Solar-powered toilets are also expected to be used, and it’s estimated that this will save 129,600 liters of water throughout the race weekend.
— SingaporeGP (@F1NightRace) September 8, 2023
Making the night race happen
“If you survive Singapore, you’re fit for anything else in Formula One.”
Carlos Sainz isn’t wrong. The Singapore Grand Prix is one of F1’s most physically and mentally challenging races — all happening under the floodlights. Lighting systems are used all around the streets to mimic daytime conditions, and in turn, the paddock operates on European time. Trackside personnel (drivers, team, media, etc.) will go to bed at around dawn and wake up in the early afternoon. It’s odd with the paddock being majorly out of sync with the local community, but the timing is ideal for the global audience.
This ‘in limbo’ aspect isn’t the only quirky part about making this grand prix happen; it’s also navigating the hot and humid conditions. Many fans have seen drivers using stationary bikes in saunas to prepare for the heat, though not every driver does this. Because of the humid conditions, drivers lose up to three kilograms (6.6 pounds) in body weight during the race, and the physical demand makes it that much more difficult, all components challenging their focus.
“You have to stay super alert because you have to drive full speed between the walls, need to be extremely precise where you put the car, and that’s usually where it gets tough, where you’ve got to be still at the limit of the car playing with centimeters having lost quite a few pounds or liters inside your body,” Pierre Gasly said last year. “So that’s definitely the biggest challenge of the year.”
And the obstacles don’t stop there. The Singapore Grand Prix is one of the longest races on the calendar by time, given the low average speeds, and can become processional on Sundays because of the track’s tight nature. There are a few overtaking opportunities, like Turn 1 (though it’s still difficult there), but the slightest mistake can send a driver into the wall.
“It just drains you a lot mentally and physically, and not making any mistakes, performing at the level you’ve got to perform at, is where it becomes a bigger challenge,” Lando Norris said Thursday. “Also, from that point, one of the coolest tracks I would say to race, to put everything together, the curves, the bumps, it’s a very fun track to drive. I’ve always loved it, that’s why I look forward to it so much.”
- The older, iconic Singapore Sling chicane — which Hamilton described in 2010 as the “worst corner I’ve ever driven in Formula One” — was removed in 2013 due to safety concerns. There was a fear that if a car was out of control and hit the curbs just right, the vehicle would go airborne. Though the curbs were lowered numerous times, race organizers eventually changed the corner entirely.
- Sebastian Vettel has won the most Singapore Grands Prix (five).
- Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull are tied for the most wins by a constructor (four each).
- The Singapore Grand Prix has seen a safety car every single race.
(Lead image: Drew Jordan, The Athletic)