Thursday, October 21, 2010

My F1rst Grand Prix!

And so I arrived in Singapore just in time for the 2010 F1 Singtel Singapore Grand Prix, an event that I had been dreaming of probably ever since I became an avid spectator of motorsports.

Its one of those must-see events if you're into this sort of thing. The first ever international race I attended was the Macau Grand Prix back in 2001, and then the Proximus 24-hrs of Spa in 2003. I can still remember those experiences: the smell of burnt rubber mixing with the cool, crisp air; the ambiance of the whole race circuit; the thrill of walking through the paddocks and pit area.

This all happened in my previous career as an online journalist managing and editing a motoring website. Apart from the international races, we'd also cover the local races at the Subic International Raceway and Batangas Racing Circuit. Those were the heady days of Philippine motorsports, and you'd wonder why such enthusiasm for the sport did not snowball into something bigger as the years rolled on. Maybe it was due to economics and the whole financial aspect of running a race and managing a racetrack.

Well, my motoring journalist days are over, so I won't mess my head with such ideas. I went to Singapore to watch Formula One, and that's what I was determined to do!

As soon as I arrived, I could see that Singapore was abuzz with F1 fever, an annual spectacle that allowed the whole country to show off what it had to offer visitors. This was Round 15 of the F1 World and Driver's Championship, ensuring an exciting battle between drivers and the teams they belong to.

They built a race circuit around Singapore's busy streets, no mean feat for a small country! But they did it perfectly. The best part about it is that this was the only night race on the F1 calendar, and race organizers made sure the whole circuit would be lit up like daylight. Right there, Singapore had something to be really proud of!

As I walked down Orchard, Singapore's prime shopping avenue, on my first night, I came across white tents where F1 merchandise were on sale at strategic locations! You can practically choose the team jerseys, caps and other souvenir items you want. But the items being displayed were mostly of popular teams like Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull Racing.

Spent most of my second day doing some window shopping at ION Orchard, Singapore's newest high-end mall. Then met up with Nappy in the afternoon after he texted me to say that F1 driver Jarno Trulli was signing autographs at one of the tents outside ION. So I rushed to the tent to catch some pics of him doing the meet and greet.

The Friday before the race is usually the final practice sessions for the team and drivers. It had rained earlier in the afternoon, so the track was wet. But good thing it stopped raining right before we got to the circuit, giving us enough time to walk leisurely from Gate 3 to our seats.

This was our first time in an F1 racetrack, and the Marina Bay Circuit seemed to be ideally built for spectators, with various spots from where you can watch the race. It was a great feeling to finally be here, after months of planning and waiting. The excitement was almost unbearable. Nappy and I were smiling from ear to ear! We made it just before the start of the first session at 6pm.

We made sure to get our Survival Kit, consisting of one pair of earplugs and one poncho, in case it rained. The earplugs was needed if you expect to be near the track where the loud roar of engines would be quite unsettling.

We saw the pretty Singapore girls maning the F1 merchandise tent, so I made sure to have my photo snapped with them! We didn't buy anything, though! Hehe!

This would be our first look at the Formula One cars and at the most, the drivers' helmets. Our tickets gave us seats along the Bay Grandstand area, a pretty good vantage point for watching since this section was where the cars would slow down as they turned left under the grandstand (Turn 18).

They say you haven't been to an F1 race unless you've heard the loud roar of the engines. In Singapore, it gets a little bit louder since its a city circuit, wherein the tall buildings provide an echoing effect. No wonder most of the city's promo copy say: "Its Going to Get Loud!"

We had a great view of Marina Bay Sands and the tall buildings of Singapore's downtown area, plus there were two widescreens directly facing the grandstand, giving us the benefit of watching the race broadcast. Behind our seats, we could see the Singapore Flyer looming in the background. It was a pretty sight, especially at night with all the lights on!

During the second practice session, I went down to the Esplanade Waterfront area to check out what was there. There were various food stalls and refreshment lined up, with tables in the middle, a good place to have a bit in between races.

I walked further down and found myself staring at a spectacular view of of enchantingly lit Marina Bay Sands, with three beams of light shooting up out of the Skypark on top! As I gazed toward the other end of the scenic view, I saw the glittering skyline of Singapore's business district -- an equally great view!

It wasn't difficult to take photos of the circuit. With 1,500 light projectors shining out an estimated 3,180,000 watts, this circuit was brightly lit, actually four times brighter than floodlights at sports stadiums.

After the second practice ended, we trudged back out to Gate 3 and looked for a place to have a late dinner. We ended up having some Hainanese Chicken Rice at Swee Kee behind Raffles Hotel. Then we went to Clarke Quay to meet up with Anmar for coffee.

Qualifying Sessions were scheduled to begin at 10pm so I had most of the day free to do what I wanted. Mai took me to a nice breakfast place and then I headed to Vivo City Mall to check out the NatGeo store. From there, I went back to Robertson Quay to meet up with some former BusinessWorld colleagues who were living in Singapore. It was a great lunch of pizza and catching up stories.

I spent the afternoon visiting the MINT Museum of Toys, something I had really planned to do on this trip. It took me about 45-minutes to get through the toy displays which were very interesting and nostalgic! Then I made a short trip to ION Orchard to get some stuff, then went back to the flat to get some rest.

I met up with Nappy and Kannitha at the McDonald's store in Raffles City, which was near the Gate 3 entrance of the circuit. It was already past 9pm by then and I just had enough time to devour the big MegaMac burger Nappy had ordered for me! It came with an equally huge box of french fries and a tall cup of Coke! Whew, that was a huge meal!

We hurried into the circuit to get to our designated seats. Along the way, we checked out the various F1 and SG Grand Prix merchandise for sale. The prices were so high! Good thing we got the lower-priced Singapore GP stuff at ION Mall the night before.

Qualifying began with much excitement! The audience knew this would be a good indication of how Sunday's race would turn out. We could see a sizeable number of Ferrari fans in their crimson red attire. On another side, we could see the McLaren die-hards in their silver-grey colors. Then there were the Red Bull fanatics, mostly Aussies rooting for championship leader Mark Webber. I also got a Red Bull shirt to wear on Sunday, so I guess I'm one of 'em RB fans!

It was a hard fought qualifying session, with the lead switching between two or three drivers throughout the one hour intervals. In the end, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso got pole position for the Sunday race, followed by the Red Bulls of Vettel and Webber, and then the McLarens of Hamilton and Button.

These five would be the ones challenging for the Driver's Championship as the season heads on to the last four races in Japan, Korea, Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

The circuit was nicely laid out, with lots of opportunities for cool photos! Yun lang, you'd have to be really diligent in selecting your spots as it got crowded in the walkabout areas. During practice and qualifying, its easier to go around and plant yourself somewhere with a good vantage point for photo-shooting. However on raceday, the marshalls are stricter and usually cordon off or cover the fences so that you wouldn't want to stay there.

We arrived at the circuit early on raceday, giving us time to check out the F1 merchandise again. I ended up buying a blue F1 Singapore Grand Prix cap!

We also took as many pictures as we could, knowing that an opportunity like this might not happen again in a long time (well, we might be back next year!).

We were able to see each driver clearly during the Driver's Parade at 6pm! They went around the circuit onboard some vintage cars, possibly of a local vintage car club based in Singapore.

This time, almost everyone in the audience were going crazy with excitement! All the fans brought out the best of their race gear, with flags and banners even!

I wore the Red Bull shirt that I purchased a couple of days before and I was just as glad to see that my team was among the frontrunners.

It was a great F1 race, to say the least. It was a long race, that's for sure. Sixty-one laps around a circuit measuring 5.073-km for a total race distance of 309.316 km! The lap record belonged to Kimi Raikkonen who managed 1:45.599 in 2008.

Alonso won the race, his fourth of the season, and clocked a fastest lap of 1:47.976. Not enough to beat Kimi's record but enough to hold off Sebastian Vettel's sustained attack throughout the race. Read the full race report from here.

Red Bull made it a 2 and 3 finish as Webber followed Vettel to the podium, a great result for the team and additional points to add to Webber's lead. Hamilton did not finish the race due to a broken suspension after colliding with Webber on lap 36, a sorry day for him.

It truly was a great experience to be there. More than the race itself, it was the thrill of being near our F1 idols, the ambiance, and the collective "magic" that only Formula 1 racing can provide! Its gotten me hooked again! Hopefully, I get a chance to watch this again in 2011!

Check out my Flickr gallery of the 2010 F1 Singtel Singapore Grand Prix!

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