I grew up in a household where the weekends were set according to the clock of the Formula 1 racing schedule. I could spell Emerson Fittipaldi and Mario Andretti before I turned ten; I knew my Jacky Ickx from my Jacques Lafitte; and I could identify Jody Scheckter’s Ferrari at a hundred paces . You see, my dad was an obsessive F1 fan his entire life and I can barely remember a Sunday when he did not spend the afternoon glued to the TV, watching cars hurtling around and around some track in a foreign country. After I left home, I did not miss the disturbed Sunday lunches as he dashed off to watch the start on TV, nor the incessant and seemingly interminable hornet-like buzzing of the cars. Given all this, you’d think that I would not be a good candidate to enjoy the Singapore Grand Prix Formula 1 Night race – but you would be 100% wrong!
There has been some form of Grand Prix held in Singapore since 1961, athough it was only in 2008 that the Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix night race that we know today was born. The event takes place annually through the middle of Singapore on the Marina Bay Street Circuit and it was both the first ever F1 night race and the first F1 street circuit in Asia. The fact that it takes place at night means that temperatures are a little cooler, with the added bonus that Europe has just woken up when the race starts and can therefore watch the televised event live. We planned our visit to Singapore last year specifically to coincide with the Singapore Grand Prix and we were determined to make the most of it – here are the top 9 tips that I picked up along the way:
1. Book as early as you can. Tickets go on sale online on the Singapore F1 Grand Prix website in April and there is a discount for earlybird buyers. If you purchase from abroad, the system for picking up the tickets in central Singapore is very efficient – we were in and out in les than 10 minutes – and that was the first day of the Grand Prix, so a relatively busy time!
2. Choose the right ticket for you. The (massive) Marina Bay Circuit is divided into four zones, and there are trackside grandstands and bleachers in all of them (this map will make it a bit clearer). Racing takes place over three days (day 1 is practice, day 2 is practice and qualifiers, and day 3 is the race) and you can buy 3 different types of tickets:
- Grandstand tickets (there are 6 different grandstands ranging from SG 298 for the Bay Grandstand to SGC1,288 for the premium Pit Grandstand);
- Walkabout tickets (premier for accessing all 4 zones SGD498; or just Zone 4 Padang access SGD228; and
- Combo ticket packages that give you a different combination of grandstands and walkabout zone access on each of the three days of racing (range from SGD598 to SGD988).
We already knew we were there for the spectacle rather than the racing and did not want to pay a premium to be stuck on a grandstand – so we bought all-zones walkabout. Zone 4 is where the Padang Stage is – which is the venue for most of the food stalls are and the massive concerts take place after each day’s racing. Access to Zone 4 is included in every single ticket sold for the event, so it is by far the most crowded, making it less than ideal for walkabout tickets if you actually want to see racing. We found Zone 3 to be hot, sweaty and lacking in any good vantage points. Zone 1 houses the smaller stages for performers and more food stalls, but by far my favourite zone was Zone 2, around the base of the Singapore Flyer, where there were plenty of spaces to stand on the bleachers, as well as proper cocktail bars for buying exorbitantly priced but much needed G&Ts! One word of warning: if you are hanging out in zones 2 and 4 it is quite a long walk to get back to Zone 4 and there are some significant bottlenecks along the way – so do plan ahead if you want to get from there to, say, the Padang stage at a particular time.
3. Pick your vantage point. In some ways, you are quite restricted as to where you can view the race from – you can’t just show up at any point along the route and hope to get a great view. If you are not on a grandstand, you are either just on the roadside behind a massive fence (and probably staring at the back of somebody’s head) or on unreserved bleachers – but as we discovered, there are bleachers and bleachers. On the night of the qualifiers, we tried out the bleachers in Zone 4 and they were without fail HEAVING, sweaty and not so much fun – you had to fight for your place and you got jostled about a lot without seeing much. On the day of the race we found two great vantage points during the pre-race activities: between Turn 1 and Turn 2 opposite the grandstands provided us with a great view of the Porsche race in the afternoon, and Turn 22 (the second-to-last turn, just by the pit lane entrance) provides an excellent spot to watch the pre-race driver parade. The best bleachers we found were in Zone 2 at the base of the Singapore Flyer between turns 22 and 23. There was plenty of space and the people there were serious about the racing, so it was all quite civilised and you could sip your expensive drinks without being jostled, and snap some pics. I would definitely head there again if we went back.
4. Don’t miss out on the concerts that close each day’s racing. When we visited, we saw The Killers performing on the Saturday night and it was hands down one of the best concerts of my entire life. Leave the racing a little early if you want to get a good vantage point. Although all tickets are the same price, there is a “golden circle” near the stage. If you arrive early enough, access to this will be unrestricted, but as it fills up, the gates are closed and you will be stuck further back. We arrived just in time to enter the golden circle and ended up less than 20m from the stage. In 2014, headline acts include Robbie Williams, J-Lo and the Pet Shop Boys. Something for everyone!
5. Bring the right clothes and kit. I thought people were being overly cautious when they said bring earplugs to watch the Grand Prix – but the sound of the engines up close and personal is surprisingly visceral and seriously so loud that you cannot do without them! Apparently the cars’ engines have been changed since last year and they are now quieter, but remember this is a city circuit and the sound is bounced around between the buildings and amplified – so take your earplugs just in case. It’s also extremely hot and sweaty to the point of claustrophobia, so dress light and bring a handheld fan for comfort – and comfortable shoes for walking and dancing! Singapore is known for its frequent rain showers, so it can’t hurt to pack a rain poncho as there is not a lot of cover around the circuit if the heavens open.
6. Ride the Flyer! Your Grand Prix ticket includes unlimited rides on the Singapore Flyer ferris wheel which is slap bang in the middle of the circuit and therefore closed to non-ticket holders. Try and ride it in the afternoon and again in the evening for different city views. It also provides a great view of the final turn of the track (right by the entrance to the pit lane) as well as the starting grid and finish line, so it is possible to get some really interesting aerial shots. If you timed it right you could get lucky and be in the Flyer to watch both the start and the finish of the race. We found there to be minimal queues for the Flyer during the race and the air-conditioned pods provided a bit of respite from the heat and the crush of people.
7. Be realistic about the photos you will be able to get. For safety, the entire circuit is fenced off with a tall wire fence so pretty much every pic you shoot will have the wire fence in between you and the cars – don’t think you will get dazzling magazine-quality shots. Cameras also have an annoying habit of focusing on the thing closest to them, resulting in 50 snaps of a beautifully in-focus fence and a blurred racing car… You will also learn pretty soon that the cars move extremely fast during the race and that getting good pics require you to be able to pan very very quickly and shoot multiple frames per second – which not all cameras are capable of doing. My best tip is to try and get your shots of the cars during the pre-race formation lap when they travel relatively slowly and are easier to shoot. But even more than that, put the camera away after a few shots and experience the thrill of the event first hand.
8. Don’t miss out on the other things to do and see. As a not-very-massive fan of F1 racing, when hubby suggested going to the circuit mid-afternoon on the final race day, I was worried that I would be bored out of my skull – but there was loads to see and do! The plentiful food stalls in the Padang area provides a good selection of Singaporean (and not so Singaporean!) street food, as well as a limited selection of alcohol. Just walking around all the zones and familiarising yourself with the circuit is a good idea too – especially as it is a lot less crowded earlier in the day. This is how we discovered the smaller stages and food stalls in Zone 1 on the river, and the riverbank itself is a perfect place to kick off your shoes and relax under the plam trees to watch the world go by. There is also non-F1 racing that takes place earlier in the afternoon and the Porsche Carrera Cup made for some good viewing. It’s also worth turning up early if you want to see the pre-race drivers’ parade when all the drivers are driven around the track in vintage convertibles to wave at the crowd (another great photo opportunity).
9. Don’t miss the fireworks! As the chequered flag comes down at the end of the race, a massive fireworks display kicks off in front of the Marina Bay Sands hotel. I found that it was well worth leaving the race a little early to get a good vantage point for this as your view may be quite obscured from some points along the track. The best place to be to see the fireworks is in Zone 4 along Esplanade Drive, the road just behind the Merlion statue. It’s a spectacular end to three spectacular days.
Singapore Airlines flies four times daily from London Heathrow and daily from Manchester to Singapore. See singaporeair.com for the latest offers and to book.
This year the Singapore Grand Prix takes place from 19 to 21 September. All the information you need about the race as well as ticket sales can be found on the Singapore F1 Grand Prix website.
DISCLOSURE: My visit to Singapore and the Singapore Grand Prix was a personal holiday, paid for entirely by me.