To begin with, the 3.023-mile Thomson Road circuit was open to Australian Formula Libre and F2 championships, writes Iain Robertson, a situation that held sway from 1961 to 1973. Initially of 60-laps duration, the event was split into a 20-laps preliminary race, followed by a 40-laps finale. It was a challenging track, not least because it was also a public highway, but it managed to embody a couple of tight hairpins, a decent back straight and some interesting corners into its clockwise route.
Lions or tigers? A confusion has always existed about the city-state of Singapore, which is located off the southern tip of the Malay peninsula. Also included within the state are its 63 islands, several of which are uninhabited, yet, upon which, the founder of the country, Sang Nila Utama, might well have spotted a ‘big cat’.
The notion of a large, wild animal being on the prowl in that part of Malaysia was certainly a distinct possibility. However, despite the ancient name for the ‘new’ state being derived from the Malay word ‘Singapura’, which translates loosely as ‘Lion City’, other than the private menageries of some of the modern city’s wealthier residents losing one of their larger beasts, lions are and were not endemic to the zone. Yet, Utama might, more likely, have sighted a tiger, a term that carries equal currency with Singapore’s economic pecking order over the years.
As with innumerable countries around the world, the British Empire had extended its red claws to incorporate this important location, to become part of its worldwide strategic trading community. The infamous Thomas Stamford Raffles arrived in 1819 and signed immediately a treaty with the Sultanate of the time. Around five years later, it became a British dependency. The city grew like Topsy, the benefits and profits realised from its local resources being fed back to England, as was the way. In fact, its rubber production was immense and Singapore became a centre for exports of the products.
The Victorian ethos reigned supreme in the area and, apart from a wealth of clearly British-designed, colonial properties being developed on every available inch of land, the now famed Raffles Hotel was also opened, in the process reminding everybody about the arrival of that early British developmental ‘lord’. Certainly, British colonialism played a major part in the ultimate development of today’s state, which still operates a political and legal system that is based on that outlined by Great Britain, albeit with some pertinent local deviations.
The main island, also known as Pulau Ujong, has changed significantly over recent years, not least by the clearance of its primary rainforest. However, a number of recent land reclamation exercises are enabling modern Singapore to grow slightly, by around 48 square miles today, although fresh opportunities will see that increase by a further 40 square miles within the next 15 years. Britain lost control of the island for three years during World War Two but it was returned following the defeat of the Japanese in 1945.
// ECONOMICALLY SOUND
Whatever people might think about the ways by which most empires grew, not all of which are positive, there is little denying Singapore’s immense economic strength that developed from it. Despite the world ‘economic crash’ around the turn of the Millennium, Singapore remained in a positive mood, even though its gross domestic product contracted by just over two per cent in 2001. Meanwhile, the most recent slump of four years ago witnessed its GDP growing by 14 per cent.
Today, there are more millionaires per square mile in Singapore than in any other country of the world. No less than one in every six households can boast at least one million Dollars in disposable wealth, an aspect that is worth contemplating for anyone seeking a ‘sugar-daddy’ for their next international racing programme. Strangely, although the country has no minimum wage policy, it does possess one of the highest income inequality levels of any developed nation, some way ahead of the United States of America.
In financial terms, the World Bank has already declared that, as Singapore is the world’s fourth largest economic base, boasting the second largest casino and gambling sector, a top three oil refining centre, one of the world’s busiest ports and a senior league logistics hub, it is one of the easiest places in which to do business.
Although the main island is not tall in geographic terms, there are entire ranges of skyscrapers creating its centre and its population base in 2011 was stated as 5.18million, of which almost a quarter of them are not indigenous peoples. Where today’s Grand Prix circuit takes in the exclusive harbour development, the magical skyline of Singapore stands proud and beautifully illuminated in the background. It is almost ridiculously expensive to live there, as land is simply unavailable and piling residences one atop the other is commonplace.
Amazingly enough, English remains the core language, although Chinese, Malay and Tamil are also in regular use. Yet, less than a third of all Singaporeans regard English as their native tongue, although there is a high level of bilingual competence.
The standard of living is quite high, with excellent health and a great life expectancy for residents. Education standards are good and the nation has a developing reputation in a sporting vein, of which Formula One is but one of the many pursuits.
// GPs IN SINGAPORE
Since 2008, the Marina Bay Street Circuit, otherwise known as the Singapore Grand Prix Street Circuit, has taken place at a harbour-side development, which is just south and east of the main city center. As with most capital city conurbations, it is regarded as an around-the-clock destination, not just for business but also for pleasure. Of course, dining-out is a major undertaking in a country that is renowned for its culinary flexibility and the sheer excellence of its home-grown produce.
Based on land reclaimed from the sea, the circuit venue is a spectacular place. Served impeccably by public transit systems, there is a lot more to Marina Bay than meets the eye. There are extensive gardens, a major beach complex and even a waterfront esplanade. As the city grows, so does its demands on leisure time and Marina Bay fulfils a growing range of them.
The current Grand Prix circuit uses public roads at Marina Bay, although it has been fraught with complaints, initially about the heights of the kerbs (subsequently reduced), then the severity of some of the corners (which were then opened slightly) and also the location of the pit-lane entry (which was potentially dangerous). While the current venue remains in use for this year, there are still discussions taking place about its future location elsewhere in Singapore, although it is anticipated that it will retain its independence and will not become a subsidiary to the Malaysian GP held at Sepang.
As a place to watch ‘the beautiful people’, Marina Bay will create eyeballs-on-stalks for many first-time visitors. Money talks and there is so much of it slushing around in the area that it is all but impossible to hide it. Thought of as an Oriental alternative to Monaco, the analogy has considerable merit.
// A LAP OF MARINA BAY
Now that the GP circus has departed the European leg of its world tour, in the opinion of spectators at least, Singapore presents one of the most desirable Formula One races in the calendar. It is immensely popular, especially for drawing visitors from neighbouring countries. However, it has been reported that talks held earlier this year, between Mr Ecclestone and the Singapore event organisers, were inconclusive and that a fresh five years deal for the venue, due to come into effect next year, remained ‘unsigned’.
A celebration took place at the very first nocturnal race, held in September 2008, as Formula One Racing contested its 800th event on that balmy Sunday evening. Twice that number of floodlights paved the way for twenty drivers, for sixty-one laps, totalling 309 kilometres. Among the slowest of all GP tracks, mainly due to the severity of its bends and the bumpiness of the track surface, which is said to exhaust the drivers, who are also having to contend with false, if not first-class illumination, the competing cars can still top 186mph on the Raffles Straight.
Fernando Alonso won that inaugural race and he might still be a good bet for victory this year, although it is guaranteed that any one of the top half dozen drivers and even some of the midfielders could stake a surprise claim on pole position, taking a runaway victory thereafter. Let’s start a race-winning lap….
The circuit runs anticlockwise from the start-finish line, barrelling into the left-hander at Turn One, now known as ‘Sheares Corner’, following a local competition to name some of the bends. Approaching it at around 180mph, the driver is reliant on good braking, adequate down force and strong tyre grip, as the briefest of straights leads directly through a gentle left-right (Turn 2) that can be straight-lined effectively as the circuit turns hairpin left at Turn 3.
Negotiated at around 50mph in second gear, a check must be made on how the competing cars close up around the driver under braking. Care is needed to avoid a clash at this early juncture, as the circuit opens slightly to Turn 4 (left) on Republic Boulevard. It is followed by another short straight, hitting around 125mph, before braking positively for Turn 5, a right-hander, taken in third gear at around 85mph, which also happens to be a good overtaking spot.
Turn 6 halfway along Raffles Boulevard is scarcely worth mentioning as the car will be suckered to the surface, accelerating to around 185mph on the fastest section of the circuit. Turn 7, Memorial Corner, takes a left onto Nicoll Highway and is not as severe as it was originally, requiring third gear at around 70mph, as the car continues along a short but bumpy straight to Turn 8, a 90-degree right-hander that demands second gear at 50mph.
Another brief straight allows a burst of acceleration along Stamford Road to Turn 9, a 90-degree left, which can taken in third gear at around 80mph, prior to accelerating onto St Andrews Road, for another full-throttle burst, a rarity on Singapore’s tortuous circuit. At its end is the chicane, now known as ‘Singapore Sling’ (Turn 10), at which the entry speed can be as high as 125mph, although caution is demanded across the kerbs, which can throw the car seriously off-line, as the circuit heads for the rest of the complex and Turns 11 and 12, a fast right-left succession heading towards Anderson Bridge, which might be slippery, and Turn 13.
Braking hard, the track takes a tight left-hander onto the picturesque Esplanade Drive, not that the driver obtains much of a chance to witness its beauty during the race. Needless to say, it is a slow second gear, 50mph entry onto this straight, although there is a need to build speed quickly in readiness for the 90-degree right at Turn 14, where the entry speed, prior to severe braking, can reach as high as 175mph.
Turning onto Raffles Avenue, Turn 15 is a fast-left but it is followed in close succession by Turn 16 a moderately slow right-hander, which becomes Turn 17, an equally tight left. The next complex of bends, Turns 18 to 21, are very demanding and quite slow, entering a left-hander, below the theatre, into an immediate right, followed by a right-hander into another left that passes beneath the main highway.
Entry to the final straight, with the world’s largest Ferris wheel (which is a very expensive viewing platform) off to the left, demands especial care, as the pit-lane entrance is also off to the left. However, this bend is actually a complicated double-apex left-hander, through Turns 22 and 23, which have the benefit of a decent run-off area but quite damaging kerbs that run close to the racing line. Speeds off Turn 23 can be as high as 125mph (4th gear) for entry onto the pits straight and the start of another lap.
As mentioned earlier, there are plenty of similarities with Monaco, notably on-track. How the Pirelli tyres will behave in the high humidity of Singapore is open to question at this stage. However, you can bet your life that the 2012 Singapore GP will be as exciting as any event this year so far. With just seven rounds of the F1 World Championship left to contest, the battle for supremacy has seldom been closer.