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Page last updated at 05:41 GMT, Thursday, 25 September 2008 06:41 UK

F1 goes for a night on the town

By Andrew Benson

Lewis Hamilton in a McLaren during a night-time demonstration at Valencia last year
Hamilton shows off his McLaren in a night-time demonstration in Valencia
Formula One takes a step into the unknown this weekend when Singapore holds the sport's first ever night race.

To be staged on a new circuit around the streets of the Asian city state, it promises to be the most spectacular Grand Prix of a gripping season.

The track winds through the heart of one of the world's most striking cities and passes some of its famous landmarks, including the Raffles hotel, an icon of the British colonial era.

Even without the novelty of a race at night, a new track in a location as exotic as this would be enough to generate extra interest, but F1 appears genuinely energised by its new adventure.

"It is going to be an exciting weekend," says world championship leader Lewis Hamilton, echoing the thoughts of most of his rivals. "I've never raced at night before but I don't think it's going to be a problem.

"It doesn't seem to be a problem in other sports and there have been huge preparations for this, so I think it will be great. It sounds like it will be pretty spectacular."

We must not acclimatise to local time, which is totally different to how we normally operate

Lewis Hamilton

The Grand Prix will start at 2000 local time on Sunday but it will hardly be F1 does the Le Mans 24 Hours - there will be no need for headlights on the cars.

The 3.15-mile track will be lit by floodlights which are expected to be about four times brighter than those at a football match.

That should ensure the circuit looks effectively as it would during the day - after all, when 20 cars are doing 200mph inches apart, being able to see is quite important.

Singapore is the second new street circuit on the calendar this year and the sport is optimistic it will be more eventful than the first - the European Grand Prix at Valencia last month was notable for its almost total lack of action.

But while it might be impossible to predict the quality of the race, in terms of spectacle Singapore should certainly live up to its billing.


The timing of the race has its roots in the desire of F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone to hold events at times that are convenient for the sport's core TV audience in Europe - 2000 in Singapore is 1300 in the UK, the same time the European races start.

But the time difference raises significant problems for the teams and drivers.

Singapore city skyline
The Singapore skyline will provide a stunning backdrop to the race

"Our doctor has prepared a very precise schedule for the drivers to stick to because all the [track] sessions are so late in the day," Hamilton says.

"Essentially, we must not acclimatise to local time, which is totally different to how we normally operate.

"Our training programmes ensure that over a race weekend we are at peak performance during the afternoons and as a result we're going to be staying in European time so this doesn't get disrupted."

This will mean eating dinner at around midnight, going to bed in the early hours and sleeping in the day. But that is easier said than done.

"The human body has evolved so that we're active during daylight and asleep at night," says Toyota doctor Riccardo Ceccarelli, "and its internal mechanisms are regulated by these timings.

"It will be very hard to keep European time because the production of hormones such as cortisone and melatonin is related to daylight, so their bodies will start to adapt to local time.

"If you continue to try to keep European time, the body will become less efficient."

We will be isolated from the normal workings of the hotel so we can sleep late in the day

Heikki Kovalainen
McLaren driver

The biggest concern facing most drivers and team personnel will be how to ensure they get enough sleep when they are going to bed not long before dawn.

Hamilton's team-mate Heikki Kovalainen says: "The team is taking every measure possible to ensure the timings of the weekend have no impact on our performance, to make sure we are physically ready.

"For example, the hotel rooms will be blacked out so we can sleep late in the day, special arrangements will be put in place to make sure the cleaners don't come into our room, as they would not expect people to be sleeping until early afternoon. The telephones will not ring, all those kinds of things.

"We will essentially be isolated from the normal workings of the hotel.

"It is a much more demanding task to make sure you don't switch to the local time, because your body automatically wants to change, external factors such as light, temperature, humidity are all encouraging it."


For some drivers, the unusual schedule may be more of a problem than others.

Tourists walk past an advert for the Singapore Grand Prix
Singapore has spent millions on an event that will showcase it to the world

Red Bull's Mark Webber, for example, is an early bird, so getting up at lunchtime may take some getting used to for the Australian fitness fanatic.

Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, by contrast, has built up a bit of a reputation for his fondness for certain night-time activities.

"I like to sleep until noon every day," the world champion says, "so for me this seems the perfect venue."

The Finn's well-known liking for a drink, and his infamous appearance in a London lap-dancing club a few years ago, has led to one or two jokes at his expense during discussions about Singapore - "I guess Kimi should be on form," said Red Bull's design boss Adrian Newey, "he's used to performing when it's dark."

The demands of a race weekend will prevent Raikkonen from indulging in Singapore Slings at the Raffles bar, and should keep most F1 personnel out of trouble.

(All times British Summer Time)
Friday: Practice 1 - 1200-1330; Practice 2 - 1430-1600
Saturday: Practice - 1200-1300; Qualifying - 1500
Sunday: Race - 1300
Singapore is +7 hours BST

But there are a couple of Singapore's notoriously strict laws that might cause F1 some problems.

One assumes the city authorities will waive their escalating fines for littering (192-384 for the first offence; 768 and a corrective work order for a second offence) when it comes to the F1 drivers' tear-off visors - at least five of which tend to be used in a race.

But Marlboro-sponsored Ferrari will have to be careful not to break the ban on tobacco advertising.


F1 has gone into this weekend with the microscopic attention to detail that it is typical of all its planning.

But there is one unknown that even F1 is struggling to plan for - racing under floodlights in the wet.


Thunderstorms are predicted for both Saturday night, when qualifying is held, and race day on Sunday, with the chance of rain put at around 60%.

There are concerns that the high-intensity lights could cause glare as they bounce off a wet surface, or shine through droplets of rain.

The teams are doing what they can to eliminate the problem, including using high-contrast helmet visors with differing colourations to increase depth perception and special coatings to prevent droplets forming.

This is the one aspect of the Singapore race about which drivers have expressed some concern.

Button hits the bar in Singapore

But it is debatable how much difference it will make.

Visibility is already practically zero in the wet when F1 cars race in the daylight - at the Italian Grand Prix the weekend before last, BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica rather alarmed himself by overtaking team-mate Nick Heidfeld without even knowing he had done it.

And as Webber puts it: "At the end of the day, it can rain anywhere we race."


Hamilton arrives in Singapore fresh from the blow of governing body the FIA rejecting his appeal against the penalty that deprived him of victory in the Belgian Grand Prix.

That means he could lose the world championship lead in Singapore to Ferrari's Felipe Massa - the Englishman is just one point ahead of the Brazilian.

The route of the Singapore Grand Prix circuit is illuminated at night prior to the race weekend
The F1 track traces a route through the heart of Singapore's centre

But if there is a place for him to get over the disappointment, it should be this.

Hamilton loves street circuits, and no-one is better than him in the wet.

If it rains, Hamilton has to be odds-on to win given the stupendous ability in the wet he has shown so far in his career - although he will have to cut out the sort of mistakes that saw him start from 15th on the grid in Italy last time out.

Massa is doubly compromised in the wet. He does not share Hamilton's genius in those conditions, and his car is not as well suited to them either.

The Ferrari has a problem getting its tyres up to the correct operating temperature in cool and damp conditions.

But the way the Ferrari works its rubber could be an advantage if the race is dry.

Even a night race in Singapore is going to be quite warm, and the Ferrari's more gentle treatment of its tyres ensures they stay in better condition for longer on a hot track.

Massa, it should be remembered, dominated in Valencia, the season's other all-new street circuit, and a race Hamilton was expected to win.

see also
Title out of my hands - Raikkonen
25 Sep 08 |  Formula One
The right ruling on Hamilton?
23 Sep 08 |  Formula One
McLaren lose appeal over Hamilton
23 Sep 08 |  Formula One
Street races concern Ferrari boss
21 Sep 08 |  Formula One
Rain will aid Hamilton - McLaren
17 Sep 08 |  Formula One
Hamilton eyes error-free run-in
15 Sep 08 |  Formula One
Hamilton treads a fine line
14 Sep 08 |  Formula One
Hamilton rues Monza tyre choice
14 Sep 08 |  Formula One
Berger tips Vettel for F1 glory
14 Sep 08 |  Formula One
Vettel claims historic Monza win
14 Sep 08 |  Formula One

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