Hot and bothered: Formula One drivers feel the heat at Singapore’s Marina Bay Street Circuit
With temperatures in the cockpit soaring to as high as 60 degrees Celsius, racers brace for a challenge that is physically and psychologically demanding
It’s humid, it’s tight and it has little history. But Formula One racers love it. Despite being only eight years old on the Formula One calendar, Singapore’s Marina Bay Street Circuit has quickly become one of the most talked about and beloved tracks among the drivers.
Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestonelabelled the race the “crown jewel of F1” at its inception in 2008 and since then, most drivers have agreed. McLaren’s 2009 world champion Jenson Button, for example, hailed the circuit “one of the wonders of modern sport” in 2013. Triple world champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari said that although the track has not been around for a long time, it “feels like a classic”.
There are several reasons behind their affection for the Singapore race, but a key factor is the tightness of the circuit.
Drivers have to go close to the walls at several spots and the adrenalin of navigating without crashing gives many an unparalleled rush.
“I’m a racer, so going so close to the walls, especially after the white bridge, gives me goosebumps,” says Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo, referring to the famous Anderson Bridge, which is part of the circuit. The track also has 23 corners, six more than the average Formula One circuit.
For most drivers, completing the Singapore race requires an average of about 4,800 gear changes. This is significantly higher than at Silverstone in Britain, with 2,000 changes, and Sepang in Malaysia, with 3,100.
The tightness of the track has led to some complaints that it does not allow for overtaking moves. But the organisers say this is inaccurate. “When compared to the rest of the Formula 1 circuits in terms of the number of overtaking opportunities, the Marina Bay Street Circuit is ranked 11th on average for the past five years,” says Jonathan Hallett, director of Singapore GP.
The Singapore Grand Prix has seen its fair share of exciting action on the track since the inaugural race in 2008, he continues.
“One of the most memorable overtakes was by Felipe Massa, who squeezed past Bruno Senna in 2012 at Turn 13 – the move was ranked second in the ‘top five overtakes of the last five years’ by Formula1.com in 2015,” he says.
The world-class drivers enjoy Marina Bay for the physical challenge they are put through. Conditions at the race are widely regarded as the most humid, and can cause the drivers to become dehydrated. Even though it is a night race, temperatures hover at around 30 degrees Celsius while humidity is above 80 per cent. Cockpit temperatures can shoot up to around 60 degrees Celsius and drivers can lose up to 3 kilograms of fluids while they compete.
“It’s hard to describe what it’s like to drive a two-hour race in those conditions, but try thinking of what it would be like sitting in a sauna wearing a full fireproof race suit and helmet,” Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton says. “If 10 is the hottest temperature of that sauna, then the Singapore race is a seven. Then you do a bit of a workout.”
Ricciardo adds: “It’s the only race of the season where you crack open your visor to let in some cool air and it’s hotter outside. By the warm-up lap your chilled drinks bottle is the temperature of a freshly-poured cup of tea.”
However, the drivers can still appreciate the beauty of the night circuit. Button says: “You can see the flaming exhausts and disc brakes glowing at night. It is a spectacle.”
It helps that the track is fitted with nearly 1,500 lighting projectors and each projector carries a 2,000-watt lamp that lights up the circuit about four times brighter than a stadium.
Former double world champion Mika Hakkinen adds: “Singapore is not missing anything. The fans are very close to the cars. Everybody likes to come here. It is a very demanding track; very hot and humid. It is a physical and psychological challenge, a very tough track.”