Monday, September 22, 2008

Marina Bay Circuit: F1 finally has a night race

This weekend Formula One will enter the world of night racing by hosting its first ever night race at the Marina Bay Circuit in Singapore, and it is about time. In the United States, night racing has been a staple particularly in oval racing and at local race events. On a national level, NASCAR, Indy Racing League (IRL), American LeMans Series (ALMS), and Rolex Sportscar Series (GRAND-AM) all have night races and all seem to be very popular with the fans.

Night racing certainly gives a different sensory experience; you get to really see the exhaust flames, you see the sparks and you see lights shimmering off the cars which makes them look like 200 mph jewels; even the infield atmosphere with the crowd changes. Still, it is not like you do not see night races in Europe but you need to look to endurance races like the LeMans 24 hours, 24 Hours Nurburgring, 24 hours of Spa, etc. where the night aspects are unavoidable due to the obvious length of the races. Having been to endurance races in the US, I can imagine the atmosphere and experience would be rather similar in Europe.

I never really understood the lack of night racing in Europe in general for major series like Formula One, German Touring Car Masters (DTM), World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) and MotoGP. I always wondered if it was just a matter of tradition, a lack of desire or if there were real safety concerns around night races. For example, one of the primary concerns for the Singapore Grand Prix is what happens if it rains; will drivers be able to see with the combination of no lights on the cars, rain spray, and reflection from the lights used to illuminate the track on the spray. It is one of the unknowns even with all the simulator technology that F1 teams have at their disposal. It certainly is another challenge that the drivers and team have to potentially face.

The consensus is that a night race will be a benefit to the spectators as well as a boost to the visibility of Formula One. There were commerical concerns that the races in Asia and Australia made it more difficult for the traditional European fan base to watch on TV given the time difference. Bernie Ecclestone of Formula One Management (FOM) worked hard and continues to work to get more night races on schedule. Singapore came to F1 as a night race and in 2009 the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne as well as the Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang might be night races as well.

In any case, the Singapore Grand Prix should be very exciting, not only because of the night aspects of the event and the unknown variables, but because we have another street circuit that looks rather interesting and challenging. Still, there is nothing like driver feedback after the first practice session. The scenery looks very appealing with a combination of historic and modern architecture as well as several bridges. The circuit is based in an area that is apart of a development plan for the area as a business and financial hub. So, it is truly in an urban center comparable if there was a grand prix in Times Sqaure, New York. As for the track layout itself, it is a 23-turn, 3.15 miles street circuit. It will keep the drivers very busy with a good combination of slow and fast corners with several opportunities to overtake with also some interesting features. In addition to the bridges, at Turn 19 the circuit actually runs under the main grandstand, a feature reminiscent of the tunnel at Monaco. If you wish to see a simulation of the new Marina Bay Circuit in Singapore, check out this simulation and track report from Red Bull-Renault driver Mark Webber as well as Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Sebastian Vettel.

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