Zoom Zoom: Let’s Watch Formula One at the Singapore Grand Prix

When we first arrived in Singapore a year ago we learned about the Singapore Grand Prix and the huge crowds that attended in the Before [covid] Times. I didn’t really think much of it at the time since I had never followed Formula One or any other motorsports racing.

This past summer during our D.C. visit, we enjoyed dinner with our friends Philo and Liz and heard about their recent trip to the French Grand Prix with their son, a huge Formula One fan. Philo did a great job explaining the basics of the sport to us, and I walked away interested in maybe checking out the Singapore race in a few months’ time. Or maybe, you know. Some other year.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel on the left frames the perfect F1 night course

So fast forward to this September, when my friend Tara asked if I would like to be her Plus One for Singapore Grand Prix race day in early October. I eagerly accepted even though I knew so little about Formula One that we had the following exchange:

Tara: I guess I should ask – are you team Hamilton or Verstappen? Somewhat irrelevant this season but figured we should get that out there before we go.

Me: I don’t even know what that means. I will cheer for whoever you tell me to. I know absolutely nothing about F1.

So I spent the next eleven days watching as many episodes as possible of Drive to Survive on Netflix, their show about Formula One. Since it’s a Netflix documentary-ish show, I found it a mix of truthiness, drama, sport, ego, money, blatant PR for the sport, and a shameless ploy to lure in new fans. I was game.

I walked in to race day freshly armed with the knowledge of who Verstappen and Hamilton are, and I’m Team Hamilton all the way, because obviously.

As Formula One race courses go, Singapore holds the reputation as the toughest course on the schedule: a street circuit, not a track; a night race, not during daylight; and well, weather. The oppressive heat of our Little Red Dot situated 85 miles/137 kilometers north of the equator makes for a very, very hot and humid racing experience, even after dark.

Formula One team success hinges on both the skill of the driver and the car itself; basically the more cash a team can throw at the car’s engineering, the better the team’s results. Of course the driver’s skill matters as well, but the correlation between money and the team’s success remains undisputed.

By contrast, the W Series women’s race focuses on the drivers’ skill alone, and the W Series does not pull any punches in saying so:

W Series drivers are selected purely on their ability and the series’ cars are mechanically identical, which means that W Series races and championships will be won by the most talented drivers, rather than those with the wealthiest backers.

Kind of subtle, that dig at the teams with the wealthiest backers. I wonder who they are talking about.

But I digress.

So Tara and I took our grandstand seats and watched the women of the W Series zoom around. I was delighted to see a Marta [Garcia, of Spain] in pole position, and cheered loudly for her when she took third place and a spot on the podium. Because we Martas stick together.

Then the weather radar took a rather ominous turn.

Uh oh

And that’s how we found ourselves under the grandstands surrounded by food stalls, giant TV screens, and large numbers of fellow spectators in assorted states of inebriation as we waited for the rain to clear. We chatted up our neighbors, meeting a lovely women from Sydney named Zadi (‘my parents were hippies in the 70s’) who traveled to Singapore with her family for the race. I raved about our family’s phenomenal Sydney trip, and Tara shared advice on where to take the family here in Singapore.

Our other neighbors were a husband and wife from the UK visiting Singapore for the race, followed by a cruise holiday. The wife sounded a lot more interested in the cruise than the race, but they seemed to make it work. He returned from his quest for booze with an extra gin and tonic for Tara and I, which was absolutely lovely and kind of him. We even enjoyed the drink despite those ‘never accept a drink from a stranger’ alarm bells going off in our heads. Don’t tell my teenagers.

Eventually the rain cleared and the race started an hour later than originally scheduled. We watched the cars take a few laps as warmup.

Then the race began! I sat there and just grinned the whole time. I thought the ‘ooh here they come!’ thrill would wear off after a few dozen laps, but it never did. The buzz of the approaching cars mirrored my anticipation and excitement, every time.

Enjoying the race with the lovely and talented Tara

Watching cars trying to drive faster than each other holds obvious appeal; the spectator does not need extensive or technical knowledge to appreciate the basics. When one car passes another, the spectators all cheer or shout in dismay, depending on their allegiance. When a car bonks straight into the barriers, the crowd releases a collective OOOOH and waits to see if the driver manages to turn around and keep driving or quits the race.

And frankly I could watch nothing but pit crews all day. While we could not see the pits from our grandstand seats, every time the big screen showed a pit crew in action I just marveled at what they accomplish so quickly.

One could argue that the drivers are not really racing each other, but rather racing against lap times, or strategizing for points for the team win over the whole season (the Constructors’ Championship), or angling for cumulative points for each individual’s quest for the Drivers’ Championship.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Those guys are definitely out there racing each other, and it’s fun to watch and easy to understand at the most basic level. That said the sport also gives plenty of room for fans to geek out over car specs, track jargon, tire material to match weather/track conditions, and more.

After two hours, we watched Team Red Bull’s Sergio Perez of Mexico claim victory.

Green Day plays before an exhausted F1 crowd at the Padang Stage around 11:30PM. On a Sunday.

Then we headed over to check out another huge perk of Singapore Grand Prix: the musical acts. Green Day took the main stage and played for over an hour. Other acts over this year’s race weekend included TLC and the Black Eyed Peas (though Fergie-less); past years’ performers have included Muse, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Duran Duran, Bon Jovi, Dua Lipa, and more.

I’ll be back! Zoom zoom.

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