My Grand Prix weekend began last week on Thursday with…
Meeting the BMW Sauber F1 Team | photos
I was invited to attend a meet the team session at BMW’s gleaming HQ along Alexandra Road. Now, I’m pretty realistic, so I’ve never harboured thoughts of driving a car in Singapore, let alone a BMW.
So, going to a car showroom was a first for me. Plus I’ve never been this close to F1 drivers too. In the car, they seem distant. But here I was, going to see them up close. The whole setup was classy. There were media and PR types. Definitely some valued BMW customers too. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I felt a bit out of place.
The questions, I must admit, were a tad tedious with lots of obvious questions, particularly about acclimatisation and racing at night. On hindsight, these questions had to be asked. And those are all moot now since the race is over. BMW’s test driver had the most memorable answer during the session.
On being asked what life as a test driver is like, the clean-cut and amicable Christian Klien replied, “I travel with the team to all the races as the reserve driver just in case they go to a restaurant that has spicy Asian food and cannot drive the next morning then it’s my turn basically…”
Unfortunately for Christian, Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld didn’t have a problem with our spicy food.
Still, the test drivers are unsung heroes of the teams. They rack up kilometres in testing to help develop the car over the course of the season. It’s something like being a reserve goalkeeper in football. The most probable way you’re going to get a chance is if the guy ahead you *touch wood* gets injured or falls ill.
I will remember the Meet the Team session not so much for meeting the team but for bumping into a number of people that I know: Stephanie, a prefect from CHIJ; Parita, who I found familiar and only a day later realised that we were on a Youth Expedition Project together; Gene, my sister’s boyfriend, who was covering the event for Hot Stuff magazine and an aunt of mine who was there with her husband. I also met a few Singaporean bloggers: Nadia, Claudia and Brian.
The Night Recce from the Singapore Flyer | photos
That evening, I went on my first ‘flight’ on the Singapore Flyer to check out the illuminated race track from above.
There is no better view from the Flyer than this. If I go on it again, whether in the day or at night, I’d probably be slightly disappointed.
Thursday night was also the practice session for the Safety Car. It was making a hell of a noise going around the track at full speed.
Of course, nothing compared to the noise that Singapore was about to experience over the next few days. It was a nice little appetizer though.
On ground level, everything was still very accessible. You could even get up close to the marshalls and to the track at certain areas.
Whether or not I attend the race next year, this preview to soak up the atmosphere is a must in my book.
Friday Practice | photos
I’ve gone on about the crowd issues at length, so I’ll not mention them here again. (I do intend to send my feedback about improvements to the Singapore GP organisers.)
I got into the circuit just after the gates were opened at 1 p.m. I took this chance to walk around a bit while the whole place was relatively empty. The support race paddock was open too. Just as well that I took a few photos then because they barricaded the area from Friday evening onwards.
The practice sessions for the support races gave me the chance to practice my panning shots, in preparation for the stars of the show.
At 7 pm, for the very first time, the distinctive eardrum-bursting roar of Formula 1 engines reverberated around Marina Bay.
Unlike practice sessions in other countries, most of the teams had their cars out from the start. And they were getting in as many laps as they could so that the drivers could learn the circuit and for the teams to collect data about the track.
Also, the Bay Grandstand (not sure about the rest), was at least half full! The novely factor probably pulled in the crowd. Friday Practice is not very well attended elsewhere.
Mark Webber has the dubious distinction of being the first man to crash at the Marina Bay Street Circuit. He hit the barriers at the turn leading to the tunnel under the Bay Grandstand.
Practice was quite eventful with the crashes and near-shunts. Driving under lights didn’t seem to pose a problem to the drivers. In fact, a close up shot of Hamilton on the big screen revealed his eyes – totally focused. Not something you can get in a day time race.
The photo above of Lewis Hamilton’s car is my favourite shot of the whole weekend. It’s on the Esplanade Drive, just after Turn 13. Judging from the number of views, the following photo, taken on Saturday during the third practice, is the most popular. Still, I prefer the one above as it is composed better. I also feel it conveys the sense of speed a little more dramatically.
Saturday Qualifying | photos
Friday’s crowd debacle led to Saturday being a recce for Sunday. My priorities:
- Find a nice quiet corner to take panning photos
- Find a place to watch the drivers’ parade (on Sunday) up close
- Find a place close to the start/finish straight to watch the beginning of the race (so that I could experience the full impact of 20 F1 engines)
I was at the track at about 3pm this time. The Aston Martin Asia Cup qualifying was on when I got to the circuit. During the Formula BMW first race, I was busy getting McLaren stuff. I tried Turn 8 during the Porsche Carrera Cup qualifying. It was good but not the most ideal place to take photos. It was quite close to an underpass entrance, so walkabout ticket holders might chope that corner early on Sunday.
I looked at the map and decided to try Turn 5 during the 3rd F1 practice session before qualifying. That corner fulfilled all my criteria.
For some reason, there weren’t that many people there. I managed to get up to the railings and started panning away when the F1 cars went past during practice.
At one point, as I was waiting for cars to come by, Kimi Raikonnen went past on the boundary rider’s motorcycle. He had crashed further along the road after Turn 5! Unfortunately, I was on manual focus and other settings meant for panning shots. I don’t have F1 drivers’ standard reflexes, so I didn’t manage to get a shot off.
That hour was the most productive for my photo-taking. I took (and deleted) tons of panning photos. Looking back, I realise that all this wasn’t possible when I was still using a flim SLR when I attended the 2002 and 2003 Australian Grands Prix in Melbourne. I didn’t have film to waste. Neither was my camera up to the task of shooting 6 frames a second.
Just to get a “car parked on the road” shot (as Darren Heath calls it) back then took a ton of film. My frame would either be totally blank (shot way too early or late) or have either the front or back half of the car in it. I was quite stupidly standing along a straight as well. So, this shot of Raikonnen – then with McLaren – was the only one with the whole car in the frame.
Thank goodness for digital.
Sunday Race | photos
I plonked myself at Turn 5 on race day, even before any of the support races had started. Armed with an expensive rental Kangaroo TV unit (Turn 5 was not equipped with a giant screen), I waited for the minor races to go by.
Time seemed to stand still for a long time.
The drivers parade started, and I was thankful that they were in those nice classic cars.
More waiting. The calm before the storm.
The roar of engines as the F1 cars went by to take their places on the grid. Just a preview.
The warm-up lap. Getting there… getting there…
As the cars lined up on the grid, the sound of 20 F1 cars growled, waiting to be unleashed.
Five red lights came on one by one.
The lights went out, and the cars took off!
Ah, that beautiful sound…
It’s something to be experienced. I just cannot describe the sound.
The cars got past the first few corners safely. They zoomed, and I mean really zoomed past where I was standing. There were so many cars bunched up that I didn’t really know where to focus either.
After another lap trying to capture the moment, I decided to take a walk back to my designated seat at the Bay Grandstand. (Hey, the sound and the view at the start of the race wouldn’t have been as good from there.)
When I got to my seat, everything was going well for Ferrari. Massa was leading. Raikonnen, in third, was gaining on Hamilton.
Then Nelsinho Piquet Jr. crashed into the wall at the Bay Grandstand.
You know the rest. =)
I enjoyed myself tremendously during the race.
Can’t wait for 2009!
- Boston Globe Photos
A nice collection of Singapore GP photos from various photographers and photographic agencies.
- Sour Grapes
Yup, our track is a circus. Ferrari, to steal a line from Pirates of the Caribbean, welcome to Singapore!