Why

Why

Thursday, 18 September 2014

MY FIRST F1 RACE ON TRACK - SINGAPORE GP 2008

At the end of the day, it was probably worth the wait. After following F1 for a good nine years (since 1999), it was about time to catch the action of Formula One on the circuit. It was my dream to watch a race live and that race happened to be the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix.

Up until 2008, there were races all around the globe and F1 had touched all the continents barring Antarctica. Singapore offered a new variety - the concept of night race which in Formula One was unheard of. Like me, everyone else was looking forward to how it would pan out and whether visibility issues will be the major talking point. History was in the making and I for once did not want to let go of this opportunity.

Four Ferrari fans from Bangalore among countless others from the world decide to make a trip to Singapore. Believe it or not, I was so excited that - tickets were booked even before the cars were shipped to Australia for the first race of the season. A good seven months in advance!

Four Ferrari fans... thrilled before the race and disappointed by the end of it

WATCHING THE RACE AS A FAN
This iconic night race was scheduled in September. Looking back at those months leading up to the race, I must admit I was such an innocent F1 fan. I had absolutely no interest in the politics that went behind the track. All that was important to me was what happened on the track barring for some snippets on cars and driver's development before the new season. What a stress-free F1 fan life it was! Now, I am unable to get over the Piranha Club, the PEST (Political, Environmental, Social and Technological) aspects of Formula One.

I am still a fan - but a great degree of innocence associated with it has been lost. I guess, this is a small price one pays for getting access to more information about the sport. And the eternal battle goes on continuously to retain just the fan element these days, whenever I watch the race. I am happy I was a different soul when it came to being a fan back in 2008.

All excited to witness the first ever night race 

THE RACE WEEKEND
One particular disadvantage visiting a city during a F1 weekend is that - it is over-crowded. Be it any place, there is absolutely no iota of space just for yourself on the streets. To top it, this was a street race circuit and with it gone were the famous roads of Singapore city.

The buzz was to be seen all around. Many offers up for grabs, promotional events at each of the busy streets and inside the malls. I lost count of the number of malls we got to see. The weather was humid and all we did was to see as many places as possible during the day and head to the circuit in the evenings.

The sound of an F1 car sounds so different on TV and whilst you are in the circuit. We had our seats on the Marina Bay stand which sat between the Esplanade Theatre Bay and the Marina Promenade Park. It was an evening carnival - with people most of huge fans of F1 not shying away from showing where their loyalties lay.  

On the qualifying Saturday, it was not a surprise to see Felipe Massa claim the pole position for Ferrari. He had emerged as a championship contender and was trailing Lewis Hamilton by a point leading into this race. Kimi Raikkonen, the defending champion qualified 3rd making the evening truely Ferrari's.

THE RACE
In retrospect, the race turned out a bummer for all the Ferrari fans. To cut the long story short, Massa led Hamilton and Raikkonen for the first phase of the race. Alonso driving for Renault pits first on lap 12. His team mate Nelson Piquet Jr, crashes out on Turn 17 two laps later - right in front of our grand stand. Safety car comes in and all the cars queue behind the slowest car on track. The pit lane was closed till the time all cars were behind the safety car.

It was a chaos once the pits were open. Massa and the Ferrari team panicked as the car was released with part of the fuel hose attached to the car. A potential hazard with fuel spilling all over, Massa stopped at the end of the pit lane while Ferrari mechanics ran to attend him. In a circuit, which resembles Monaco for its disadvantage on overtaking, Massa's race was well and truely compromised. With FIA penalising Ferrari for unsafe release, Massa had to serve a stop-go penalty. He was now the last car on track and had to rely purely on fate! Raikkonen also lost time as he had queued behind Massa during the pits. It was now anybody's race.

Alonso was the only driver who seemed to have gained from the safety car period. All he did after the first round of pit stops was to drive his Renault to its optimum and look after the tyres. His persistence paid off as he took the lead midway to the race finish and never looked threatened from rest of the pack. Yes, he did top the time sheets on the final practice - but his victory was more attributed to the strategy and a little bit of luck - a fact which he iterated at the post-race press conference.

Little did I know... a few hours later, this car would end up winning 

We were disappointed as both the Ferraris did not finish the race. And it was such a race where things tend to happen in a flash! No comfort of watching the replays - though there were live screens in front of us big and clear. All did not matter or those that mattered were short-lived; the thrill of being part of the history took care of it all.


A small part of F1 history 

A year later, we all got to know the Renault team under the leadership of Flavio Briatore staged the crash of Nelson Piquet Jr. on purpose. Briatore was subsequently banned by FIA and Nelson Piquet Jr. will have to be contended with the fact - that his only claim to fame is him being the son of a former three- time world champion.

THE PRESENT
Early this year while holidaying in Singapore, I managed to walk on the race track which also serves as a public road. I recollected several of my memories from 2008 - my first race on track, meeting the original fan club of Kimi Raikkonen, getting to look at some of the vintage cars, hearing the sounds of the F1 cars as they accelerate and brake, walking on the circuit after the race and meeting some of the F1 enthusiasts who like us were witnessing their first race.

All smiles with the Finnish fans of Kimi Raikkonen 

Looking at the editions leading up to this year's Singapore GP, very little has changed. Safety cars appear each year (a record), drivers are pretty much the same from 2008 and with regards to popularity, it still retains that 'aura' and has inspired other circuits (Abu Dhabi and Bahrain) to use lights for the race.

My professional life and to a large extent my personal life changed after this race as within a month I got admitted to do my Sports Masters - something which I had not expected to come through whilst I was at the race in Singapore. A career shift, discussing various aspects among the sports enthusiasts, meeting a new friend who now is my partner; travelling, writing, cooking, understanding cultures, reading, visiting a lot of F1 circuits and other sporting events. All the sporting evolution in me has come at a cost - losing the innocence of being a sports fan. I must say, devil is in the detail or perhaps this is how one grows up!

Taken in January 2014 - the view of the grand stand and the infamous Nelson Piquet Jr's crash 


However, if I look at the interval of my life between then and now - I can confidently say it has been a wonderful, inspiring, humbling, learning, challenging and a journey worth every minute of it as I look forward this week's Singapore Grand Prix and beyond.