The Singasnore Grand Prix

There is not a great deal to say about the racing at the Marina Bay Street Circuit this weekend. With the novelty of the night race concept having worn off, Singapore’s street circuit revealed itself to be on a par with Valencia’s in terms of on-track boredom.

That is not to say there aren’t a few talking points. Even though the race was quite insipid in many ways, there is little insipid about the podium. Lewis Hamilton put in a solid, though uneventful, performance to take a well-deserved second win of the season.

But I was most interested to watch the interview with his team mate, Heikki Kovalainen, after the race. Amid the latest rumours that Kimi Räikkönen is heading back to McLaren, Kovalainen is on the back foot. He needs to put in better performances in order to prove to McLaren and other teams that he deserves to be employed. But his demeanour after the race said it all — he sounded like a driver who realised he had been found out. 7th isn’t really good enough when the car is capable of winning.

Full credit must go to Timo Glock for finishing second. It is true that he largely inherited this position as a result of the woes of drivers in front: drive-through penalties for Rosberg and Vettel, and brake failure for Webber. But he was there to capitalise, having done well to qualify sixth when quite frankly to my eyes the car looked horrible on Friday. His team-mate Trulli, meanwhile, finished a lowly 12th.

Fernando Alonso obviously likes the circuit and scored the best result of the season at the same point where Renault’s fortunes turned last year. The Renault hasn’t looked capable of finishing on the podium all season. And Alonso has seemed strangely off-key to me this year. But he did it this time round, and caused a stir by dedicating his podium finish to Flavio Briatore. Some are interpreting it as a parting shot; others the human reaction of a man who has lost the boss who helped make him successful.

Whatever, it seems increasingly clear that his move to Ferrari for 2010 has been secured, with the rumour mill frantically suggesting that an announcement will come at Suzuka this coming weekend. Perhaps that is the reason why Alonso’s fire in the belly has returned to allow him to finish third.

Then we come to the title protagonists. Red Bull had another nightmare weekend which has pretty much hammered the last nail into the coffin for their championship hopes. All four Red Bull cars seemed to be suffering from brake issues, with such a failure making Webber’s race end in the barrier. Vettel could have had a much better result were it not for a drive-through for speeding in the pitlane, something which Vettel is adamant he has not done. In that context, fourth is a pretty impressive result for him.

As for Brawn, they salvaged something from what threatened to be a disaster. It seemed to be an up and down weekend for them. They seemed happy on Friday, but Button began complaining vociferously during Saturday Practice. Then both Brawns struggled in Qualifying, culminating in Barrichello’s session-ending crash. Ross Brawn declared qualifying to be disastrous.

As it was, they put in an okay performance during the race to finish 5th and 6th. Most importantly, Brawn have practically sealed up the Constructors’ Championship.

Meanwhile, Jenson Button has extended his Drivers’ Championship lead for the first time since Turkey. He edged further ahead of Barrichello by just one point, but with just three races to go, it looks like a tall order if anyone is to overhaul Button’s 15 point lead.

Maybe that makes the Championship boring now, which is perhaps why my eyes glazed over during that period in the middle of the race when nothing seemed to be happening. It has been an interesting season, but not an exciting one. Fair enough — we have had plenty of exciting seasons over the past few years and were perhaps overdue a dodgy one.

I am very much looking forward to the next race at Suzuka though. F1 finally returns to this classic circuit after three years, and it will surely provide a better class of show than the gimmicky Marina Bay circuit.

Just a final word about Adrian Sutil. What a chump. Fair play to him for trying to overtake someone, but his was a foul-up of Coulthard-esque proportions. Indeed, the entire incident was reminiscent of Coulthard’s attempt to overtake at Valencia last year.

But from my perspective, Sutil’s attempted move on Alguersuari was never on in a month of Sundays, and his determination to keep the throttle floored while in a spin was a stupid move when there was oncoming traffic. You have to feel sorry for Nick Heidfeld, who had his amazing run of consecutive finishes brought to a cruel end by a driver who should know better. Sutil’s $20,000 fine seems hefty, but I don’t feel much sympathy.


  1. Some people seem to be ready to jump all over Alonso at the slightest provocation. Not matter what the poor guy says or doesn’t say, the Anti-Alonso contingent will take exception to it. And frankly, it seems to be mostly Brits that do it. It’s so parochial, it actually makes me a little sick (present company excepted, of course).

    Although I don’t much bother with the ‘official’ F1 site these days, I did swing by to read the comments & see what all the fuss is about. Such a storm in a teacup ! And tell me, exactly why does one bad deed by Flav negate everything good he did before ? People are so fickle.

    Kudos to Nando for sticking by his long time friend – a person he owes a lot to – acknowledging the work that Flav did in the past, and not dropping his mate like a hot potato like many people would do, I’m sure. In case everyone has forgotten, F1 is a TEAM effort, and until very recently Flav was a huge part of that team.

    I just don’t understand why most people have turned so viciously on Flav. Whilst I was always an outspoken critic of Schuey & some of his tactics, I have never once denied the brilliance of the man, his contributions to F1 or his talent, and have a deep admiration and respect for the ‘good’ parts. Why should it be any different with Flav?

    I for one, will miss Flav. At least he was a ‘character’, and they are sorely lacking in F1 these days.

  2. Personally I didn’t find the race as boring as Valencia… although I was busy doing housework while watching the race, so perhaps I was distracted during the boring parts!

    Disappointed that for the first time the BBC decided to pull an ITV and not show the drivers press conference as part of the main programme although it is such a long race they could perhaps be forgiven a little.

    Sutil’s fine was fair, although given the *massive* punishment the driver who deliberately caused a farce of last year’s race received It is harsh in comparison. I don’t think anyone would suggest Sutil deliberately took Heidfeld out, it was simply that he didn’t look where he was going.

    I think Rosberg deserves a mention – he had a very unlucky race, but really shone in Qualifying and at the start of the race. His run in Q2 was just phenomenal, and I wouldn’t have bet against him snagging pole had Barrichello not put his Brawn in the wall.

    Brundle described Button’s laps before his second stop and possibly the laps that will win him the championship. That is possibly right, but shouldn’t detract from a season opening that has put him into this position. It’s a shame his charge has gone off the boil as of late, as what we would all want to see is the Driver’s champion 2009 win the title in style… not to limp over the line.

  3. Youse guys, as we say in the United States (well, as they say in parts that I’ve never lived in), are being (just a little) harsh…

    The layout in Singapore may never give us a great auto race. No elevation changes, and the corners are all too slow.

    I think it could be much improved by taking the jag out between corners 7-8 & 9, carrying on up Raffles Boulevard to make a left (south-ish) on St. Andrews, so that there’d be one turn in the neighborhood instead of three. The Bing photo makes my new corner –just north of War Memorial Park– look pretty tight. But it’s no tighter than the chicanes that protect the Anderson bridge, and drivers haven’t complained about that too much… Not even Kimi! In the Google view, there are already some sexy new curves being constructed, and some Old Mulsanne-style trees to add driver amusement for the start of the southbound leg of the lap.

    Why are my fantasies of improving this race so advanced? Because except for the fact that it’s a lousy place for racing, that wasn’t such a bad race! At least, it wasn’t a bad weekend of television from the BBC. Specifically-

    • It’s all about spectacle, not sport, so no matter what happens, it won’t cost me money personally.

    • Bernie’s insistence on Euro-time broadcasting compels the night-lighting… This gives the city an extra kiss of romance, one which might not apply if this former colony were seen in harshest sunlight.

    • It is a telegenic place, with lots of extremely modern architecture, and reasonable protection of treasures from earlier centuries. The sunset views during P1 practice were stunning, absolutely stunning.

    • The women and young families in the color shots are just beautiful. In general, the Singaporeans seem patient and receptive to Formula One, even when renegade cheats threaten their lives with deadly force.

    • The setting has twice delivered considerable entertainment even without notable passes or similar racecar narrative. Specifically…

    • Brakes were an unforeseen source of interest. Maybe it’s the heat, maybe it’s the layout, but a few mechanics got faked out of their shoes over the weekend. (Heaven knows what rain would have meant to the Toro Rosso team.) The track may have special qualities (or good luck) that challenges race teams in unpredictable ways.

    • There was just the right number of oblivious western rock stars, and Tamara wasn’t too obnoxious during the gridwalk, either.

    • Nicole Scherzinger, previously said to have broken up with Lewis, returned to our screens with three elements of drama. 1.) She dressed in a bright Mercedes-orange dress, the kind a submissive driver’s girlfriend ought to wear. 2.) She was responsibly, alertly horrified by Toro Rosso’s pitlane bungle. 3.) She didn’t actually weep out loud when Lewis kissed his father first after victory. Let’s be grateful to her: She probably won’t be in the circus much longer, and she was more fun to look at in the garage this weekend than Mika Haakinen.

    • Can we get back to that brake thing? And to the second year in a row for a Renault crash at 17? And the second year in a row for drive-thru for Nico? And the second year for a refueling error? Listen, whether we like it for pure racing or not, this venue is accruing and notable collection of idiosyncratic fascinations. It’s a LOT more pretty and interesting than Valencia, even in the dark.

    I’m just sayin’, don’t judge too harshly. Give it another year.

  4. Thanks for the comments everyone.


    I don’t think that is actually the first time the BBC have failed to show the press conference on BBC One. But I don’t mind that so much — it’s on the Interactive Forum so the hardcore F1 fans can watch it. I believe viewing figures plummet during the press conference which is why ITV and sometimes the BBC give it a wide berth if time is short.

    What upset me though is the fact that even though they had all the time in the world to show it on the Interactive Forum, they cut the press conference short before Fernando Alonso dedicated the podium finish to Flavio Briatore. It was immediately a big news story (journalists tweeted about it straight away even before the BBC broadcast the start of the press conference), but the BBC opted not to show it. All the more bizarre given that Lee McKenzie opted to mention it during her interview with Alonso which was shown.

    I think the BBC needs to take a more careful look at these editorial decisions when a big story is unravelling live. They completely messed up coverage of Massa’s crash in Hungary, so this looks like a weak point of the BBC’s coverage just now.

    You’re right that I should have mentioned Rosberg. Clearly a missed opportunity for him, with that needless drive-through penalty. Sam Michael seems adamant he’d have finished second!


    You may be right that we are judging Singapore too harshly. It is perhaps easy to get carried away by the fact that it is surrounded by classic venues that all F1 fans love — Spa, Monza, Suzuka, Interlagos. It interrupts this fun section at the end of the season with a less romantic Tilke-style modern thing.

    However, it is telegenic (although surely if you want to look at pretty pictures you should watch a nature documentary, not an F1 race?).

    I do think the Singapore GP is a success. The Singaporeans seem to have embraced F1 to the full, bringing hefty crowds on both races — certainly a lot better than some of the Asian races. I would far sooner see, say, China or Bahrain ditched than Singapore.

  5. > surely if you want to look at pretty
    > pictures you should watch a nature
    > documentary, not an F1 race?

    I’m fifty. That means there’s a rush to get as many needs met in a single throw as possible… And that I’m cynical about what constitutes great racing…. I have no clue!

    But neither does Bernie. Ever notice how he doesn’t talk about good racing very much? Scandals come and go, and Bernie just says “It’ll work itself out…” And time after time, he’s right!

    We on the blogs huff and puff that “F1 has really given itself a black eye this time!” …As if the rest of the world cared. Or as if the rest of the world might be made to care, if only we carried ourselves with a little more attention to some magically dignifying event on the track….

    Except that nobody knows that that event would be. Passing? Not passing? More disparity between cars? Less?

    Again, look at lap 51 of 58 in Turkey, when Kovalinen passed Rubens on a back corner. Brundle said: “What do we think about that? The KERS there got ‘im back past… Do we think that’s brilliant driving? Is it good racing? Is it plastic racing?”

    What’s amusing is that Brundle had to risk his young health for years and then get to be middle-aged before he had the humility to ask. What makes a good race?

    Bernie has stopped worrying about it… He doesn’t even ask anymore. (It’s like a married person who stops trying to worry out loud about what the spouse likes, so long as they seem content and behave well.) Bernie says: sign the contracts, rent the trucks, turn on the lights, get everyone to the track on time, and everything will work itself out.

    So, yeah, Duncan, I’m probably taking a stronger interest in Nicole’s cocktail dresses and the pretty scenery than an aging sports fan ought to take… But it’s all a showbiz spectacle, not some Godly Imperative of Sporting Truth. Some men in bright, loud cars drove real fast, pretty girls gasped, a couple guys crashed safely, and at the end there was a trophy. Great race, man!

  6. PS – I love China and Bahrain for being such safe tracks. It’s a paradox that the most despotic regimes can host racing in the most forward-looking venues. I think America is the free-est in the world: And Indianapolis is the most hideous track.

  7. I can appreciate your point of view Cridland. You ask an important question. You’re right that for all the huffing and puffing, we still love it, we still watch, and viewing figures have (in general) gone up over the years. And it is certainly a better entertainment spectacle than it ever has been.

    As for Nicole’s outfits, I too noticed that she turned up in McLaren orange — or “Rocket Red” as they insist on calling it. She wore a very similar shade for the showdown at Interlagos last year, if you remember. But surely that is a breach of McLaren’s protocol! It is all blacks and greys during the race — and Rocket Red only makes its emergence when McLaren win a race.

    I can’t decide whether I quite like the idea of changing to a brighter uniform if you win a race, or if it’s hideously smug and cocky…

  8. I didn’t know that! I’d heard that Ron & Co. were incensed with Alonso for showing up for a race in beard stubble after the 2007 slapfest with Lewis was underway… But upon first hearing, I’d thought it was a joke. But no, turns out Mr. Dennis is a man who likes orderly, groomed employees. I’ve searched in vain through the (few, low-rez) videos of the McLaren Technology Centre, looking to find a secretary with a cartoon on her desk, or an engineer with a trinket from a vacation.

    Seriously, I was someone surprised to learn of Mr. Dennis’ rather firm Christian convictions a short time ago… Not that he ever did anything spectacularly Godless or immmoral, but just that in our daily gossip we describe the F1 league as a viper pit of deception an intrigue.

  9. PS- Somewhere during the weekend coverage someone said “500 million” watched the race. This number is almost certainly bogus.

    But HOLY COW.

  10. I’d be careful of the viewing figures. It depends on the methodology used. Often F1 has had annual figures in the billions, more than the world’s population. In that case, they are cumulative, and include any clips or snippets shown on news bulletins etc.

    Still a lot of people though!