It was midnight. I’d just finished an eight-hour work-shift and managed to scrape in a quick shower and shave before I boarded my flight to Singapore.
Why so early? Well I was supposed to be catching up with some mates from Rewind Magazine who’d promised to show me around the old grand prix track and sample the local culture, but a little event on the Asian Le Mans Series calendar in Fuji had rained on our planned rendezvous. Still, I did manage to land with just enough time to watch my buddies fly off in the direction of Japan. Best laid plans and all…
But the beauty of landing in Singapore at 5:30 of course is jumping straight into bed and onto European time. Or so I thought… Check-in wasn’t till 2pm, so I faced an eight hour wait before any sleep could be had. No worries. I’d just find a cafe and nestle in for a few hours… Pity the only ‘cafe’ open was the ‘Mc’ variety. Still beggars can’t be choosers…
2pm and RichlandF1’s El Comandante, Luke Smith had finally caught up with me at reception after a 5 hour layover in Dubai. He looked how I felt… Or felt how I looked… Or something like that. But there wasn’t any time for self pity, accreditation was about to open and we needed Wednesday afternoon to get accustomed to our surrounds.
I will say this. Singapore GP’s staff are the most efficient I’ve seen so far in the Asian region. No five hour wait for a pass this time thank you very much. Within minutes we were accredited and heading into the circuit – albeit minus a kilo or two of body fluid and looking like a pair of vagrants who’d overslept too close to a wave pool – hey vagabonds have schedules too ya know.
One thing I wasn’t prepared for entering the media centre was the level of security. We’re taking scanners, sniffer dogs, armoured vehicles and the odd frisking (which should go down a treat in Bangkok). Even on Wednesday the main grandstand was used for an anti-terrorist exercise/bomb scare drill. Stretchers carrying faux-injured spectators scythed in-between machine-gun wielding men and women in blast-resistant suits with seamless synchronicity; either that or Justin Beiber had hired Lady Gaga as his choreographer (that’s my final and only Justin Beiber reference Luke!).
The surreal show unfolding before us wasn’t helped by the fact it was now after midnight and Luke and I were both on 48 hrs without sleep. Never, never take the blue pills is my only recommendation! Still, we only had to push on through another five hours and we’d be back on European time.
Whose idea was it to hold a night race anyway???
Thursday arrived and I felt refreshed. The advantage of a hotel with zero windows is at least its dark when you’re trying to sleep at lunchtime. At least that’s what I was telling myself. Walking into the track you can’t help but rub shoulders with F1 big-wigs. I’ll never forget the sight of watching Adrian Newey emerge from the tropical undergrowth; satchel in hand as if he’d emerged from an equatorial ship-wreck and was trying to look for objects to fashion into a makeshift catamaran.
Yep… Maybe I was still a wee bit jet-lagged, but even the greenery offered little refuge for F1 elite with rabid fans materializing from nowhere in the hunt for an autograph – as Charles Pic found out as he unsuccessfully attempted to avoid the crowds. Even low-key F1 personnel weren’t safe. Upon leaving that evening, my colleague Abhishek Takle spoke a fraction too soon when complimenting Sauber boss Monisha Kaltenborn on her stealthy paddock exit. No sooner had the commendation been delivered, when some more rabid fans had enveloped Ms Kaltenborn and blocked her exit. Her indignant expression told me it might be best not to frequent anywhere near the Sauber hospitality unit for a while…
Although I was bemoaning having to adjust to European time, watching an F1 car hurtle towards a barrier during FP1 (yes you can get very close at Marina Bay) really does shake off any jaded sensibilities that thirty years of motorsport can build up. There is a palpable sense of hyper-realism that television cannot ever do justice. If you never get to Monaco, Singapore definitely has to be the next best thing and why more journalists don’t venture out on track is completely beyond me. Mind you, running back to the media centre to write a piece, covered in sweat and being greeted by yet another sniffer dog with his snout in my crotch might be a good enough reason.
Oddly, with all the security present, I heard a rather inebriated gentleman without proper accreditation somehow managed to sneak past surveillance and knock on the odd door. Whether the neighbourly individual was looking for sugar I don’t know, but by all reports he crept back off into the night in much the same manner as he entered… probably having just negotiated a Ferrari contract.
Abhishek and I felt much the same way on Saturday night. With Luke stuck recording a podcast over the phone in his hotel room, Mr Takle and I sought out any watering hole that might be open after midnight. Upon finding a hotel bar that was still open we were immediately asked to leave as the bar was only open to “F1 staff only”. Being thirsty we played the “but we’re journalists” card, only for the ill-considered utterance to disturb a room full of overworked mechanics. We might as well have walked into the Blue Oyster Bar…
Sunday’s race was probably more exciting than it appeared on TV. Well for me anyway. It was my first experience of writing a live race report for RichlandF1 and then covering race reports for GPWeek until 4am in the morning. I’m sure Luke Smith feels the same with his reports for NBC, but having to slam our laptops shut, bid adieu to Mr Takle and race off to the airport in little more than half an hour, really was my first window into what it’s like for journo’s who have to cover the entire season. I don’t know how they do it and I’m full of admiration for what they do, but then I’m not sure many of them would be facing another nine-to-five week day job in between fly-aways either.
That said, I’ll be doing it all again in just a few days.
Catch you in Korea.
Images copyright RichlandF1