Because I’m here, body and spirit, and this might well be my only chance ever to witness a race live at the circuit, I have decided to be unabashedly biased.
Qualifying didn’t exactly throw up the results I expected. With little or no overtaking expected on a street circuit, the results of tomorrow’s race have fairly been determined. Lewis Hamilton powered his McLaren-Mercedes to pole, while Rubens Barrichello will not be the most popular man in the Red Bull and Williams motorhomes tonight, the Brazilian swerving and shunting into the barriers just 26 seconds before Q3 ended, putting an end to any further efforts from the drivers to better their existing lap times. Sebastian Vettel will start second tomorrow, followed by Nico Rosberg in P3. Rosberg put up a decent show as the more fancied Brawns struggled through qualifying. Jenson Button didn’t make it to Q3, nor did Kimi Raikkonen, the Brawn and the Ferrari not very impressive tonight. Raikkonen admitted they lacked speed, and attributed it to the fact that Ferrari were already concentrating on 2010, and work on the current car had stopped since the Hungarian Grand Prix. Ouch. That isn’t very encouraging, with three races yet to go this season.
The other Ferrari of Giancarlo Fisichella failed to make it past Q1, his ex-teammates from Force India providing him company as they couldn’t quite match the promise they have shown in the past few races. The Singapore GP seems to be all about adaptability- how well you can get out of your comfort zone and tailor your styles to suit the vagaries of a street circuit, especially, driving under floodlights.
Romain Grosjean spun initially as the cars came out on track, but managed to get his grip back and keep it going. Except for a few false alarms and sparks, there wasn’t much excitement at qualifying. Barrichello’s cup of woes overflowed, though, as a gearbox change means he will start tenth tomorrow, instead of from P5, due to the five-place penalty.
Stats apart, being at qualifying, hearing the first murmurs of disappointment and triumph, was an interesting experience. I might well have been watching a race at the Interlagos, squeezed in as I was between an Argentinian couple on my left and a group of Brazilians on my right. I don’t think either party was fervently supporting Barrichello, though. They seemed more interested in the fates of Webber and Hamilton and, to make my life more bearable, Raikkonen. I saw only a couple of large banners, not quite the euphoric excitement I expected at an F1 race. This is probably the difference between a country that is steeped in motorsport tradition and one that has adopted it as, I hate to say this, commercial sustenance. I might be wrong, though. Tomorrow will tell. Singapore is a beautiful city to hold an F1 race in, particularly suited to a street circuit, and definitely rivals Monaco in terms of modern grandeur.
Just in case you are curious about the Fullerton, the Merlion, the Singapore Flyer and the Esplanade, names I have been mentioning off and on over the last few months, do make sure you watch the race. I have seen glimpses on the big screen on GP TV, and I never imagined it could look that real. The luminescence of the sea, the glitter of the skyscrapers, the magnificent structures all around the circuit make for some spectacular views. In just its second year, the Singapore GP has certainly proved a huge success, a massive magnet for foreign tourists and F1 connoisseurs.