After a three-year absence, Marj Bonifacio from the Philippines returned for her fifth Singapore Grand Prix in 2015. To say she was excited to be back would be a massive understatement. Here’s her report.
Apart from the first two times I went to the Singapore GP, I’ve been organizing the booking and travel myself. Purchasing my Premier Walkabout tickets on the official Singapore Grand Prix website was a breeze. Don’t forget to book your flights and accommodations early, as they tend to get more expensive as the event nears. This time around I opted to rent a flat via Airbnb, as I travelled with two friends. It worked out cheaper and we got to explore a different part of Singapore.
Unfazed by the haze
This year’s race was almost eclipsed by an environmental issue; smoke from forest fires in nearby Indonesia blanketed the city in the lead up to the event. Racegoers and tourists were advised to wear masks, but I didn’t find the haze to be a problem at all. After all, I do come from Manila.
I arrived in Singapore on the Friday of the race weekend, full of excitement and anticipation. After settling in to our Airbnb flat, I decided to do some shopping on Orchard Road. I lost track of time and before I knew it, it was just an hour until the start of the first free practice session and I still hadn’t collected my race tickets!
I raced to the ticket collection center at the Swissotel Stamford hotel and found an incredibly long line to claim my tickets. I guess a lot of fans had the same idea as me! By the time I got my tickets and powerwalked to the track, the session had ended and fans were already streaming out to get some dinner. During the break, I decided to walk around to check out the merchandise stalls and re-familiarize with myself with the layout of the track and the viewing platforms.
Eventually, the second free practice session started and I had my first opportunity to hear the sound of the new V6 engines. I hopped around different viewing spots and finally settled on the viewing platforms in front of the pit exit. What is incredibly cool about this area is that you can see the cars really close as they zoom down the straight; they were also emitting sparks, making the spectacle even better! I finally got to see the drivers do practice starts, which was strangely mesmerizing.
A couple of hours after free practice 2, I made my way to the exit of the paddock to try and to meet some of the F1 drivers and personalities. A little after midnight, they started to trickle out, and although I’d previously done this in 2012, it was still surreal to get to meet and interact with the stars I usually only see on TV. I met the ‘who’s who’ of F1, including almost all the drivers, plus Maurizio Arrivabene, Toto Wolff, Claire Williams, Susie Wolff and the BBC commentary team.
I know selfies are the new autographs, but I’m old school so I stuck to asking for signatures! And yes, they really do keep their bodies on European timezone! The last of the drivers—Vettel, Ricciardo and Kvyat—exited the paddock at way past 4am. By that time, there were only a handful of fans waiting for them, but am I glad I stayed, as I accomplished my aim, which was to get Vettel’s signature as a Ferrari driver! Beyond exhausted, I passed out in bed as the sun started to rise in Singapore.
With the ‘paddock vigil’ crossed off my list, I took it easy on Saturday. At 17:30, I headed for the track, not wanting to be late for FP3 this time around. I loitered around Zone 4 and visited my beloved Turn 14, before deciding to make the early trek towards Zones 1 & 2 in preparation for qualifying. During the lull in between FP3 and Qualifying, I found myself taking refuge in the Greek Theatre near the Singapore Flyer with a cup of gelato as my ‘dinner’. I considered a ride on the flyer, but it is no longer free of charge to racegoers, and without any cars at the track, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the ride as much.
I spent the first part of qualifying chatting with a couple of overseas friends I met through Twitter and watching the action from the viewing platform in front of the T21 straight. After Q1, I checked out some other viewing platforms in Zones 1 & 2. As qualifying ended, it was announced that the top 3 were Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen, I must admit to getting a bit carried away, along with numerous other Ferrari fans in my area, who were equally excited. I watched the post-Qualifying press conference and then remembered I had a Maroon 5 concert to watch! Funnily enough, the last time I saw Maroon 5 live was when they performed at the Padang Stage at the 2012 Night Race. As usual, the lads rocked it and I went home buzzed from Saturday’s surprises.
For the first time in my night race-attending experience, I had serious, pre-race nerves. My desire to see Vettel and Raikkonen on the podium for this race was so intense that it almost hurt. I went to the track early to scout for a good spot for the drivers’ parade. I ended up returning to the viewing platform just opposite T21, where I watched the parade last time. To my delight, I found it sparsely populated. Sadly, unlike the previous years, the drivers did not ride individual vintage cars and they were all lumped in one truck, making the parade shorter than usual.
I moved around different viewing platforms in Zone 1 prior to the warm-up lap, but I didn’t really get the view I wanted, so I opted to return to the viewing platforms in Zone 2 so I could check out a big screen TV as well. Vettel led the first few laps until the safety car came out following a collision between Massa and Hulkenberg. When Vettel kept the lead after racing resumed, I thought things would be pretty straightforward. But more surprises were in store. Lewis Hamilton retired his Mercedes after battling with car issues for most of the race and then there was a track invader! Thankfully, Vettel was able to make a clean getaway from Ricciardo after the second safety car period ended.
A few laps before the end of the race, I began thinking about invading the track for the podium celebrations. I got there just in time to hear the German and Italian national anthems, tears streaming down my face. I’m not usually such an emotional sap, but this was the first time I had seen a Ferrari driver stand on the top step of the F1 podium in person. I couldn’t help but think of Michael Schumacher as I listened to the familiar anthems, and how I wished he were still part of the F1 circus so I could see how proud of Vettel he is.
I slowly made my way back to Zone 4, picking up tire marbles along the way and reflecting on how amazing the race weekend had turned out. I couldn’t have planned it any better. This was definitely the best F1 Night Race I’ve been to, bar none. And yes, it was totally worth the two-year wait.