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Official Review by Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
In 2008, Singapore inaugurated the first night race in Formula 1 history. Since then, the race has grown in popularity and prestige, bringing this tiny city-state plenty of recognition and tourism dollars every September. The first five years have been so successful that another five-year contract was signed during the 2012 race, ensuring plenty more racing action in this tiny country in Southeast Asia.
The race is run on city streets around Marina Bay, near the downtown core. Days before the event, workers begin installing stands and closing streets to normal traffic in preparation for the weekend that will follow. As with each F1 race, Friday is a 2-practice day, the third practice is Saturday followed by qualifying, with the race on Sunday. There are two other lesser-known races as well so each day is filled with events from 3pm onwards.
There are dozens of ticket options, most of which have you in a specified grandstand seat, although walkabout tickets are also available, which are cheaper but force you to stand during the race. The circuit is divided into 4 zones and you may be restricted to certain zones depending on your ticket, with Zone 4 the largest and least expensive, while Zone 1 is where the pits are located.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The choice for food really depends on what zone you are in. Zone 4 is big but seemed to have surprisingly few food options. There were a few stalls near gate 6, but the vast majority of concessions were over at the Padang, a large park area with a stage at the front, which is where the post-race concerts are held.
Underneath the Singapore Flyer is a very nice collection of hawkers known as the Singapore Food Trail. Hawker centers are essentially like food courts, with numerous small concessions selling all varieties of local food at very reasonable prices. Overall, food and drink options were affordable and offered good variety that you would not find in a typical sports venue. Mostly they were Singaporean delicacies such as Satays (12 for S$12) and noodles, but there were Indian and Chinese choices too. The food I had was pretty good, and with beer actually cheaper than on the outside, it was hard to complain here.
There is nothing like an F1 race, but it gets even better on a city circuit and even more interesting when it is at night. The roar of the engines, the lights of the city, the smell of gasoline, and the flash as a car zooms past faster than you can even watch it. This is a truly unique event and I suspect the atmosphere here cannot be duplicated elsewhere.
Even during the practice sessions on Friday, there is a palpable sense of anticipation as the cars make their first foray onto the street. I have been to a couple of F1 races run at tracks rather than a city circuit and the buzz cannot be compared. Standing at Turn 1 as the cars race past for nearly two hours is a sports high that cannot be matched.
The city is Singapore. I don't need to go on, but the venue is also the major tourist area of the city during the rest of the year, so you can spend the entire day around here before seeing the race. Just a few minutes away you will find Singapore's major nightlife scene at Boat Quay, where countless bars stand riverside, most with plenty of TV screens for sports fans. The Fullerton Hotel stands next to gate 6; check out the Post Bar inside for some upscale cocktails before or after the race.
During the race, many fans didn't bother to watch the action live, but chose to follow on the large screens scattered about. So I'll dock a point for that. There's not a lot of cheering (what's the point with so much noise generated by the cars!), but that's not to say that fans are quiet, they are following the race closely; and they were knowledgeable and enjoying themselves immensely.
About an hour before the race, the drivers are paraded around the circuit in classic cars, waving to the assembled throng and the fans respond with loud cheers. It is an interesting tradition that gives the fans a chance to see their favorites without helmets.
There are 10 gates scattered around the circuit, and once inside, plenty of room to walk around. Those areas with the best vantage points do get crowded quickly but you can always find a spot to watch. You can even take a taxi right up to the gate, but don't bother driving yourself; there is no convenient parking available.
Even leaving the race was hassle-free; after a short walk I was on the subway and on my way back to my hotel.
There are some areas that get crowded as you walk from one zone to another and the bridges that cross over the circuit can slow you down a bit, but this was well managed by event staff, who kept people walking on the proper side of the path thus avoiding any human traffic jams.
Toilets are mostly of the portable variety but they are plentiful and I never saw any waiting.
Tickets are not cheap. If you want to watch only the race, the least expensive option in 2012 was a S$168 (US$ 135) Zone 4 walkabout ticket that was only good for Sunday. Zone 4 includes the Padang, a large park area surrounded by concessions and the concert stage. This zone also contains the Esplanade Bridge, one of the faster areas on the circuit. Along here are raised viewing platforms but these become extremely crowded as the race approaches and you are forced to stay there the whole time to save your spot.
Another option is the Premier Walkabout, which allows you access to all four zones. This is not available as a 1-day ticket though, you must buy all 3 days at S$448. I was fortunate to find someone who sold me the Premier Walkabout for Friday and Sunday only at a reduced rate, but even then, you are looking at $200 just to stand.
If you wanted a seat, you were looking at S$298 for a 3-day ticket in the Bay Grandstand, which has only a small section of track in front of it, and prices get progressively more expensive as you move towards better seats. The best are those in front of the pits and at turn 1, and a 3-day ticket there cost a whopping S$1,288.
For those who are willing to look around though, there are other options. For example, on Friday evening during practice 1, I was fortunate to find myself next to One Raffles Link, which hosts an Irish bar called Durty Nelly's. From here you can watch the cars race along Raffles Blvd until they hit turn 7, a sharp left turn that requires sudden braking and immediate acceleration off the turn. It was free to sit here and enjoy a beer while the drivers test the course. It was amazing to watch the differences in the driver skills as those at the top of the sport and with better cars were able to brake much closer to the turn, while the bottom feeders slowed down well in advance. There are some areas where there is no fence so you can get some good pictures, but don't forget your earplugs, it is very loud here. Durty Nelly's is under renovation in 2012 but should be reopened in 2013.
The Singapore Flyer is the giant Ferris wheel that lies near the final turn. As it is inside the circuit, premium ticketholders get unlimited free rides, a S$33 value. Amazing to watch Formula 1 cars zooming around 140 meters below you.
They sell radio headphones at every race and you can use them at any F1 race. These allow you to listen to the race commentary and stave off deafness.
Upon completion of the race, fireworks were set off which made for an interesting sight with the Singapore Flyer in the distance.
Finally, each day has plenty of entertainment, with the main stage hosting a name act after each day's action. Katy Perry was the headliner this time and there are many who are not interested in the race but buy tickets just for the concerts.
Overall, an F1 race is something that any sports fan should experience. There are races all around the world, including one in Montreal and now Austin as well. The 2012 season has been a welcome change after Sebastian Vettel's domination in 2011, with several different drivers taking home the flag. Make no mistake, this is the pinnacle of racing and is one of the most thrilling spectacles out there. If you've never seen an F1 race, this might be the one to check out. If economics prevent you from going on Sunday, try to find a Friday night ticket. Far fewer fans come out for the practices, so it is easier to get around and see everything that you want to.
Member Review by sportsroadtrips
There is nothing like an F1 race, but it gets even better on a city circuit and even more interesting when it is at night. The roar of the engines, the lights of the city, and the flash as a car zooms past faster than you can even watch it. This is a truly unique event and I suspect the atmosphere here cannot be duplicated elsewhere. The atmosphere at an F1 race is unique and I can see why these fans spend the money just to be a part of it.
6 Raffles Blvd
Marina Square, Singapore 039594
65 6338 8023
1 Fullerton Square
Singapore, Singapore 049178
65 6733 8388
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