Singapore GP diary
skysports.com is keeping vampire hours, sorry 'staying on European time', at the Singapore Grand Prix this week.
By Mike Wise. Last Updated: September 25, 2012 5:27pm
We arrived back at about 5am this morning, although the homeward journey has proved quite a headache for some other team members, by the sounds of it, as their plane was cancelled. 'These things happen' I find myself thinking. 'It's an occasional, yet inevitable, price we pay for the gift of world travel'. 'We' is not 'me' though: I'm currently sat at home with a welcome cup of tea balanced within reach. I doubt I'd be quite so sanguine if I was on the receiving end. Connecting flights have to be made and plans have to be kept. Some of the technical guys will get three, maybe four days at home before heading to the Far East again for the first of the back-to-backs.
There was the chance to relax after the race. I hit the hotel bar at about 5.30am on Monday morning, with the 'breakfast and beer' combo realised an hour or so later. It's one that, to me, sums up these past few days; of trying to stay true to the rhythm of life on the other side of the world whilst dealing with (or simply ignoring) curveballs the situation creates. Be it track temperatures in qualifying or options on a hotel menu, everything gets turned on its head at the Singapore Grand Prix. So it was that, after a couple of glasses of Tiger followed by bacon and eggs (even the notion that food should be washed down by drink became inverted) it was finally time for bed...at sun rise, of course.
Surfacing later on Monday, there was also the possibility to go for a wander. It was certainly needed: after four days spent gazing relentlessly at the future, I needed to redress the balance. There was no time to explore the city's past in anything approaching detail, but just catching sight of a few colonial-era buildings was fine by me. Believe me there was no initial intent, but I did eventually stumble upon the famous Raffles Hotel. Time at last to be a tourist: one Singapore Sling please. Another box ticked!
'Good morning' is a salutation I can never before remember using at 4pm, but it feels like morning to me. I made the same mistake when speaking Bruno Senna after qualifying, mentioning that FP3 took place on Saturday morning (it started at 6pm). He didn't pick me up on it, though perhaps he had other things to think about. I've just had my first coffee of the day and a spot of breakfast. The GP2 Sprint Race is about to start. It's morning, right?
Conversely it felt like evening when we headed out to Newton Circus to get dinner after Friday practice. The fact it was actually 5am on Saturday does, I hope, further hammer home the point I'm trying to make. No-one was flagging; it felt fine, although 'normal' would be stretching it. And yet there was still confusion. Back at the hotel about an hour-and-a-half later, some ate breakfast whilst others were still chugging beer. One could have been forgiven for having both. I certainly considered it last night.
Our destination had been a hawker market and, in the event, there was quite a turn out: Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill to name but two. Ted, in particular, seems know Singapore like the back of his hand, or the back of a Red Bull for that matter, and he recommended a stall run by a chap called Hassan. "That lad is cooking up a storm," said Sky Sports F1 cameraman Darren 'Dazzle' Cox (who was out celebrating his...27th birthday, I think he said) as I tucked into chicken masala and an ice-cold Tiger beer.
Delicious it was, and reassuringly inexpensive. Gazing around, it seemed that most of the faces were familiar. The place was more-or-less empty as the locals had something better to do, like sleep. That left a rump of F1-types to sit and chew the fat amongst the empty bottles, dirty plates and other assorted leftovers. Soon the sun would be coming up: time for bed, in other words.
I think I'm starting to fathom why Singapore punches above its weight. It's barely a speck on the map but a leader in so many respects: the fifth largest port in the world; the fourth largest financial centre; it records healthy levels of imports and exports of manufactured products as well as commodities such as oil. You don't have to spend too long here to work out that the quality of life is very high indeed.
How so? The obvious explanation lies in a combination of blessings: a prime location for world trade and a relatively stable economic and political history (Singapore gained independence from the UK in 1963) are only going to help. But I think there's more to it than that. I've only been here since Wednesday evening and yet I already suspect they manage to fit more than 24 hours into a day.
How can it be that, when compared to other races, it's possible to work longer, sleep longer and go out and see something of the place as well? The actual cause, thinking about it, might be explained by us staying right by the track (resulting in less travel) as well as what I can only describe as a quirky schedule. The idea is to stay on European time, but time somehow stretches. The wee small hours seem longer, don't they?
Never mind 'European time', going to bed at 5.30am and waking up at around 1pm feels more like a student existence. Adapting has been little problem - and this is from someone who cannot sleep on planes. That meant 38 or so hours in between genuine bouts of shut-eye; time spent in that usual semi-catatonic state. It's probably going to become the norm in the coming weeks.
Then there's the big debate. No, it's nothing to do with Lewis Hamilton's future plans; I'm talking about whether one should wear shorts or not. Both Crofty and Ted belong firmly in the 'pro' camp whereas I haven't even packed a pair. "Yes, but you're in an air-conditioned room most of the time," says Crofty, not unreasonably. It has to be said: most people in the press room do appear 'anti', with the exception of the photographers. But then they do edge beyond the gilded sanctuary of the paddock quite a lot of the time...and carry rather more than a notebook and dictaphone.
Little more than blinking brings on a sweat here - and that's with us side-stepping the hottest part of the day. As I write, it's past 2am on Saturday and the temperature stands at 28 degrees Celsius, with 77 per cent humidity. Things are winding down at the track but it's not bed time yet - far from it. People are hot, but they're not bothered.
Why the race is so popular is also easy to fathom: the city-centre location and hours of engagement create a futuristic vista that makes the Singapore Grand Prix unique. Living like a vampire for a few days seems a small price to pay for experiencing such wonderful weirdness first-hand. I've certainly never accessed a race track via a shopping centre before.