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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Singapore F1 gigs are a race against time

Visiting the city-state as it celebrates the 10th anniversary of hosting Formula 1

Fans arrive at The Padang to see pop-star Ariana Grande perform as part of the 2017 Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix. Brendon Thorne / Singapore GP via Getty Images
Fans arrive at The Padang to see pop-star Ariana Grande perform as part of the 2017 Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix. Brendon Thorne / Singapore GP via Getty Images

Let’s face it, the Formula 1 Grand Prix was never a proper sporting event.

The nine-month, 20-race season has essentially become the world’s biggest travelling festival, as well as a stage for the host city to showcase its splendour and culture.

In the Singapore race last week, the scenario was no different. Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the meet, the country – renowned for its blend of serene greenery and the cutting edge metropolis – pulled out all the stops.

An international media contingent was invited to the spectacle, including journalists, columnists and travel bloggers – sorry, they are called “destination influencers” now.

The event was used by the Singapore’s tourism board to launch its new logo – the acronym SG in a tastefully retro-font with accompanying motto: ‘Passion made possible’.

When you spend a few days here, you realise Singapore loves a good three-word slogan.

As part of the F1 activation, the city was strewn with posters and billboards with lines that sounded like they came straight from a 1980s action film trailer - high octane thrills, riveting race cars, and where racing hearts, thrilling nights meet.

They are right when it comes to the latter. The Singapore race is distinguished by it being the sole night race of the season. For cynics who view the fact as a slick piece of novelty, I suggest you take an afternoon stroll down the shopping district of Orchard Road.

The humidity doesn’t hit you, instead, it envelops you in a crushing bear hug resulting in puddles of sweat, foggy glasses and chafed jeans.

With F1 drivers reportedly wearing up to five layers of clothing and sweating an average of three litres per race in mild conditions, a night race is essentially a life-saving measure. It also the dictates the entertainment programme associated with the Singapore event.

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Since it launched in 2009, the Abu Dhabi F1 has been credited with introducing the after-race concert series – essentially a mini-music festival – to other cities such as Baku and Kuala Lumpur, who over the years have hosted the likes of Mariah Carey, Usher and The Black Eyed Peas.

As the Singapore race starts at 8pm, the need to keep the crowd engaged throughout the afternoon results in possibly the biggest entertainment programme of the season.

While Abu Dhabi and other cities have after-race concerts, the Singapore event boasts pre-and post-race gigs, held at staging points on various sides of the city circuit.

To sample it you need to be both supremely organised and own a good pair of walking shoes. Those Abu Dhabi sandals – as I painfully found out – just don’t cut it. The festivities start each night at the official F1 Village, next to the starting line. Built on soft green grass the area resembles a typical festival site.

There are portable tents offering F1 programmes, merchandise, complimentary stick-on tattoos and free turns at a car simulator.

But the real colour is found in the food stalls. With Singapore being a hawker stall paradise, the Village is home to more polished spots selling a variety of tasty treats, with vegetable noodles and battered fish skin (it tastes like prawn crackers) the most halal-friendly.

It has a small stage that is geared up to host a range of local and regional acts. Perfectly timed, the last note of each night is heard seconds before the racing action begins, which is then streamed onto the many large screen projectors around the site.

But, the real race starts once the driving is done. Thousands of people begin the three-kilometre walk to the other side of the track, which is home to a large open field called the Padang, in order to check out the concert action.

The last time I was part of a sea of people walking in one direction was when I was doing the pilgrimage in Makkah. However, instead of flowing white robes, it was an explosion of Ferrari red, McLaren grey and Red Bull blue. One gentleman was walking dressed up in the green and blue overalls of Luigi from the Super Mario Bros game, complete with matching white gloves.

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Read more:

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What can we expect from Calvin Harris at his Abu Dhabi F1 show?

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It was a brisk pace – we are in Singapore after all, and punctuality matters. “Yes, we are the Germans of Asia,” says Joyce, a local who expresses pity for my poor choice of footwear.

With egos and heavyweights like pop-princess Ariana Grande, superstar DJ Calvin Harris and 1980s icons Duran Duran all enlisted for gigs, surely one of them would take their time making their way to the stage?

But there were none of those shenanigans here. Each artist arrived and left the stage on the absolute second of their allotted time, not a minute more or less.

And so, with the city announcing on Sunday that it is to continue hosting the race until 2021, I intend to return better prepared next time. After all, this is the Singapore way.

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