I have been a fan of F1 racing since I was young watching Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost on the BBC every other weekend while listening to Murray Walker and James Hunt doing the commentary. With a milestone birthday this year I decided that I wanted to tick off a bucket list item by attending a Grand Prix for the first time. I didn't want to go to any Grand Prix though, I wanted specifically to go to the Singapore Grand Prix as a) it was the race closest to the date of my birthday and b) it is a night race which makes the whole event more spectacular.
Therefore in January I booked a flight and hotel package to go to Singapore for a weekend, leaving Glasgow on the Wednesday night and arriving in Singapore on the Thursday night local time, returning home on the Monday morning after the race on the Sunday night. Crazy as it seemed, I was travelling over 7000 miles for a weekend.
I purchased my race tickets in May while they were still available at a discounted price, opting for grand stand tickets at turn 2. This would allow me a view down the main straight, the pit exit along with turns 1 and 2. I opted to have the tickets delivered to me and received them in August.
Formula 1 is one of the few sports that allows spectators to take DSLR cameras and lenses into the event, with the stipulation that any photos taken are for personal use, therefore I would be taking my camera gear with me to Singapore. Emirates who I was flying with limit hand luggage to 7kgs in economy. This posed me a problem as I would need to limit what camera gear I could take. After contacting a photographer on Flickr who had attended previous races I decided to take my 300 F2.8 and 16-35 F4 lenses and a 1.4x teleconverter.
Friday - Practice Day
I had planned to have breakfast at the hotel but after arriving at Changi airport around 9pm the previous night and getting to the hotel just before 11pm I found that I slept well and missed the breakfast sitting at the restaurant. This actually made it easier for me to try and keep on UK time. My hotel was located off of Orchard Road near to the Orchard MRT station. During the day the hotel provided a free shuttle bus to the Orchard MRT station which departed at 5 past every hour. With the gates opening at 2pm I decided to give myself a bit of extra time to get to the circuit and took the 12:05pm shuttle bus to the MRT station. The shuttle bus took between 10 and 15 minutes to reach the MRT station.
Tourists to Singapore can purchase a Singapore Tourist Pass at MRT stations which is valid for 1, 2 or 3 days and priced at $10 SGD, $16 SGD or $20 SGD respectively. As I was only planning on using the MRT for a return journey to the Grand Prix track I decided not to purchase a tourist pass. There are numerous MRT stations dotted around the Grand Prix track. As my seats were in Zone 1, I therefore got a ticket from Orchard MRT to Nicholl Highway MRT as this was the closest MRT station to Gate 1. The cost of a return ticket was $3.60 SGD. Including a change at Dhoby Ghaut MRT station from the North South Line to the Circle Line, it took around 25 minutes to reach the Nicholl Highway MRT station. From the Nicholl Highway MRT station it is around a 5 minute walk to the entry gate, and I arrived at the gate about an hour before the gates opened at 1pm.
At 2pm on the dot the gates were opened. The tickets are day specific tickets and are scanned on entry, followed by a bag search. My bag had the following items in it: Canon 1DIV with 300 F2.8, 16-35F4 and 1.4x teleconverter, a hat, sunscreen, a map of the circuit and a spork along with a 500ml bottle of water. Spectators are allowed to bring in 1 bottle of water up to 600ml in size. There were no issues with the bag search and after missing breakfast earlier I went to get some food. There were a variety of different food outlets offering a choice including Mexican, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Asian and western cuisines. Meals were priced in the region of $16 SGD. 500ml bottles of soft drinks were priced at $4 SGD, 500ml bottles of water at $3 SGD and beers at $14 SGD. By the time I made it to my seat I had missed the Ferrari Challenge practice session which started at 2:15pm, a start time that allowed very little time to get from the gate to your seat.
Next up after the Ferrari Challenge was the practice session for the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia which was scheduled for 30 minutes starting at 3:15pm. The practice session for the Porsche Carrera Cup would allow me get some practice photographing cars before the Formula 1 first practice session. My seat was in row 11, so not quite far enough back to eliminate the safety catch fencing from the shots. I tried shooting both Aperture priority and Shutter priority during the Porsche Carrera Cup practice.
At 16:30 the Formula 1 first practice session started. A couple of things were quickly apparent. Firstly there has been a lot of talk about the noise of the hybrid V6 engines. In person they sound a lot better than what you hear on the TV. Secondly, turns 1 and 2 are quite slow speed corners, but the F1 cars were able to carry a lot more speed into the corners than the Porsche Carrera's I had watched earlier. With the catch fencing still proving problematic for taking photographs, I decided to go and try the viewing area on the opposite side of the track at turn 2. This allowed me to get some close up photographs of the cars as they navigated turns 1 and 2 and exited the pit lane. I also tried shooting in manual mode and taking control over the Aperture and Shutter speed.
Next on track was the Ferrari Challenge qualifying. This started at 19:15 and would be the first opportunity that I had to shoot the cars at night. I went back to my seat in the turn 2 grandstand for this session. I decided to continue shooting in manual mode as I felt this offered me the best chance of getting some decent photographs. The track lighting at the Marina Bay circuit is designed to replicate daylight conditions for the drivers. This allowed me to shoot at low ISO, a low shutter speed and a relatively wide open aperture. Shooting at a low shutter speed gave a sense of movement to the cars, although this was lost a bit by the slow speed nature of turns 1 and 2. The catch fence was proving to be a bit problematic, getting in quite a lot of my shots.
The final item on Friday was the F1 second practice session starting at 8:30pm. Like the earlier session this would be 1.5hrs long, however it would be the only practice session held at night for the F1 race. I started off in my seat at the Turn 2 grandstand but quickly moved to the viewing area opposite. With around 45mins of the session left I headed to the Singapore Flyer. Zone 1 ticket holders got free admission to the Flyer all weekend and so I decided to go and have a ride on it to see what the track looked like from above. The ride on the Flyer finished around 10pm, the same time as the F1 practice session. Rather than walk all the way back to my original entrance, I walked a portion of the track that was opened up to ticket spectators to allow them to get to Zone 4.
From Zone 4 it was a short walk to Raffles Place MRT station where I was able to get a North South Line train back to Orchard MRT. A 15 minute walk saw me back at my hotel by around 11:30pm. The walk from Orchard MRT to the hotel wasn't too bad at night, but would have been a killer in the opposite direction during the day when temperatures were up above 35 degrees.
Saturday - Qualifying Day
The gates opened 1hr later on the Saturday at 3pm. However due to an error on my part when looking at my watch which was set to UK time, I arrived at the track at 2pm so ended up with an hour waiting around. Saturday would start with the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia qualifying followed by Race 1 of the Ferrari Challenge. Practice session 3 for the Formula 1 cars was 1hr long unlike the 2 practice sessions on the Friday and this was followed by Race 1 of the Porsche Carrera Cup which was a night race. After the Porsche race I went to get some food, with what seemed like half the circuit. Duran Duran were playing on stage in Zone 1 during this time, so while waiting in the food queue I was able to listen to some music. Formula 1 qualifying started at 9pm and would last 1hr till 10pm. Unlike the previous day I watched the whole days proceedings from my seat at the turn 2 grandstand. After the end of qualifying I got the MRT from Nicholl Highway back to Orchard MRT.
Sunday - Race Day
Again the gates opened at 3pm, however unlike the previous 2 days I managed to time my arrival for the gates actually opening. The Sunday had race 2 of the Ferrari Challenge and the Porsche Carrera Cup. For the Ferrari Challenge I went to the viewing area at turn 3. This gave some nice views of the cars navigating turns 1,2 and 3. After the Ferrari Challenge I went to get some food. While in the food queue, the heavens opened and didn't stop for around 40 minutes. Thankfully it stopped raining around the start of the Porsche Carrera Cup, however the wet track led to a safety car start. With it having been raining I watched the Porsche Carrera Cup from my seat. The next action wasn't till 18:30 which was the drivers parade, which saw the drivers being driven round the circuit in classic cars. I watched this from the turn 3 viewing area which by now was a lot busier. As I was quite late in getting there l couldn't get close enough to get any shots of the drivers. After the drivers parade I headed back to my seat to watch the Forumla 1 race.
And then just before the race was due to start, the rain started. This meant that for the first time in its 10 year history the F1 race would be rain affected, which would be new to all drivers. As the cars made there way round the circuit on the formation lap, the circuit commentators were speculating if there would be a safety car start. The decision was made that the cars would start as normal.
5 Lights. All Out. Go Go Go. And then Carnage.
Vettel who was on pole position cut across the track to block off Max Verstappen starting second. A fast starting Kimi Raikkonen powered up the space between the pit wall and Verstappen's car. Verstappen and Raikkonen's wheels touched sending the Ferrari careering into the side of Vettel's car. With damage to both their cars Raikkonen and Verstappen would crash out of the race and come to rest in the run off area right in front of my seat. They would also collect Alonso's car as he made his way through Turn 1, ultimately forcing him out a few laps later. Vettel led with Lewis Hamilton, the rain master, in second place. As the cars exited turn 4, Vettel spun out due to fluid leaking from his radiator and the damage he sustained. Lewis Hamilton was now leading the race, a position he would hold onto for the remainder of the race. I spent most of the race watching it either live as the cars passed by me or on the big screen opposite. One of the things I noticed was how much more speed Lewis Hamilton appeared to be carrying into the corners compared to the other drivers during the period when he was driving on intermediate tyres. There would be further safety car periods while cars that had crashed were removed from the track. In each instance Hamilton had a lead of over 10 seconds on 2nd placed Daniel Ricciardo. Due to the safety car periods the race would time out after 2hrs rather than having reached the scheduled number of laps. Hamilton won the race with Ricciardo second and Hamilton's Mercedes team mate Valteri Bottas 3rd.
After the race a gate was opened allowing for access down onto the main straight. This provided a good opportunity to see into the pits. Lots of teams put large screens up in front of their garages to prevent fans seeing in. At the Mercedes garage a large crowd stood waiting to see Lewis Hamilton, and hoping that he would come and interact with the fans the way he had at previous races where he had won. The local police however were not for having this and soon started encouraging people to move on and leave. This disappointed a lot of fans who had hoped to get a glimpse of Lewis. I slowly made my way around the track to Zone 4 where Calvin Harris was playing. Given I had to be up early for my flight home the next morning, I headed to the exit and the Raffles Place MRT to make my way back to my hotel.
I found the Singapore Grand Prix to be excellent. The organisation and entertainment laid on off the track were very good. My minor gripes were the gates could open around 30 minutes earlier each day and the fact the police were keen for everyone to make their way off the track on the Sunday night after the race before the fans had a chance to see Lewis. Yes the food and drink may be expensive but the pricing wasn't as bad as other sporting events and concerts I have been to. While I had my camera with me, I found during the actual F1 race that I preferred to sit and watch rather than take photos.
All in all it was a great weekend and I am keen to go back.
A gallery of my images from the weekend can be found here: