One of the ideas behind staging a race in the streets of the city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula was to try to recreate in Asia the cachet of the most famous and glamorous race of the series, the Monaco Grand Prix on the cliffs above the Mediterranean.
In many ways, the goal has been achieved. Run at night in the central area — it was Formula One’s first night race — with the glorious skyline of the Asian financial hub, the image of the Singapore Grand Prix is clearly one of glamour, jet-setting and exciting nightlife.
Singapore is one of the Asian Tigers — along with Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan — and has been independent since 1965 after a brief period united with Malaysia. Before that, it had been under British rule since the early 19th century, when it was an outpost of the East India Company. It was occupied by the Japanese during World War II, but then returned to British rule before becoming internally self-governing in 1959.
Singapore is the fourth-biggest financial center in the world. Like Monaco, it has gambling, and it is the second-biggest casino market in the world. Its port is one of the five busiest in the world. The city still has a feel in many parts of the old colonial occupation, with much of the original architecture still around, and famous names like Raffles Hotel, founded in 1899, still in existence.
The track, which winds around the bumpy, dusty streets and is used only for the Formula One race, receives mixed reviews from the drivers, however.
Mark Webber, a driver at the Red Bull team, said that he dislikes the course because it is too slow. His teammate, the defending champion Sebastian Vettel, who has a chance to win the drivers’ title again this weekend in Singapore, has a different opinion.
“I think we will just do Singapore as we do all the other races this year,” he said. “Try to go step by step. I love the circuit, I had a nice race there with Fernando — he finished first.”
He was referring to the Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso, who won the race in 2008 and last year.
“Singapore is probably the best one for our characteristics of our car,” Alonso said. “And I love the Singapore circuit.”
It was in Singapore in 2008, at the inaugural race, that Alonso won the race in the Renault team in what a year later would prove to be a big scandal. The Renault team directors had asked Alonso's teammate, Nelson Piquet Jr. to crash on purpose to bring out the safety car. That in turn helped Alonso's strategy and he won the race.
Racegoers stay up late to watch the race. By day, they visit the city and some even spend time at the beaches in Malaysia. Singapore has also combined the race with a series of rock concerts that run during the race weekend, and although the concerts were staged a long walk from the track the first year, last year the organizers moved the music venue close to the circuit.
There is no need to use a car in the central area as it is easy to take public transportation to the track. Although the race and all the track action happen late, Singapore is a vibrant city that stays open all night. Outdoor food stalls are open for service throughout the night, and the food is excellent and inexpensive.
There is live music, dining — a national past time, with a vast variety of food — and entertainment throughout the city, in areas like Clarke Quay, Robertson Quay and Chinatown. And because Singapore has strict police surveillance, laws and punishments, foreigners feel extremely safe walking the streets no matter what time of day or night.