Panasonic Toyota Racing takes a step into the unknown this weekend with the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix as, not only is this the first time the city state has hosted the F1 world championship, but it is also the first time that any grand prix has been held at night.

The island of Singapore lies on the southern tip of the Malayan peninsula and, with an area of just over 700 square kilometres, is the third smallest state to host a grand prix, after Monaco and Bahrain. However, with over four million inhabitants, it is a bustling metropolis and just the sort of place that Bernie Ecclestone wants to introduce to F1.

The new street circuit, which is 5.067km long and features 23 corners, is located in the Marina Bay area of Singapore City and includes iconic landmarks such as the Singapore Flyer big wheel, the Esplanade and Raffles Boulevard, all of which will be illuminated especially for the occasion. The layout is not just spectacular in terms of the surroundings, however, but also features several unusual characteristics, as the drivers travel over the Anderson Bridge, under a grandstand and through the 300km/h turn six; claimed to be the fastest corner on an F1 street circuit.

And, of course, the cocktail of glamour, novelty and challenge brings an obvious comparison to another street circuit.

"It can definitely be the 'Monaco of the East' because of the character of the circuit," Toyota senior general manager Pascal Vasselon admitted, "But it could be also the 'Nurburgring of the East' because we are talking about 23 corners, which starts to sound like the old Nurburgring!"

Veteran driver Jarno Trulli concurs although, as a driver, his priority is to understand the finer points of the layout in order to get maximum performance out of his TF108.

"I've seen the plans and the grand prix looks amazing so far, although you always need to drive the track first before having a proper idea of it," he says, "You need to understand the corners and the speeds so you know more about the set-up and the kind of downforce we are going to run. It is a new challenge because we don't know the track or the conditions, so it will be interesting."

Despite the incredible location, it is the novelty of racing at night which has created a wave of anticipation in F1 circles. Many team members at Panasonic Toyota Racing have experience of competing at night from the team's adventures in the Le Mans 24 Hours, while others, such as Timo Glock in Champ Car, have experienced it elsewhere in their careers.

Unlike at Le Mans however, the TF108s will not be equipped with headlights. Instead, around 1500 floodlights have been installed around the entire track to ensure near-daylight conditions for the drivers. Glock last raced under lights during his 2005 Champ Car season, when he finished eighth in a 400km race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, so he might be more prepared than most of his rivals for the challenge ahead.

"The main issue is that you are driving at a different time of day," the German explains, "Normally, you would be resting in an evening but, in Singapore, the race will start at 8pm. They will give us as much light as possible but, as it is a night race, I don't expect it will be like daylight in every corner. That is fine though - driving at night is a fun experience and it is definitely a really good show for the fans - and that is the most important thing."

For the drivers, adapting to the different timetable is the key issue but, for other team members, that is just part of the conundrum of racing at night. An observation team of engineers and logistics experts visited Singapore in July to witness a lighting test and study the impact artificial lights will have on team operations before returning home to formulate their preparations.

"We have looked at different things," chief race and test engineer Dieter Gass reveals, "For example, we have looked at a pit board which is visible at night, and we have to make sure everything is visible in the garage and on the pit wall. Also, the display on the steering wheel might need to be different because normally it has to be quite bright in order to be visible on a sunny day."

Toyota has devoted a lot of energy to minimising the effect of the unique timetable on team members, which is the single biggest logistical challenge of the new circuit.

"That has been the biggest concern," team manager Richard Cregan admits, "All the other logistical matters are pretty much the same as with any other flyaway race, but we have worked closely with the FIA and FOM in deciding the timetable, and we have worked internally to come up with an appropriate daily schedule because you can't have guys starting work at 8am and leaving at 3am - that would not be fair. So we have come up with solutions to shift the whole working day later."

It is not simply the absence of daylight and the unusual timetable which could create a challenge in Singapore, however, as September evenings often see the humidity of the day breaking into heavy rain. The teams will also experience the unusual situation of air and track temperatures falling during the course of the race and practice sessions.

"I think, for us, the biggest challenge will be the temperature," says president John Howett, "The surface temperature of the track will be very low and, normally, F1 tyres work best in higher temperatures. Then, of course, at that time of year, there's a high probability of rain, so we will face difficulty with temperature, made worse possibly by heavy rain. Night racing is a challenge, but we're a team that has come from Le Mans, so we should be able to handle that quite easily."


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