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."