The 2008 Singapore Grand Prix will make Formula 1 history in more ways than one.
The latest addition to the sport's burgeoning Far Eastern portfolio sees one of only three remaining city-states in the world join Japan, China and Malaysia on the calendar, as almost a quarter of the races this season are held in an area that has produced just 20 F1 drivers in the 58-year official history of the top flight.
More than that, though, the outing will mark the inaugural street race to be run in Asia and the sport's first-ever night grand prix, with the action around the public road-based Marina Bay Street Circuit set to take place under spotlights – throwing an added unknown into a formula already heavily populated by unpredictable variables.
Whilst this weekend may mark the first time current F1 cars have roared around the streets of the island country situated just 85 miles north of the equator, though, it is not the first time the title 'Singapore Grand Prix' has been used, following a series of Formula Libre events in the 1960s and 1970s held around the Thomson Road Grand Prix Circuit, initially going under the moniker of Orient Year Grand Prix.
The event was cancelled in the wake of fatalities in the 1972 and 1973 editions and an increase in oil prices as a result of the Suez Crisis amongst other reasons.
With F1 branching increasingly out into untapped markets – and a huge wealth of enthusiasm for the sport's arrival in Singapore – the stage is set for a seminal event this weekend…and a spectacular show to boot. The country has been lashed by monsoon-like rain of late, and the combination of wet weather and an untested, challenging street layout could make for a grand prix of epic proportions.
Some years ago J.G. Farrell wrote a novel called The Singapore Grip
, and though none of its characters were too sure what the mysterious 'grip' was – a special handshake, a local drink or perhaps something far more sinister? – for the 20 F1 stars heading out on-track this weekend, 'Singapore Grip' will be the holy grail as each bids to master the 'green' circuit, with tyre supplier Bridgestone warning that 'the heavy braking and low-speed corners mean that grip will be at a premium'.
With 61 laps in store, allied to as many as five potential overtaking opportunities around the lap and its mixture of 23 turns, short, sharp hairpins and long snaking straights where maximum speeds are likely to touch nearly 300km/h, the Marina Bay Street Circuit looks certain to provide a stern test of every car's versatility – and of its driver's car control.
“The Singapore street circuit will be a maximum downforce track with a low average speed of just under 170km/h,” acknowledges Renault's executive director of engineering Pat Symonds, “and most corners will be taken in second gear. Like any street circuit, the existing surface is expected to be quite low-grip and bumpy, so getting the car to ride well will be all-important.
“Before we get to Singapore and walk the track, it is difficult to pick out potential overtaking opportunities. The Anderson Bridge, for example, looks to be very narrow, whereas other parts of the lap are run on dual carriageway.