Hamilton clocks in for night-riding

Championship leader to operate on European time for first floodlit grand prix
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The Independent Online

It is hard to remember quite when a motor sport event has been so eagerly awaited as the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix. On Sunday there will be the first night race in Formula One's glittering history and also the first street race in Asia as the commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone continues to seek the challenge of fresh horizons.

Ignoring the brush-off he received from the FIA international court of appeal on Wednesday, and accordingly nursing only a single point lead over Ferrari's Felipe Massa in their world championship struggle, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton remained upbeat as he looked ahead to a weekend in which the key imperative for the drivers and teams will be to remain on European time even though Singapore is seven hours ahead of Britain. Today's opening free practice does not start until 7pm local time, qualifying tomorrow until 10pm and the race itself at 8pm.

"I'm looking forward to seeing what the track will be like to race on," he said. "It is going to be an exciting weekend. The race will be quite a fun challenge, and I like a challenge. I've never raced at night before, but I don't think it is going to be a problem. It doesn't seem to be a problem in other sports and there have been huge preparations for this, so I think it will be great. We are racing on another street circuit, which are a particular favourite of mine. It is wide and fairly flowing in nature, which is not what you usually expect."

The 5.067km (3.16 mile) track, already unusual in being anti-clockwise, winds through one of the world's most evocative cities, and speeds over 290km/h are predicted on its long straights. Despite the lukewarm reception that the season's other new track, Valencia, received last month, organisers have high hopes of creating an Asian rival to Monte Carlo.

The temporary lighting system comprises 108,423 metres of power cables, 240 steel pylons and some 1,500 light projectors, creating light four times brighter than that used at most sports stadiums.

"Singapore is going to be a unique challenge for every member of the team," Hamilton says. "Our doctor has prepared a very precise schedule for the drivers to stick to because all the sessions are so late in the day. Essentially we must not acclimatise to the local time, which is totally different to how we normally operate. Our training programmes ensure that over a race weekend we are at peak performance during the afternoons and as a result we are going to be staying in European time so this doesn't get disrupted.

"Apparently not acclimatising is much harder than adapting, because your body naturally wants to change. For the drivers, our meal, waking and sleeping rhythms will all be in European time, for example we will get up early afternoon for breakfast, have supper at 1am and go to bed at around 3am. It will be very different preparation to any other race but we'll try and do the best job we can."

While Hamilton was enthusiastic, however, Sir Jackie Stewart expressed reservations. "I'm not convinced that street races are where we should be going, mainly because of the considerable investment that is required to lay them down and then almost break them up again on an annual basis," Stewart says. "It's also considerably more difficult to make it both exciting and safe – a combination that is absolutely imperative for the long-term future of Formula One.

"Much has been made, of course, about the Singapore Grand Prix being a night race," he adds. "It's not without its risks, however. What if there is a major downpour? – not unheard of on the equator.

"Formula One race cars, travelling at high speeds, cause considerable spray. In broad daylight it's difficult for the drivers to see much. Add to that darkness with overhead lighting. At speeds of between 150mph and 200mph in open-wheeled cars, the plume of dense spray under lights will be challenging to say the least. Let's hope it stays dry."

Formula One firsts

1950: First race

The British Grand Prix held at Silverstone in May 1950 opens the first Formula One championship. It was won by Alfa Romeo's Giuseppe Farina, who was also the first world champion.

1953: First death

Chet Miller, a veteran American driver, is killed in practice for the 1953 Indianapolis 500 – then part of the F1 calendar.

1958: First Brit

Mike Hawthorn is the first British driver to become world champion. He was killed a year later.

1968: First ads

Forty years ago Lotus paved the way for F1 sponsorship when their 49 car carries adverts for Gold Leaf tobacco.

1976: First in Asia

Japan's Fuji Speedway hosts the first grand prix in Asia, James Hunt finishing third in the rain to pip Nikki Lauda to the world title.