Singapore Grand Prix: Drivers worry about bumps in the night
Massa is best lights rider as new dawn for the sport begins after sun goes down. By David Tremayne in Singapore
Sunday 28 September 2008
Forget the floodlights. Running in artificial light has been the least of any driver's problem here. But talk about the bumps, or the kerbs in the chicane, and that has been getting their eyes rolling.
Despite that, the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix has, so far, been adjudged a roaring success, a tribute to the effort that has gone into creating a little history as the first F1 night race, and the first street race in Asia.
The 5.067km circuit weaves its way round one of the world's busiest cities whose buildings provide a spectacular backdrop and the inhabitants have taken the sport to their hearts. "I do hope that people have now changed their idea that this is a stupid idea," said commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone, who came up with the idea so F1 could participate in such an exotic, far-flung location yet be televised at prime time in Europe. Any vox pop would suggest that few now regard this as folly.
Everyone came here worried about visibility. Would the shadows play havoc as drivers threaded their way around beneath the 1,500 lights that had been specially erected? Fernando Alonso, who expressed concerns in March, was still not convinced. "In terms of the lighting, when I walked the track I was impressed, but behind the wheel at 300 km/h some parts of it are a bit dark," the former champion suggested. "But despite that, this is an amazing opportunity for the spectators to attend a night race."
The world champion Kimi Raikkonen said: "The visibility is great and you don't really feel you are driving at night with all the lights on the track," adding: "You don't look at the sky, so it doesn't make any difference."
Lewis Hamilton said the effort to get a good lap time was double what a driver would expend at Monaco, hitherto seen as one of the most physically challenging circuits on the calendar and the one Singapore would most love to emulate."I don't particularly think the lighting has an effect, although maybe you have to concentrate a bit more," he said. "The main thing is that it's such a challenging track and keeps you very busy, so a 20-lap run is going to be very tough – particularly with the heat."
Even though qualifying began last night at 10pm local time, the ambient temperature was still 30c. Even Jenson Button and Hamilton, arguably the two fittest drivers, were sweating in the cockpits.
"You get no breeze coming in anywhere. In that respect it's like Malaysia, but the circuit is more demanding," Hamilton explained. "It's all right for Heikki," he added, gesturing at his Finnish McLaren team-mate Kovalainen, "because he was pretty much born in a sauna. It shouldn't be a problem for him".
And then there were the bumps, which threw Mark Webber's Red Bull into a wall after only three laps onFriday, and the chicane kerbs in Turn 10 over which Giancarlo Fisichella aviated his Force India into another in practice yesterday.
Hamilton added: "Through certain corners there was lots of bottoming, and when you hit a bump it would throw the car around quite a bit. On my first proper run I managed to find a half-decent line but the car was still bottoming in places. I was able to get more comfortable with the car; on first impressions there seems to be quite a lot of grip on the track so you can brake quite late into the slower corners. It felt pretty hardcore at first, and I don't believe we ride the bumps better than anyone else. For sure, some cars are bottoming more than others, but we've done a great job trying to avoid it. We still have it, to an extent, but it isn't a problem."
And he had some sage advice for Fisichella. "It is what it is – a Mickey Mouse corner," he said of Turn 10. "If you stand next to it you can almost draw a line from apex to apex to apex. We carry some serious speed into it and if you have a brake problem there you could be in trouble. It isn't frightening if you do touch a kerb, but it reminds you not to do it again."
For all the brilliance of the setting, however, there is little likelihood of a lot of overtaking in the race. "It's possible," Kovalainen conceded, "but the reality is that it's very difficult. It looks as though there is less chance here than there was in Valencia, which isn't a very good sign." And that meant that qualifying would be even more important.
Hamilton was lucky to scrape through the second session 10th and on the cut-off point after having to abort one lap and then scratch round in traffic to get a decent time after another mandatory trip to the FIA's scales. Massa had no such problems and dominated the final session. "The car was just perfect, so nice to drive smoothly, and I managed to do a perfect lap," he said. "It's a great feeling, when you come to the last corner and know you can't make any mistake."
Hamilton counted himself lucky to beat Raikkonen for second on the grid. "Obviously it was not as smooth sailing as it was for some, but we are in a good position. My lap was by no means perfect but in the position we are in, and with the strategy we have, we are looking quite good."
Massa made the point that concentration will be crucial on a track full of potential traps and so this will be one of the toughest races of the year. "We won't be able to overtake here," Hamilton said bluntly. A remake of Valencia, then? "Most likely."
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