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The glitz and glamour of Singapore: Formula 1’s original ‘night race’

A firm favourite on the F1 calendar, Kieran Jackson discovers what lures millions of tourists to the Marina Bay Sands resort

Saturday 16 September 2023 10:35 BST
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The Marina Bay area attracts millions of tourists every year
The Marina Bay area attracts millions of tourists every year (Getty)

While racing under the lights has become a routine sight on the Formula 1 calendar, such is the sport’s worldwide boom and expansion, there is only one original ‘night race’. The twists and turns of the Marina Bay Street Circuit, located right in the epicentre of Singapore, are still as popular as when the race was first held in 2008.

Pushing the boundaries of what is capable, designing and implementing a racetrack in the heart of the city-state’s bustle, the event has served to grow the visibility of Singapore worldwide.

Now, it is one of the premium tourist attractions in south-east Asia. The Marina Bay complex, spearheaded by the iconic three-tower Marina Bay Sands hotel and rooftop infinity pool, serves thousands of workers and tourists every week.

Yet at no time is it more frenetic than race weekend – and here’s how you can enjoy it.

The race

The Marina Bay Street Circuit returned with a bang last year, following two missed races in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.

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The typically unpredictable post-summer weather spiced up the 2022 edition, with Red Bull’s Sergio Perez beating the chasing pack and unrelenting humidity to secure a memorable victory on the damp 4.94km track.

Created by famous circuit designer Hermann Tilke – who designed tracks in Bahrain, Shanghai and Austin to name a few – the Marina Bay Street Circuit is a harbourside, 19-turn track which weaves in and around the city centre.

With breathtakingly fast straights and pernickety quick corners, it presents the best drivers in the world with a unique challenge. Add in humidity levels which can reach over 80 per cent amid track temperatures up to 40C, it is the stickiest and most physically challenging race of the season.

The Marina Bay Street Circuit is home to Formula 1’s original ‘night race’ (Getty Images)

Its debut, in 2008, resulted in the infamous “Crashgate” scandal that rocked the sport and continues to trigger storylines today. A dark cloud over F1 was not a dark cloud over Singapore, though. Memorable moments since include the notorious “Singapore sling” chicane, four-time winner Lewis Hamilton’s lap for pole position in 2018 and Sebastian Vettel’s final F1 victory in 2019 for Ferrari.

Hospitality packages range from £4,495 to £10,000 per person and are fully sold out for this weekend. As well as official viewing spots in grandstands and boxes, views from hotels and city skyscrapers can also give a glimpse of F1 cars racing at speeds of up to 200mph.

This year, Max Verstappen is looking to extend his record-breaking win streak to 11. But could Singapore be where he meets his end? The flying Dutchman is yet to win at Marina Bay, nor has he ever claimed pole position either.

What to do

Gardens by the Bay

Situated a stone’s throw from the Marina Bay Sands complex, Gardens by the Bay is a nature park with a difference: namely, three waterfront gardens, with one of them incorporating the Flower Dome – the largest glass greenhouse in the world.

The site only opened in 2012, having been announced in 2005, and is seen as a national heritage site and Singapore’s primary urban outdoor space. It hosts 18 “supertrees”, with an elevated walkway between two of them for tourists to take in the spectacular panoramic view.

Gardens by the Bay is a must-see attraction in the heart of Singapore (AFP via Getty Images)

There were more than eight million visitors to the gardens in 2022, with a portion of them undoubtedly attending the light and music show that takes place every night.

Infinity Pool

An often-seen feature on social media, the Infinity Pool at the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel is a must-see on your itinerary.

Whether taking a dip as a guest of the hotel or having a glimpse via the adjoining Sands SkyPark Observation Deck , the pool gives a memorable view of the Singapore skyline, and is open every day (6am to midnight).

A view of the Infinity Pool at the top of Marina Bay Sands hotel (Marina Bay Sands)

ArtScience Museum

Branded as a “different kind of museum”, this downtown Singapore spot immediately catches the eye with its quirky lotus flower architecture.

The museum hosts a number of touring exhibitions, including the Sensory Odyssey from Paris that presents a multi-sensory journey through the natural world, and the permanent exhibition Future World: Where Art Meets Science. Visit during daylight hours or at night, with a refreshing walk along the waterfront promenade.

The specacular ArtScience Museum on the waterfront promenade (AFP via Getty Images)

Where to stay

The most luxurious option in the vicinity is the three-towered Marina Bay Sands hotel. Towers one and two have just undergone a $1billion renovation programme, with luxury rooms and suites with magnificent views either side of the promenade and Gardens by the Bay.

Over 850 rooms have been replenished - with stylish new furnishings and curated premium amenities - with the transformation set to expand to tower three by 2024.

A view of the skyline from one of Marina Bay Sands’ new luxury suites (Marina Bay Sands)

Adjoined to the hotel are a number of boutique shops and restaurants, as well as a state-of-the-art gym and 15,000 sq metre casino. Year-round festivals – such as 21 days of luxury fashion events in October – keep the resort bustling with life, while Marina Bay Sands has recently partnered with Ferrari, so much so that a race car is on display in the lobby over the race weekend.

Room prices start at £454 a night (doubles, room only).

Where to eat

Within the Marina Bay Sands resort, the CUT restaurant by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck offers a pristine eating option, with a selection of premium steaks and seafood alongside first-class customer service. Japanese restaurant WAKUDA offers an innovative, different take on Japanese classics.

RISE brings an “eat-what-you-want” start to the day for breakfast, with everything from full English to Singapore-style laksa on offer.

Out on Beach Road, the Raffles hotel is a terrific option for afternoon tea – starting at £47 – while Restaurant Zen holds three Michelin stars for its combination of Nordic-Japanese cuisine on Bukit Pasoh Road.

Weather

Hot and humid. Temperatures fluctuate generally between 26C and 34C, with humidity between 70–80 per cent.

Tropical weather, though, can bring regular rainfall and thunderstorms throughout the year.

Travel essentials

Getting there

There are daily direct flights with British Airways and Singapore Airlines from London, with the Rain Vortex Jewel in terminal 2 in Singapore Changi Airport a sight to see itself – it is the world’s tallest indoor waterfall.

A view of the Rain Vortex Jewel - the world’s tallest indoor waterfall - at Singapore Changi (Getty Images)

Within the city, get around using the impressive and air-conditioned transit system – the SMRT – or simply get a GrabTaxi, south east Asia’s answer to Uber.

More information

Please visit the Singapore Tourism Board or the Marina Bay Sands resort website for extra details.

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