the night

because the night 1

That’s exactly the case with night races: Bernie Ecclestone was already talking about these back in the 1990s. The idea of races under the lights, giving a new dimension to the cars and crucially allowing Far Eastern venues to host grands prix at television times that were acceptable to Europe – rather than at dawn as had been the case previously – was something that clearly intrigued him. To make the miracle possible, when it came to lighting at least, an Italian firm was called upon: owned by Valerio Maioli, from Ravenna, who was a huge F1® fan but sadly died at the beginning of this year. Millions of watts were needed to turn more than five kilometres of Marina Bay street circuit into daytime by night. Not only were there plenty of 90-degree corners – standard for a street circuit – but also some straights that immediately allowed an average speed of more than 170kph (as opposed to 160kph around the streets of Monte Carlo; an eternal reference for F1® street venues).

So F1® night racing got underway in 2008: the same year that night racing also came to MotoGP, in Qatar. The bikes actually beat F1® to it, with their race having taken place in springtime, as opposed to autumn for the Singapore Grand Prix. But what a race that turned out to be… Felipe Massa, for one, will never forget it. The Brazilian got underway from pole position and set a scorching pace, but he was to be stopped in his tracks by an incident that has never been seen in F1® since. The external fuel line became trapped in the fuel filler of his Ferrari, and when the blameless Massa set off again, the whole thing was ripped off the rig, sending fuel spraying down the pit lane. Massa was leading the race and missed out on the precious points that could have taken him to the world championship title that year, which eluded him at the final race of the season, by one solitary point to McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton.

because the night 2

But of course, that was far from all. The first Singapore Grand Prix was won by Fernando Alonso – his penultimate win with Renault (he went on to win two weeks later in Japan as well) – after a grand prix that went on to re-write sporting history. Alonso won the race after Renault deliberately planned an accident following a spin from the team’s other driver: Nelson Piquet Junior. The subsequent inquest placed the blame firmly at the door of team principal Flavio Briatore and technical director Pat Symonds: the incident also provoked the wrath of Nelson Piquet Senior, whose son was suspended from the team after just 10 races the following year. The result is that Briatore no longer plays an active part in Formula 1®, despite having been one of the people in the inner circle who had been tipped to take over the reins of the sport in the post-Ecclestone era. Pat Symonds had to spend a number of years in exile before finally returning relatively recently as technical director of Williams.

because the night 3

But this is all in the past. Now the Singapore Grand Prix is about to celebrate its ninth running, and it does so with a very special place on the calendar. There are other races that finish after sundown, such as Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. But the only lights-to-flag night race of the year takes place between the skyscrapers of the celebrated Asian city-state, which has marked itself out as a key commercial and cultural hub. The technical challenge is huge. There are slow and fast sections that alternate around the lap, while the trickiness of the circuit, along with the heat and humidity, provide yet more hurdles for drivers and cars to overcome. The same is true for the tyres: the softest compounds have been selected to offer maximum grip through the many corners where even the wings don’t generate much downforce. However, they have to resist a race that is long in any case and often lengthened further by the Safety Car: to the maximum limit of two hours. This year Pirelli will take to the track with the three softest tyres in its range: P Zero Yellow soft, P Zero Red supersoft, and P Zero Purple ultrasoft (on its fourth outing of the year after Monaco, Canada and Austria). These hues form an essential part of the brilliant multi-coloured spectacle that makes Singapore truly unique. Because the night...

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