It was a quiet evening in my balcony after some long hours in the studio when I received the call. I had been picked again to witness the Singapore GP along with a special visit to the paddock and the Force India garage. It was that feeling of sheer joy and the adrenaline shooting up! There was hardly any relaxation after that and I wasn’t complaining. To add to it, I was told that I could take a companion along which was like a topping! So, it all began, the preparations, the plans and the excitement. Friday arrived and we were on our way, met the other winners at the airport and there was exchange of conversations about all sorts of stuff. Excitement was in the air and the thought of being in the garage didn’t let me sleep at all (not that I manage to sleep on flights much anyway). It was a cloudy morning in Singapore and, of course, I’d never felt this good coming out of Changi International ever before. There was a paddock club van waiting outside to take us to the hotel. The others were already making plans to go see some of Singapore but I wanted to get some good sleep and be fresh for the evening!
We were greeted in the hotel lobby by our sweet co-ordinator, Harriet. Had a good chat and she briefed us all on the schedule. It was time for me to crash, so, I asked the others to carry on as I’d seen enough of Singapore in the past and I really wanted a nice bed to jump in to. By the way, I’d realised that international roaming was not working for me for some reason which meant no tweets from the circuit, frustrating!
It was about 6 in the evening and after a good few hours of sleep and a walk around the locality, I was fresh and ready for the real thing to begin. We assembled in the hotel lobby, collected our grandstand passes and we were on our way! Now, I’ve been to quite a few races before, but going for a race in the evening was a different feeling. After a 15 minute drive, we were at the entrance. I could feel the excitement revving! We entered the circuit and it looked pretty familiar with the omni-present Ferrari, McLaren and Formula 1 merchandise stalls. There were the beer stalls, the food stalls and the works.
Soon we were walking by the river towards the grandstands. I had no clue, until we got on the grandstand, that our seats were right in front of the Force India garage and a few metres from the start/finish line. It couldn’t have been any better!
Right about then, the safety car and the medical car whizzed past pulling a sudden roar from the crowd. The 6.3L AMG Mercedes sounded like a loud rolling kick drum, beautiful. FP3 was about to begin.
The sounds were already starting to pour in, engines firing up, revving, wheel guns screaming, it was time! FP3 got underway and the ultimate things on four wheels began emerging one by one. I decided to put the ear-plugs aside for a while and savour the Formula 1 V8s. And I’d like to say this again, the TV cameras don’t do any justice to the sound of those beasts! In no time, the cars were flying past us at a little more than 300 kmph. I could see the amazement on the faces of the people with me. I was already feeling happy about it! The Force India cars made me skip a heart beat every time they flew past. It was very comforting to see Adrian in the top 10. That urge to tweet had to be killed as I had a dud phone with no network. Bugger!
About 5 mins to the end of FP3 and our co-ordinator jumped in to tell us it was time to visit the paddock! Did God just speak to me? I almost felt like a kid and although I couldn’t literally jump with excitement, I almost did in my head! Soon we were in the Singapore F1 paddock and I was speechless for a while..
First guy I spotted was Alex Yoong and surprisingly none of the guys with me recognized him! Then it was Ted Kravitz and again, no one recognized him either, but that’s understandable as none of them were familiar with an ITV or BBC F1 telecast. I wasn’t talking much or listening to what the garage guide was saying, I was in a world of my own, taking in the long dreamt of sight of actually being inside a F1 garage. The comms equipment, the set up area… and whoa!.. Adrian appears from inside and walks past us. I wanted to call out to him, but instantly realised that he was on his way for the qualifying debriefing and I thought it wouldn’t be a good idea to bother him at all. Out from the passage we were in the back of the garage, and there it was – the 2.4L Mercedes-Benz FO 108X V8 Formula1 engine, sat on a box! I was looking at it like it was something sent by God himself! There were a few mechanics working on the floor of the car, measuring tiny screws and fixing a new skid block (the 10mm wooden plank) onto it.
Then it was the front of the garage where the cars were parked, stripped off bodywork and waiting for us to admire every bit of them. Had a close look of the SRW and the blown diffuser, the gearbox, diffuser and the front wing. It was art all the way and then came the best bit – the steering wheel in my hands. It was surreal! I didn’t really want to let go of it, but anyway. A few more rounds of the car like it was some holy bonfire and it was time to get to the pit lane and take a look at the other garages up and down the stretch. Caught a glimpse of Jake, DC and Eddie doing their thing in front of the STR garage, had a look at all the team garages and pit walls and I felt like the world outside had shut to me. Back to the FI garage, it was time for some pictures with the FI ‘Speed Divas’ as they’re called.. 😉
That was when I spotted Andy stood in front of Tonio’s car, and I reckoned I could have a chat with him. Walked up to him, shook his hand and had a chat about the season, what he was expecting from qualifying and the remaining races. He was pretty happy to chat and said he was confident about Adrian getting into Q3 that evening. A picture, word of thanks and a final shake of the hand and it was time for us to leave back to the grandstands. But it wasn’t over yet. On our way out of the garage, I spotted Paul Di Resta! A picture and thanks and we had to leave.
Walking towards the paddock exit, there was someone in Lotus Racing overalls, stood casually outside chatting with someone (probably his trainer or manager). It was Heikki!
Qualifying was a short while away and back in the grandstand I was still thinking of the garage and the hour that seemed like a minute!
It was not a good feeling when Q1 was coming to an end and we were shocked at the results. Traffic had affected Adrian but I wasn’t sure what happened to Tonio. Anyway, I recalled Andy’s words about our good race pace. He’d also told me about Hulkenberg’s possible gearbox penalty which meant we’d have a gain in grid positions. The shocker for me was Kamui making it into Q3. Fernando took his second successive pole and there were some really delighted Ferrari fans in the stands.
And so, it was one of the best Saturdays of my life and on our way back to the hotel, it was a flurry of discussions and a lot of enthusiasm among the ones who were having their first taste of F1, never mind live!
It was time for a good night’s sleep and I took the memories of the garage into mine.
Woke up to a hot, humid, sunny Sunday and it was time for some shopping.. 😉
Soon, it was time for raceday and we were off to the Marina Bay circuit. As we entered and passed the entertainment stage, there was a sense of celebration in the air. We had some time until the race and the Porsche Supercup race was on. Had a few beers by the river and enjoyed the festival feel for a while.
It was time for the drivers’ parade and we decided to watch it from the Flyer. We could see the other grandstands and the flood-lit circuit from up above. It was brilliant!
And, soon, the big moment I’d been waiting for had finally arrived – the race start! The preparations began, there was a sea of mechanics, engineers, media people, celebs and the drivers on the grid. As we had the best seats in the house, I walked across the grandstands to have a look at the whole grid. Martin Brundle was on the gas doing his jet thing through the grid.
All the hustle and bustle and it was time for the formation lap. The cars screamed past and the mechanics rushed into the pit lane back to their garages. The formation lap done, and we had the cars lined up on the grid making a symphony of revs while we waited with baited breath for the three red lights to go. As they lit up, the cars suddenly came to life like angry tigers waiting to be unleashed. Familiar, but the closed nature of the circuit with the sound reverberating from the buildings around made it even better! A few seconds and behold! The 2010 Singapore GP was GO and I didn’t hold myself from screaming my lungs out at the start!
In a split moment the cars had flew past and I could see Adrian and Tonio close up right there! It was excitement beyond words..
But soon it was a lightning of shock as we saw Tonio coming to a halt on the screen.. I wasn’t sure what happened but found out that he had made contact and damaged his car (which was later confirmed as the suspension). Disappointment, but Adrian was on a charge and put on some smart moves over Hulkenberg and Petrov. I was on my feet every single time Adrian flew past and everytime he made up a position. Kobayashi had hugged the barrier and out came the safety car again. Adrian was up to P9 then. On the restart, Hamilton and Webber created some very angry and disappointed fans and Adrian was up to P8. The final bit was a certain yellow car in the hands of a Pole dashing his way through with fresh tires.. or was it? The screens lit up with a Lotus on fire and it was Heikki. He came around, stopped in front of us and doused the fire out himself. The crowd loved it and were cheering him through his fire-fighting endeavour.
Alonso took the chequered flag to a deafening cheer from the crowd. It was a brilliant race and the first people to run the track were three proud Italians with the Italian flag flying over their heads. I realised that these were the same people form Monza who’d come up to me during a smoke break behind the stands and started chatting and saying good things about Force India and last year’s Belgian GP.
It was a great weekend, a superb race and a priceless opportunity from Force India to visit the garage and the paddock. This weekend will remain in my memories along with the best of my life and I would like to thank Force India and everyone involved with the team who made this possible. In the course of those few days, I’ve seen fans being made and I was more than happy to share my knowledge with them and I must also congratulate Force India on winning the hearts of these new fans!
A weekend to remember for all the good things!