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Anticipation builds ahead of first floodlit practice 26 Sep 2008

The safety car inspects the track
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Singapore Grand Prix, Preparations, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Thursday, 25 September 2008 Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Singapore Grand Prix, Preparations, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Thursday, 25 September 2008 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Scuderia Toro Rosso with Jarno Trulli (ITA) Toyota.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Singapore Grand Prix, Preparations, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Thursday, 25 September 2008 Honda pitstop practice.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Singapore Grand Prix, Preparations, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Thursday, 25 September 2008 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren and Pedro De La Rosa (ESP) McLaren Mercedes Third Driver talks with Phil Prew (GBR) McLaren Race Engineer.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Singapore Grand Prix, Preparations, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Thursday, 25 September 2008

The buzz of excitement in the air in Singapore is almost tangible as the first on-track action finally approaches after months of preparation for Formula One's first-ever night race.

“It looks awesome,” Red Bull’s Mark Webber said yesterday. “I think they have done a really good job with it. Obviously I was here last year having a quick look but that was very early days. I was a little bit concerned about how bumpy it would be in places as there is some reclaimed land if you like. Trying to get that consistent could have been a challenge for them but hopefully it will drive as well as it looks in terms of its surface. I think the grip level will be reasonable from the start and it looks like they have done a really good job.”

Team mate David Coulthard echoed his sentiments. “The track looks well groomed. I look forward to seeing how much it actually flows, certain parts look sort of ‘Melbournesque’ in that it is a street track but there is some reasonable run off. Was it Phoenix or Detroit, the American tracks, where you had a 90 degree right, a 90 degree left? The end of the lap looks very much like that. It is going to be an interesting combination of the two types of track. It doesn’t look like a big traction circuit. It looks more like it is a front-end type track, so it will be interesting to see how the tyres get on and whether there will be any graining or not. I am just looking forward to getting out there.”

Bridgestone have brought their soft and super-soft compound options to this race.

Despite the flowing nature of the course, McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton said he wasn’t sure what overtaking opportunities would present themselves. “My guess is as good as yours,” he offered. “It is very wide, so I am sure there is a bit more room to do so but whether or not you can close enough to people, we will find out.”

Most of the drivers are trying to stay on European time, and admit that they are spending their downtime watching movies, doing other sports such as tennis, and eating room service. Obviously, the night aspect of the race is the keenest new factor, and they are all looking forward to that.

“It’s a unique event, the lights, I think it will look spectacular, it’s going to have a different ambience, different atmosphere; everything obviously looks different under lights, so that’s the most exciting thing for me,” Webber said.

“I would agree,” Hamilton said. “It’s difficult to point out something that we just don’t know; we just don’t know what’s going to be the most exciting thing when we get out on the track. It’s just that it’s at night. We’re driving at 200 mph at night time with lights flashing in our eyes and we just have to see how we deal with that. That’s going to be most exciting thing.”

Practice tonight will give the drivers their first taste of the new venue. “Practice, on a new circuit, is always crucial, so whether it was Valencia or Turkey a few years ago or any new venue that we go to, we might do a few more laps,” Webber said, explaining the importance of the sessions. “Obviously we’ve still got a limitation on the amount of tyres that we have given to us on a Friday, so if it’s dry all day, we only have four sets of tyres to use. You always look at the balancing act between information that you’re gaining if you’re beginning to run out of a little bit of rubber or going out there and getting some knowledge on a new venue.

“There is more of a compromise compared to a place like Barcelona where we obviously know the place very, very well and we would treat track time a little bit differently. I think you will see teams pretty keen to get a bit more mileage in than on a standard circuit and also it’s potentially quite a difficult circuit in places, so that’s another reason to do a little bit more.

“There’s also one hour between the two sessions on Friday which is a little bit unusual, so we have less time to adapt the cars or change the gear ratios and things like that than we would at a conventional Grand Prix, so there are a few more things that are a little bit different.”

Only the prospect of rain has prompted the odd note of caution. “Much has been made, of course, about the Singapore Grand Prix being a night race - a whole new dimension to Formula One. It's not without its risks, however. What if there is a major downpour - not unheard of on the equator?” commented Sir Jackie Stewart, the former world champion.

“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, where the prism of the light is magnified in rain, as many everyday road drivers will know from their own experience...

“At speeds of between 150 mph and 200 mph in open-wheeled cars, the plume of dense spray under lights will be challenging to say the least.”

In the early hours of Friday morning there was a very heavy tropical storm, and there is a likelihood of similar conditions each day this weekend. Much will depend on the timing of such downpours, therefore.

David Tremayne