I make travel arrangements as early as possible for cost and flight availability reasons, so had booked a Thursday 3pm arrival – at the time, F1 operated to a three-day weekend with no formal media activities slated for Thursdays; thereafter it became impossible to reschedule without massive costs penalties – even if suitable seats were available.
Getting through and from the airport to the circuit for a 5pm chat with Charles Leclerc is challenging but I make it, as our first published interviews with the Monegasque prove. Thereafter it's a matter of working through scheduled sessions and digging into speculation that two (at this stage unnamed) teams are in breach of the 2021 Financial Regulations, audits for which are due to be finalised by early October.
The working day finishes at 11pm, and I head for the metro to grab a ride to my hotel, walking on parts of the circuit to get to the station. Final touches are being applied to the track, and I spy F1 Technical Director Pat Symonds kneeling on kerbing, taking photos. He tells me they are experimenting with layers of adhesive 'rumble' strips which alert drivers to track limits through vibrations.
"When they wear out, we rip off the top one," he explains.
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In Singapore we operate to European time, effectively pushing everything out by the six-hour zone difference – thus I go to bed at 4am and wake up at what is European time (6am), so noonish (here). The Saudi Grand Prix promoter has invited select media to a brunch (at 3pm!), so I head there to start the day. I'm sat next to Prince Khalid, who heads the kingdom's motorsport activities, which is most handy.
The prince tells me that a number of circuit changes are planned for next year's race – mainly to improve 'line of sight' – but stresses the changes are voluntary and not mandated by the FIA, which has, though, approved them. Prince Khalid is a racer – having participated in Middle East championships with a Porsche – so knows better than most promoters of what he speaks when it comes to layouts.
At the circuit all hell breaks has loose about alleged budget cap 'breaches', with Red Bull and Aston Martin 'fingered' by paddock sources. I believe the hoohah is premature – as outlined here – and that at worst a team (or two) will be found to have committed minor breaches or even procedural errors, as was the case with Williams, who failed to timeously their returns in March. Such breaches usually carry fines.
During my paddock walks I pick up that Marina Bay Circuit is due to be reprofiled next year – Turns 17/18 will give away to a war memorial to be built in that sector. These are, though, unlikely to change the character of the venue, which remains one of the most challenging on the trail. Indeed, it is a pleasure to watch the drivers being well and truly challenged, and not only due to the region's stifling humidity.
Again, my day finishes after midnight: taxis are in short supply in the vicinity at that time due to being in demand from down revellers – and horrifically expensive, with one quoting me S$60 (£40) for a three-kilometre ride - so it's metro/bus/walk to my hotel, arriving 2am.
The day opens to rain, which is set to linger so I head for Suntec Mall for quick 'brunch' with colleague Edd Straw before the first paddock activity: the FIA 'team boss' conference, during which the topic is obviously alleged budget cap breaches. Indeed, so heated do proceedings become that Red Bull's Christian Horner accuses a journalist of partiality towards another team.
The burning question is: How did classified information – if all true, of course – reach other teams and the media? The FIA is fingered, but this overlooks that a number of financial staff moved teams during the past 18 months and all chief financial officers know each other – having sat on regulatory committees – and talk, possibly more loosely than do highly competitive engineers. Ultimately there are no secrets in F1…
With confirmation last week that Yuki Tsunoda is staying at AlphaTauri, only three vacant seats remain for 2023: one each at Alpine, Williams and Haas. Clever money has it that Pierre Gasly will move from AlphaTauri to first-named to form an all-Gallic driver line-up with Esteban Ocon – the two, though, endure a fractious relationship harking back to childhood karting – and leave an opening at the 'other' Red Bull outfit.
As revealed here, after various talks with folk in the loop, the cockpit will be filled by Nyck de Vries, the Mercedes 2021 Formula E World Champion who impressed upon his debut in Monza three weeks ago, leaving two vacancies. The three contenders for the Haas seat are current incumbent Mick Schumacher, veteran 'supersub' Nico Hulkenberg and potential F1 returnee Antonio Giovinazzi.
My punt is on last-named as he enjoys solid Ferrari support, while Mick S seems to have lost the Scuderia's confidence. However, the German could be in contention at Williams, where he faces opposition from Logan Sergeant, the young and well-funded American F2 driver, currently the team's official reserve. My gutfeel is Mick will exit F1 at end-2022, having had two years to prove himself. In which case no German in 2023…
Between sessions I pop in at Alfa Romeo to pursue Audi's rumoured purchase of the team – no confirmation yet – and while there catch up with Graeme Lowdon, the former Manor/Marussia team boss and currently Zhou Guanyu's adviser. I ask Graeme whether he is proceeding to Japan (he is) and how tough it is to return to the Suzuka circuit that tragically claimed the life of his then-driver, Jules Bianchi.
The pain is still evident as Graeme relates a poignant tale, one he has granted permission to share: It seems Jules' father Phillipe had no cap signed by his son, having regularly shared those he received with others, then requested replacements. He asked Graeme for help, who was unable to oblige.
Then, on his next trip to Suzuka, Graeme spied a bar server wearing a signed JB cap and offered to buy it. She declined but was willing to swap it for a Lewis Hamilton equivalent. Graeme sped to the paddock, explained the situation to Lewis who signed a cap, returned to the bar, completed the deal and sent the treasured item to the grieving family.
"I remember the power of the story Philippe told me," says Graeme. "We will certainly never ever forget Jules and Philippe's story struck a chord with me."
F1 is filled with many heart-warming stories, many of which never surface, and more is the pity. At the end of a long, rain delayed day I make it to bed at 4am.
Will it, or won't it? Rain that, is… a question even the official forecast is unable to answer with any clarity. I head for the paddock at 2pm, the humidity heavy and heat unbearable – it is seemingly hotter and moister than on the previous days, and if not certainly feels it.
First port of call is Guenther Steiner to discuss his Haas team's structure and financial performance. The Italian tells me they are (just) within 2021’s $145 million cap – logical given the size of the team, but he explains that it was tight due to the paper costs of components inflated by so-called 'fair values' of items acquired from Ferrari, the factor being around 20%. For the notional value mechanism read here.
On the way back to the media centre I pop into the FIA, then F1. At the first I chat with Deputy President for Sport Robert Reid, who runs me through the plans the governing body has to grow motorsport globally and how it intends working with member clubs to achieve its objectives; at the second I sound out the chances of the chances of a South African Grand Prix in 2024, more particularly Kyalami.
As outlined here earlier this year, F1 aims to tick the ‘Africa continent' box and, frankly, doesn’t care where, how, or with whom provided its parameters (for which read hosting fees) are satisfied – and if that means elsewhere on the continent, so be it.
I wrote back in April: "Alternately, Morocco could stage the next African Grand Prix - don't bet against it as an Africa box-ticking exercise." After all the shilly-shallying over the (non-)South African Grand Prix, F1's sights are firmly set on Morocco and will remain so unless someone very quickly tables a sustainable big-buck bid devoid of the arrogant sense of entitlement that ultimately killed off the chances of a 2023 race.
As I head back to the hotel well after 1pm I dodge construction traffic busy dismantling the circuit – within a week most if not all traces of F1 will have disappeared from the streets of Singapore until next September.
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