F1 fanfare

Singapore's Formula 1, into its sixth year, has attracted hardcore fans who turn up every year

The Lion City is set to roar again - with the engines of lightning-fast cars when the sixth annual Formula 1 SingTel Singapore Grand Prix flags off next weekend.

The only night race in Grand Prix and the only street circuit race in Asia, the event attracts not just local race fans but also dedicated followers from around the world.

For example, organiser Singapore GP estimates that 40 per cent of the attendees last year were overseas visitors, similar to the figures in previous years.

All 84,317 tickets last year were sold out, and Singapore GP is confident it will achieve a similar feat this year. To date, 96 per cent of the tickets have been sold.

F1 fans are also snapping up race merchandise. In the last five editions, 150,000 pieces of souvenir and apparel ranging from pins to T-shirts have been sold. A new range totalling 250,000 items, priced from $15 for a can cooler to $125 for a jacket, will be sold this year.

A novel product to look out for this year is a "cooling" towel, which is said to help combat the hot and humid weather here.

Besides being sold at the circuit park, official merchandise items are also available at sports retail chain World Of Sports, as well as Singapore GP booths outside Wisma Atria and at Orchard Green in Orchard Road.

For fans, watching the race is not just about catching the skilled drivers and their super-powered cars in action. As home-grown F1 fan Jasvinder Singh, 33, puts it, heading down for all three days of the race is an "all-round experience".

"The atmosphere at the Marina Bay circuit park over the three nights is always fantastic," says the assistant manager at the National University of Singapore's engineering faculty.

He caught the Singapore race in 2008 and 2009, as well the F1 races in Sepang, Malaysia, and is heading to the Marina Bay Street Circuit next weekend.

"You don't just get the action on the tracks, you get good music and good food too and there's a carnival-like atmosphere to the whole event," he says.

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ROCKY GO, 46, FROM SINGAPORE

Whenever Singaporean race fan Rocky Go heads down to the Formula 1 SingTel Singapore Grand Prix, which he has attended every year since its debut in 2008, he makes sure he is clad in navy blue, red and yellow, the colours of his favourite team, Red Bull.

"I used to be a crazy Ferrari fan and would even buy $600 Ferrari jackets to support them. But last year, I switched to supporting Red Bull instead," says the 46-year-old, an engineering officer in the construction industry.

He was won over by the skills and achievements of the team's drivers, Sebastian Vettel from Germany and Mark Webber from Australia.

"These two guys are young, energetic and daring, unlike current and past Ferarri drivers such as Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen, who always find it hard to be in the Top 5."

Mr Go, who spends about $1,000 on his F1 experience every year on tickets, drinks and merchandise, used to go with his wife in the first two years. But she was "irritated" by the loud noise from the powerful cars, so he has been catching the race alone since 2010. The couple have no children.

"It's fine with me because I always run into my colleagues or friends. We don't just watch the races but also have a few drinks and enjoy the atmosphere."

He has never been to any other F1 races besides the ones here, but he catches up on Grand Prix news whenever he can.

He still remembers the first time he attended the Singapore edition in 2008.

"Being at the track and watching and hearing the race live is thrilling and very different from watching it on television."

He also makes sure he gets tickets to the grandstand seats to get a better view of the action on the tracks. He made an exception only in 2010, when he bought walkabout tickets as he wanted to roam around the Marina Bay circuit park.

The entertainment programme off-track is another draw. "My favourite performances over the years have always been those by 1980s pop stars, such as Bananarama and Boy George."

He also looks forward to the camaraderie among strangers who support the same team.

"In the past few races, I have made friends with other car enthusiasts not just from Singapore but also from Australia, Hong Kong and Japan. It's even better when we all support Red Bull together."


BRUCE DRAKE, 57, FROM PERTH

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Australian race fan Bruce Drake follows the same routine each time the Singapore Grand Prix season swings around.

The 57-year-old flies in from his home in Perth, Australia, and lands at about 8.30 to 9pm on the Friday night of the three-day race and, within an hour, he would be sitting trackside for the final night practice.

"I book the same seat each year in the Pit Straight Grandstand, just downfrom the start and finish line, which gives you all the action on the track as well as in the pits," he says.

He also stays in Pan Pacific Singapore each time because it is located within the Marina Bay Street Circuit.

A car enthusiast, the managing director of a land surveying business has watched almost every Formula 1 race on television in the past three decades.

The inaugural Formula 1 SingTel Singapore Grand Prix in 2008 was the first race he attended - and he has not missed a single one here since.

Although there is an Australian race in Melbourne in the F1 calendar, Mr Drake says he prefers to catch the race in Singapore.

"I come back to the Singapore Grand Prix each year by myself for the excitement, the entertainment packages and to catch up with the many friendly people I have met over the past few years," he says.

He also points out that since it takes about the same time to fly from Perth to Melbourne as it does to Singapore, he prefers to come here. He is familiar with Singapore as he has been here for holidays many times since his first visit in 1979.

The grandfather of three spends about A$6,000 (S$7,081) on accommodation, airfare, tickets to the race and other expenses for the three days that he is here. Of this, about A$500 is spent on F1 merchandise, mostly from his favourite team, Ferrari.

He comes here alone as his wife feels that a weekend is too short a trip. His three sons are busy with work and it is difficult to organise a trip around their schedules.

His daily schedule during the three race days here is always packed. His visit here next weekend will be no different. He plans to get up at 7am on Saturday and Sunday and take a 10km walk around town, after which he will try to squeeze in visits to places such as the Asian Civilisations Museum and Little India, before heading to the circuit park by 3pm on each day.

"I can't think of a better way to spend three days. It is not just the race but the excitement Singapore has to offer a visitor."

Most of all, the "friendliness of the people" is what draws him back. "Everyone goes out of his or her way to make sure you feel welcome and have a great time."

Eddino Abdul Hadi


PETER GEORGE, 46, AND PAT DELBRIDGE, 43, FROM WOKING, SURREY, ENGLAND

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British couple Peter George and Pat Delbridge are avid Grand Prix fans who have travelled to catch the Formula 1 races in Silverstone in England, Spa in Belgium, Austin, Texas, in the United States and Monaco.

But for them, the Singapore edition, which they have attended every year since 2010, stands out among the lot.

"Obviously, it is the only night race, and the downtown location of the circuit makes it spectacular viewing," says Mr George, 46, an environmental consultant. "Singapore is such a fantastic city to visit anyway that coming every year is irresistible.

"The bright lights and intense action on the circuit go hand in hand with the bright lights and dynamism of Singapore. In short, a perfect combination."

Fans of the McLaren drivers - they both live in Woking, home of the McLaren team - they point out that the spectators here get to be a lot closer to the tracks.

"Wherever you sit or stand at the Marina Bay Circuit, you're right next to the action, whereas, at some of the other circuits, the action can feel quite remote."

Being closer to the track means they are able to smell the brake dust caused by the car's hard brakes.

"Being a spectator here involves multiple senses which can be a bit overwhelming but there's never a dull race in Singapore."

The couple, who do not have any children, usually stay a week and spend an average of £3,000 (S$6,008) for each trip. They stay with Ms Delbridge's brother, a sound designer who has been living here for the past 20 years.

Besides the races, the Georges also manage to squeeze in other sights while they are here.

Says Ms Delbridge, a 43-year-old networks manager: "There's so much to do in Singapore. I like to go to Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling and visit the zoo and the National Orchid Garden. We've done indoor skydiving in Sentosa in the past too."

The food, she adds, is "fantastic".

"I love the food courts and gourmet bak kwa (barbecued pork) from Kim Joo Guan in Chinatown. I'm also rather obsessed with Mos Burger, which isn't available in Britain. A special treat is going to Ku De Ta at the top of the Marina Bay Sands for the view."

For Mr George, the food within the circuit park itself is a draw.

"It's probably the best food of any of the circuits we've been to. Much better than the burgers and fries served at most places."

He adds that one way organisers here can make the event a better experience for hardcore F1 fans is to let them have a feel of racing through the tracks.

"It's a real shame there isn't an F1 race simulator at the circuit as I'm sure there would be plenty of interest."

Eddino Abdul Hadi