Fans get close-up view of F1 stars

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain meeting fans at Paragon shopping centre yesterday before heading to the Marina Bay Street Circuit. More than 200,000 spectators are expected at the circuit park this weekend.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain meeting fans at Paragon shopping centre yesterday before heading to the Marina Bay Street Circuit. More than 200,000 spectators are expected at the circuit park this weekend.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Drivers zip across island for public events ahead of practice sessions

THE fast cars of Formula One will not hit Singapore's streets until this evening. But ahead of this weekend's Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix, the fast men of the sport were busy zipping across the island yesterday for a flurry of promotional activities.

From challenging members of the public to an endurance event, or just meeting fans, the stars of the sport turned on the charm.

Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg drew the biggest cheers at Paragon shopping centre where a crowd of about 300 gathered to catch a glimpse of the warring duo. But while the pair, involved in both on- and off-track clashes, may not be the best of friends, they kept the hostility to themselves.

"Singapore is one of the very few places I travel to during the year where I could see myself living in," said 2008 world champion Hamilton to roars from the fans. "Everything looks so new and the people are so welcoming."

Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso was equally warm, waving at fans along the Singapore River as he made his way to Clarke Quay.

Yet, before long, it was back to business as the drivers took to the Marina Bay Street Circuit to study every straight and turn before today's practice sessions.

At the back of their minds will be a controversial rule change which takes effect in Singapore. It bans drivers from receiving technical advice via team radio or pit message boards. The move by the International Automobile Federation has sharply divided the wider racing fraternity.

Rosberg, who holds a 22-point lead over Hamilton in the drivers' standings with six races remaining, is one in favour of it.

He said: "It used to be the team telling us stuff like go faster now - that's all finished now. It makes for more pure racing because as a driver, I have more options to decide what I want to do without any outside help."

But two-time world champion Alonso said: "It is a little strange. It is just like if you don't allow the coach to give instructions to his players in a basketball or football team. But I am sure teams will find ways to work around that."

Over 200,000 spectators are expected at the circuit park over the three-day event, which includes concerts by pop stars Jennifer Lopez and Robbie Williams.

But come Sunday, all eyes will be on the circuit. With the safety car deployed in all six previous races here, the challenge of the 23-turnstreet circuit was summed up by McLaren rookie Kevin Magnussen, who told The Straits Times: "Expect the unexpected."

nsanjay@sph.com.sg

meng@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Terence Ong