Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix 2017

Formula One: Race fans driven by team effort

Bank analyst Ang Chi Song, 33, and nurse Daphne Soh, 29, have never missed a race at the Marina Bay Street Circuit and are now part of an F1 fan group whose members stay in touch on WhatsApp.
Bank analyst Ang Chi Song, 33, and nurse Daphne Soh, 29, have never missed a race at the Marina Bay Street Circuit and are now part of an F1 fan group whose members stay in touch on WhatsApp.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Group camaraderie a big reason why they attended all nine editions of S'pore GP

Most Singaporeans plan overseas holidays when they book their annual leave.But when bank analyst Ang Chi Song and nurse Daphne Soh block out a week of their leave every September, they do so to stay in Singapore and enjoy the Formula One Grand Prix.

The two diehard F1 fans have attended all nine editions of the Singapore race so far, and will make it 10 years in a row, having purchased walkabout tickets for this weekend's race.

Their commitment has brought them some unforgettable experiences.

Last year, they managed to meet four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel at a hotel near the circuit. The Ferrari driver had a "two to three-minute personal chat" with them, signed a proffered racing glove and even quipped that the late Michael Jackson had his own trademark glove.

Soh also had the opportunity to give Vettel a phone cover featuring an image of his own helmet. Later that day, she discovered to her surprise that he was already using it.

"You can always work hard for the money to spend on your passion, but nobody can ever take those memories away from me," she enthused.

WELL WORTH THE EXPENSE

You can always work hard for the money to spend on your passion, but nobody can ever take those memories away from me.

DAPHNE SOH, who has been to every edition of the night race since it began in 2008.

Soh and Ang were motor racing fans long before the Marina Bay Street Circuit hosted its first F1 race in 2008, and they rushed to secure tickets for the inaugural night race the moment they were released for sale.

"I waited for my sister to come home and immediately told her that she had to go with me," said Soh, 29, who was then a nursing student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

"The Bay Grandstand tickets cost around $300 each, so I had to save by cutting down on my expenditure for months. But it was worth it."

It turned out to be a bittersweet experience that year, as Ferrari had a disastrous outing. A pit-stop mistake during the race saw Felipe Massa finish 13th, while team-mate Kimi Raikkonen crashed out.

However, the heartbreak was merely temporary, as the allure of F1's only full night race kept them coming back each year.

Nearly 1,500 lighting projectors positioned around the 5.067km track illuminate not only the road surface, but also the details on the cars. This fact, coupled with the proximity of fans to the street circuit, elevated their overall viewing experience of the race.

Soh said both those factors allowed her to admire the intricate details of the German's helmets, which were specially designed for the race.

She added: "Under the lights, you see the cars in a different (perspective). They're shinier and the reflections are nicer."

While the races and the drivers are a major part of the continuing allure, an extra facet that keeps the duo coming back each year is the camaraderie they have forged with like-minded fans whom they have met at promotional and fringe events over the years.

Ang, 33, eventually approached those familiar faces and formed an F1 fan group in 2010. It was how he met Soh in 2014, through the group's mutual connections.

Consisting of about 10 members from Italy, Germany, England, Australia, Japan and Singapore, they stay connected through a WhatsApp chat group.

Ang was accompanied by two members in March this year to visit Barcelona for pre-season testing, a trip that took months of planning, with that process beginning right after last year's Singapore Grand Prix.

He said: "We're meeting them this weekend, and after that, we'll meet again at the Malaysian Grand Prix. It's an annual gathering."

Ang and Soh's deep passion for the sport may have come at a hefty price - more than $10,000 in 10 years on tickets and memorabilia - but they believe that the experiences gained remain priceless.

Both Ang and Soh are confident of the Scuderia's success this weekend. Beyond that, however, they say the future is uncertain, with Singapore yet to sign an extension.

"It's not cheap to go for overseas races. I'd be sad if Singapore doesn't host the race any more," said Ang.

"It's something that has been dear to me for the last 10 years."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2017, with the headline 'Race fans driven by team effort '. Print Edition | Subscribe