Six years on - and Singapore Grand Prix still a spectacle

Marina Bay is special to drivers and is often key to the world title race

The machines have arrived. So too most of the estimated 500 tonnes of equipment.

But even as Singapore awaits the roar of the Formula One cars' 2.4-litre V8 engines later this week, and last-minute touches are put on the Marina Bay Street Circuit, there is no doubt that there is a buzz about town.

Only limited tickets to the SingTel Singapore Grand Prix are available with just six days to go and organisers say they have already exceeded last year's total attendance of 84,317.

A full-sized Mercedes show car, together with personal racing gear from the 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton, went on display at UBS' One Raffles Quay headquarters last week. The Swiss bank is a global partner of F1.

Even non-trackside facilities have been getting in on the act. At Royal Plaza on Scotts, a life-sized car made of pasta by a team of 18 chefs and culinary staff has been placed in the hotel's lobby.

And under the Rev-Up @Orchard campaign, held in conjunction with Grand Prix Season Singapore 2013, Ferrari and Mercedes show cars and official F1 merchandise stores dot the nation's prime shopping belt.

All this, for a race that is into its sixth edition.

Some say that the novelty of having a night race, in the narrow confines of a city, has faded. But try telling that to the drivers.

McLaren's Jenson Button, who has finished second in the last two races here, told the sport's official website (www.formula1.com): "The thrill and novelty of racing through spot-lit streets is just as intense for me today as it was when we first raced there - it's a unique spectacle.

"In fact, the Singapore Grand Prix is one of the wonders of modern sport."

His boss, team principal Martin Whitmarsh, agreed: "I think everybody in Formula One now regards the event as one of the cornerstones of the Grand Prix calendar. Indeed, it's one of the miracles of televised sport."

Even the topsy-turvy schedule - the drivers' day starts when they awake at lunch time and have "breakfast" at about 2pm because they stay on European time - is not enough of a deterrent.

As Sauber's Nico Huelkenberg told formula1.com: "Being in the paddock when it's dark is something quite special."

This, even though the race is easily the most challenging of the sport's 19 stops this year.

Apart from the Republic's heat and humidity and the track's bumpy surface, the Singapore GP is also one of the longest races, frequently hitting the two-hour mark (most races are only about 11/2 hours long) owing to the safety car interventions. Last year's edition, for instance, was even truncated by two laps because it had reached the time limit.

It is no wonder that Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, who is seeking his third straight victory at Marina Bay, called the circuit "a killer" in the team's preview of the race.

It certainly is an apt characterisation given the pivotal role this GP has played in the drivers' championship over the years.

Remember how Felipe Massa, who had secured pole position, bungled his pit stop in 2008, when he left the pits with the fuel hose still attached to his car?

He finished the race 13th, and his failure to secure a single point despite being in prime position to do so basically cost him the world championship. He lost the drivers' title to Lewis Hamilton by one point just three races later.

Or how Massa's team-mate at Ferrari, Fernando Alonso, had arrived here last year with a healthy 37-point lead over Hamilton in the standings?

The race was won by Vettel, and it began a remarkable four-race resurgence for the German, which ended in his beating Alonso to the world title by a mere three points.

Singapore GP dull? I think not.

yulin@sph.com.sg