Today, Lewis Hamilton stood on the top step of the podium in Malaysia (admittedly a much happier podium compared to last year’s) for the first time and Mercedes clinched their first 1-2 finish, which, I’m sure, is just one of many to come.
And I was there to witness it!
This weekend’s race was the first live experience I’ve had outside of Singapore, and during my time here I picked out a few interesting differences when comparing the live race experiences between a street circuit and a track circuit. (Heat and humidity, however, remain exactly the same.)
The Marina Bay Street Circuit in Singapore is located in the heart of the city and surrounded by some of Singapore’s most famous landmarks – the Parliament House, the Esplanade, the Fullerton Hotel, the Singapore Flyer to name a few – and is accessible by any mode of transport: the Mass Rapid Transit (Singapore’s train system) delivers you straight to the gates of the circuit. Woven into the Central Business District, it blends into the Singapore skyline and scorches the streets of the city. Popular shopping centres are found on the periphery of the circuit and the F1 buzz is prevalent not only within the circuit park but in the areas around it as well.
On the other hand, the Sepang International Circuit is almost in the middle of nowhere – it is over an hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur city, and accessible only by car or by shuttle bus. It is found just off the highway, a stone’s throw away from the KL International Airport and the low cost terminal.
But the isolation of the Sepang Circuit, and the Malaysian GP, is in no way a negative thing.
On the contrary, I think that the Malaysian Grand Prix brings a very different and refreshing race culture compared to the Singapore Grand Prix – in Singapore, the Marina Bay circuit is just there, and it is just so convenient to attend the night race or the concerts that are held in the vicinity. To me, this dilutes (slightly) the enthusiasm and the passion of the actual F1 fans because there is a large mix of F1 die-hards and fans of the artistes performing at the Padang stage. Because of the isolation and inaccessibility of the Sepang circuit, getting to the race venue and even staying at the race venue takes a great deal of time and effort. There is little to do in the circuit itself, especially during the windows between Free Practices 1 and 2, Free Practice 3 and Qualifying, and between the Drivers Autograph Session, Drivers Parade and the race itself (I actually napped in between). In Singapore, it is so easy to leave the circuit and flee to the nearest shopping centre to escape the heat and humidity; in Malaysia, you can either drive to the airport or back home (which would be too much of a hassle) or wait it out in the heat, which most spectators did. This morning, I met 300 people who queued for the Drivers Autograph Session, which started at noon, from 9 in the morning, and stayed until the race ended at about 7pm. The eagerness and enthusiasm is extremely inspiring.
Another key difference between the two circuits is the placement of all the different activities around the circuit – in Singapore, all the food and beverage, simulators and merchandise stalls can be found all around the circuit; whereas in Malaysia, all the activities are centralised at the F1 Village. I guess both layouts have their own merits: in a centralised area, it is a lot easier finding what you need because everything is concentrated in one place, but having everything scattered around the circuit gives you the opportunity to explore the circuit, and there is a wider variety in goods and services offered as well.
Atmosphere-wise, Malaysia’s was much more subdued, though this can be attributed to the plight of MH370, but I could still feel the F1 fervour from those who were present. I think that while the energy during the Malaysian GP is more race-driven, the atmosphere during the Singapore GP is more party-centred, especially because of the F1 Rocks concerts on all 3 nights and various other acts around the circuit. I personally have no preference between the two – both are equally revitalising and invigorating!
Personally, I embrace the differences between both circuits (I don’t know if the differences apply to street circuits and track circuits in general, do let me know otherwise) and it has given me a little more insight on how F1 works in other parts of the world. I do marvel at one distinct similarity though: there is great diversity in F1 fans – I have met not only Singaporeans or Malaysians but also British, Australians, French, Chinese, Spanish and Germans at both venues, toddlers, teenagers, adults and the elderly – it is a global sport, and the passion that runs through our blood is one and the same, and this is what I find truly remarkable.
(Photos are all original, I will be posting more photos I took this weekend in a separate post.)