Attending the 2008 Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix was a highlight of the year for me. The race, the track, the food and the entertainment provided by the city were all fabulous. I do have some criticisms, and in this post I will cover them in detail. When considering the circumstances of the race I try to keep in mind that despite its wealth, Singapore is still partially a developing country. My purpose is not the trash an event that I loved but to help make it better for next year. I plan to forward my observations to the Singaporean officials.
Getting to the Marina Bay circuit
Singapore’s public transport is wonderful. Wonderful! Getting out of the track each night was so easy. I bought my ticket home (Lavender MRT station) at the City Hall MRT station when I arrived each afternoon, so it was easy to descend into the station, go past the ticket queues, through the barriers and down to the platform. Melbourne tries hard with its trams at the Grand Prix but nothing beats the MRT for efficiency and convenience.
Life in the paddock
My only comparative F1 experience is in Australia, where the event itself seems very well run, but where the paddock experience for general admission ticket holders can be somewhat mundane, with many excellent support races (more than most other Grand Prix) but awful food. The food in Singapore was fantastic and impressive.
Australia has more big screens visible from general admission spectator areas, which were fundamentally lacking in Singapore. The screens were installed opposite grandstands, and general admission spectators could only see a screen from places near grandstands. This was a significant slight on the design of the spectator areas. The screens were also hardly ‘big’ compared to some of the screens in Australia.
Many fans have complained about a lack of signage in the large spectator areas directing them to exits and other important locations. I partly agree with this – in large open spaces you had to walk around to find the signs, but they were there. Already being familiar with the usual landscape of these Singapore streets would have been an advantage.
I loved seeing all the ushering, spectator and information staff lining the exit gates after the race waving to everyone as they left the circuit. The attitude of all the hospitality staff was excellent and they should all be congratulated for their hard work.
Despite the problems (see below), it seems the best experience was with the walkabout (general admission) tickets, and these locals obviously enjoyed themselves. I no longer buy grandstand tickets in Australia as there are better viewing positions for general admission spectators at much lower prices. Many people in Singapore learned this for themselves during the weekend.
Bins, rubbish and the appearance of spectator areas
The Singapore Marina Bay circuit was mostly extremely clean and tidy. In the western section near the two bridges and in the enormous Padang area there were many bins (above at turn 13), many toilets and plenty of space for all the spectators. There were some problems, however.
Below is the scene at turn 7 on Friday night during the second practice session, where the cars came from the longest straight on the track and reached their highest speed before braking heavily and making a 90 degree left hand turn. It could be considered the best place on the track to judge driver skill. Despite this, part of the walkabout (general admission) spectator area was used as a storage area for the large industrial bins of the nearby caterers supplying food stalls and grandstands.
You don’t see that in Australia. It seemed a mistake based on the inexperience of organisers. Not knowing how to read a circuit from the point of view of spectators, they could not judge the value of that space. Thankfully, someone must have complained because the bins were gone on Saturday when I watch qualifying from the same place and saw two cars outbrake themselves and use the escape road to perform spin turns.
I cannot speak about the start/finish grandstand area or the corporate F1 paddock club area (entry by ticket only), but the eastern end of the track was a mess of half finished construction, construction rubble and boggy ground (it rained heavily Thursday night and Friday until midday). This is the scene on Friday on the inside of the track at the exit of turn 21 – supposedly a walkabout spectator area.
A small grandstand for walkabout spectators nearby had workers sleeping under it at about midday on Friday. On my flight home a senior CAMS official told me that that track construction managers had some problems with workers turning up but refusing to work according to instructions. Instead, they hung around doing nothing and even sleeping on the payroll.
With lots of time to complete and improve these areas they should look completely different next year. There should be no rubbish lying around, and paths and designated standing areas should be level, paved and provided with adequate drainage to prevent the ground becoming a big pit of mud like it was on Friday this year. No only was it messy, but it was also a legitimate safety concern.
Safety, security and crowd control
Below is a photo of a scene you would never see at the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix – spectators up against the 5m high track barrier in front of the spectator safety fence (the waist high metal railings). In this case cars were out on track – the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia qualifying was in progress. The barrier is there to stop the cars entering the spectator areas. The distance between the barrier and the fence is to help ensure that small debris that gets through the barrier falls before it hits the spectators. It is also where specialist fire, medical and safety marshals do their work and where spectator marshals stand to supervise spectators.
In many cases around the track, the spectator fence did not join up with walls, permanent fences or other landmarks to create continuous enclosed areas. It started and finished abruptly without any sense. This meant that spectators could walk around it without deliberately violating it, such as by climbing over it. On several occasions I found myself in what I suspected to be out of bounds areas without even meaning to be there. I followed a fence and it ended but the space continued on, sometimes into gardens, or under grandstands.
In some cases the ignorant internal security staff moved fences in such as way as to lock some spectators in an area and others outside the same area without any logic. Complaints by knowledgeable international fans led to them moving fences and arguing with security staff. In other instances, local and international fans got into clearly unsafe positions, and the internal security did nothing. Eventually a proper FIA spectator marshal arrived (above), moved everyone and restored order and a logical arrangement of the fence.
The Singaporean F1 officials have a lot to learn about building coherent spectator fences. There was also a need for more FIA spectator marshalls in some areas. I have already discussed the safety and security problems in the support paddock assembly area where the cars were lined up waiting to go out on track. The overall problem was not a lack of staff – with the internal security and Police there were plenty of bodies – but a lack of understanding that may be the result of inadequate training.
Many of the internal security staff simply did not know what to do and did not seem to have the initiative to deal quickly with problems as they occurred. In some cases, which is related to the point I made above about the spectator fencing, there did not seem to be enough infrastructure to build continuous fences to clearly define the spectator areas.
Crowd control was really poor and totally inadequate. The track overpass bridges were used as places to watch the track. In Australia the bridges and their stairs are completely covered so people cannot use them to spectate from and so no one lingers on them – you walk over as quickly as possible. In Singapore the bridge was covered but the stairs were uncovered. Idiots (local and western) congregated on the stairs taking photos of themselves with the track in the background and the security staff did nothing about it. Everyone was delayed and squashed due to poor crowd management.
A different point of view is offered by one local employed as a grandstand usher, who says westerners were not taking their seats in grandstands and were standing in passageways and were rude when asked to sit down. I believe it – idiots come from all races, ethnicities and cultures. Another usher also enjoyed himself (warning Singlish in these links).
Effective use of space
Other bloggers have commented on the congested pedestrial passage (below) between the western spectator section of the circuit (Padang, Esplanade, etc) and the eastern section (start/finish grandstands, paddock club, Marina floating platform grandstand). It needed to be much wider or for there to have been several ways to move between the eastern and western sections of the track.
It was crowded on Friday and by Sunday I avoided it altogether (there were no big screens viewable from the walkabout (general admission) spectator areas on the eastern side, so turns 17-21 were only good for walkabout ticket holders with Kangaroo TVs.
At turn 16 (below) and other places black cloth or plastic was used to cover wire mesh fences to block viewing by people outside the circuit at a few places where the circuit boundaries were close to the track. On Friday I watched the Aston Martins from this fantastic position. By Sunday this fence was completely covered and hid the track from those outside but also for paying spectators inside! The circuit boundary fence should have been blocked, not the fence inside. This was bureucratic stupidity at its worst.
Get out of the way
This photographer (maybe a local, I could not tell) chose the hairpin (turn 13) between the two bridges as a work desk during the middle of the third practice session on Saturday night. He stood in front of hundreds of furious spectators and plugged his camera into his laptop and uploaded his pictures. I was watching him checking through his work while the session continued.
I suspect that was an inexperienced local sports photographer because he had his accreditation bib on inside out. You don’t see that in Australia. Also, he seemed to have no idea how inappropriate and inconsiderate his behaviour was. In Australia all the local and international FIA accredited photographers I have seen are keenly aware of the fans, and get out of the way of the thousands of amateur photographers behind them as soon as they have got their shots. Not this idiot. He stood there for most of the session oblivious to the evil looks he was getting from the fans.
The FIA safety marshalls should have moved him away for his own safety as well as for the benefit of the fans. The Singaporean Grand Prix was run by the Australian CAMS officials who run the Australian F1 Grand Prix. They won the tender to train Singapore in how to run a Grand Prix. The blog of one volunteer course marshal is very professional in explaining their work and noting that they could not take photos while the htrack was live. His amazing shots are all from when the track was closed.
Unfortunately, as I revealed at the 2008 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix, the Australian officials are not that strict on enforcing their own rules. The Singaporeans cannot be expected to learn best practice in safety and accident prevention if they don’t have the best teachers.
Given the complexity of running the event for the first time, it was remarkable. 2009 will surely be better organised and more enjoyable for the fans, but 2008 was special. I am so pleased to have made the effort to go to the first F1 night race. It rewarded me in turn with one of the best weekends of my life.