F1’s Modern Wonder: Under the lights, Singapore shines brightly


Since the last Formula 1 grand prix in Italy, the news that has dominated the headlines is that advanced radio communications that look to improve a driver’s performance behind the wheel have been outlawed. From this weekend’s race onwards, they will largely be left alone in the car to deal with issues that would otherwise be resolved through instructions on the pit wall.

For many, this move comes at a bad time, given that we are halfway through a season that marked the greatest technical overhaul of the regulations in decades. However, others have praised the move as it takes the sport back to its roots: the onus is truly on the driver once again.

It’s the argument of old versus new. Do you like to cling onto the past and reminisce of ‘better times’, or do you prefer to look into the future?

For the latter, no single event better epitomizes modern day Formula 1 than the spectacular Singapore Grand Prix.

The idea of a night race had been toyed with for many years by F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, but it did not come to fruition until 2008 when Marina Bay was lit up by thousands of floodlights. That year’s race has since gone down with great notoriety, given that it was fixed by Renault. Nelson Piquet Jr. was ordered to crash and bring out a safety car to allow teammate Fernando Alonso to win the race; the plan worked, but the truth came out when Piquet was sacked and decided to get his own back.

From the word go though, Singapore has been a revelation in F1. There is something mouthwatering about the cars racing under the lights, shimmering as they dart through the city streets. The circuit itself is not the most inspiring layout, yet it does make for some thoroughly entertaining racing.

Further to this, we have the sheer physical and mental challenge of the race, which cannot be underestimated. As it is a night race, drivers must adjust to the timings so that they are at the peak of their powers well into the evening. As a result, the entire F1 paddock opts to stay on European time (the race is timed accordingly). Ordinarily, one will go to bed at 6am before getting up in the middle of the afternoon, with the earliest session starting at 6pm local time (FP1 on Friday). Throw in a sprinkling of jet lag, and you’re quickly struggling to stay awake. Kimi Raikkonen was yawning and rubbing his eyes through much of today’s press conference.

Out on track, the challenge does not stop there. Singapore’s climate is traditionally hot and humid, with rain showers possible (even if we are yet to sample a wet night race). In the car, drivers are pushing for almost two hours, making the final stages of the grand prix very difficult indeed. Hydration is key for any race, but perhaps more paramount here.

F1 races that are held in or near major cities are always special, and Singapore is no exception. Just as Melbourne, Montreal and Austin become dominated by the sport when it rolls into town, Singapore lives and breathes F1 for its week in the spotlight.

Last year, when in a taxi travelling from the airport to my hotel, I got talking to the driver and asked him whether the race was good for Singapore. He immediately started laughing and grinning from ear to ear.

“Oh yes!” he said in broken English. “For one week, the world looks at us. It is wonderful.”

And right there, you have why F1’s expansionist policy for grands prix is a good thing. It takes the sport to markets that are lucrative and can be made to work, even in smaller nations such as Singapore.

So why does Singapore succeed where India and Korea failed? The taxi driver’s comment goes a long way to providing the answer: everyone wants the race in Singapore. The government is more than happy to subsidize the race and provide some investment as it knows it will get it back through the influx of the F1 paddock and tourists. Korea and India did not enjoy the same kind of support, and could never work as investment opportunities given their location and all of the red tape surrounding the events. Singapore just gets on with things; it works so, so well.

After a stretch of races at what one might call ‘classic’ circuits – your Silverstones, your Hockenheims, your Spa and Monzas – it is refreshing to see Singapore come up next. Many dubbed it a gimmick when it joined the calendar back in 2008, but it has since become a mainstay on the schedule and, for many, one of the highlights of the year.

It has now formed a triumvirate of glamor events in F1. Before, we just had Monaco. Now, we have Singapore and Abu Dhabi to go alongside it. Abu Dhabi’s facility is far more impressive, but grossly so; it lacks the charm that Singapore has in abundance. One may even say that the lavish facade of Monaco is second to Singapore’s charm.

The stars will come out on Sunday for the sport’s second blue-chip event, but none can shine so brightly to detract from the on-track action. For the drivers, a race is a race: they’re all worth the same (except Abu Dhabi, thanks to double points). Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton will both claim that this one means just as much as any other victory, but deep down, the champagne may just taste a little sweeter on the top step of the podium.

Whether you’re a racing fan or not, Singapore has that special something that makes it a must-watch for any sports enthusiast.

You can watch the Singapore Grand Prix live on NBCSN this Sunday from 7.30am ET.

Strong rebounds for Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi amid some disappointments in the Indy 500


INDIANAPOLIS – Alex Palou had not turned a wheel wrong the entire Month of May at the Indy 500 until Rinus VeeKay turned a wheel into the Chip Ganassi Racing pole-sitter leaving pit road on Lap 94.

“There is nothing I could have done there,” Palou told NBC Sports. “It’s OK, when it is my fault or the team’s fault because everybody makes mistakes. But when there is nothing, you could have done differently there, it feels bad and feels bad for the team.”

Marcus Ericsson was a master at utilizing the “Tail of the Dragon” move that breaks the draft of the car behind him in the closing laps to win last year’s Indianapolis 500. On Sunday, however, the last of three red flags in the final 16 laps of the race had the popular driver from Sweden breathing fire after Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden beat him at his own game on the final lap to win the Indianapolis 500.

Despite the two disappointments, team owner Chip Ganassi was seen on pit road fist-bumping a member on his four-car team in this year’s Indianapolis 500 after his drivers finished second, fourth, sixth and seventh in the tightly contested race.

Those are pretty good results, but at the Indianapolis 500, there is just one winner and 32 losers.

“There is only one winner, but it was a hell of a show,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Chip Ganassi Racing consultant Dario Franchitti told NBC Sports. “Alex was very fast, and he got absolutely caught out in somebody else’s wreck. There was nothing he could have done, but he and the 10 car, great recovery.

“Great recovery by all four cars because at half distance, we were not looking very good.”

After 92 laps, the first caution flew for Sting Ray Robb of Dale Coyne Racing hitting the Turn 1 wall.

During pit stops on Lap 94, Palou had left his stall when the second-place car driven by VeeKay ran into him, putting Palou’s Honda into the wall. The car sustained a damaged front wing, but the Chip Ganassi crew was able to get him back in the race on the lead lap but in 28th position.

Palou ultimately would fight his way to a fourth-place finish in a race the popular Spaniard could have won. His displeasure with VeeKay, whom he sarcastically called “a legend” on his team radio after the incident, was evident.

“The benefit of being on pole is you can drive straight and avoid crashes, and he was able to crash us on the side on pit lane, which is pretty tough to do, but he managed it,” Palou told NBC Sports. “Hopefully next year we are not beside him. Hopefully, next year we have a little better luck.”

Palou started on the pole and led 36 laps, just three fewer than race leader Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren Racing.

“We started really well, was managing the fuel as we wanted, our car was pretty good,” Palou said. “Our car wasn’t great, we dropped to P4 or P5, but we still had some good stuff.

“On the pit stop, the 21 (VeeKay) managed to clip us. Nothing we could have done there. It was not my team’s fault or my fault.

“We had to drop to the end. I’m happy we made it back to P4. We needed 50 more laps to make it happen, but it could have been a lot worse after that contact.

“I learned a lot, running up front at the beginning and in mid-pack and then the back. I learned a lot.

“It feels amazing when you win it and not so good when things go wrong. We were a bit lucky with so many restarts at the end to make it back to P4 so I’m happy with that.”

Palou said the front wing had to be changed and the toe-in was a bit off, but he still had a fast car.

In fact, his Honda was the best car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway all month. His pole-winning four lap average speed of 234.217 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a record for this fabled race.

Palou looked good throughout the race, before he had to scratch and claw and race his way back to the top-five after he restarted 28th.

In the Indianapolis 500, however, the best car doesn’t always win.

“It’s two years in a row that we were leading the race at the beginning and had to drop to last,” Palou said. “Maybe next year, we will start in the middle of the field and go on to win the race.

“I know he didn’t do it on purpose. It’s better to let that pass someday.”

Palou said the wild racing at the end was because the downforce package used in Sunday’s race means the drivers have to be aggressive. The front two cars can battle for the victory, but cars back in fourth or fifth place can’t help determine the outcome of the race.

That is when the “Tail of the Dragon” comes into the play.

Franchitti helped celebrate Ericsson’s win in 2022 with his “Tail of the Dragon” zigzag move – something he never had to do in any of his three Indianapolis 500 victories because they all finished under caution.

In 2023, however, IndyCar Race Control wants to make every attempt to finish the race under green, without going past the scheduled distance like NASCAR’s overtime rule.

Instead of extra laps, they stop the race with a red flag, to create a potential green-flag finish condition.

“You do what you have to do to win within the rules, and it’s within the rules, so you do it,” Franchitti said. “The race is 200 laps and there is a balance.

“Marcus did a great job on that restart and so did Josef. It was just the timing of who was where and that was it.

“If you knew it was going to go red, you would have hung back on the lap before.

“Brilliant job by the whole Ganassi organization because it wasn’t looking very good at half-distance.

“Full marks to Josef Newgarden and Team Penske.”

Franchitti is highly impressed by how well Ericsson works with CGR engineer Brad Goldberg and how close this combination came to winning the Indianapolis 500 two-years-in-a-row.

It would have been the first back-to-back Indy 500 winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002.

“Oh, he’s a badass,” Franchitti said Ericsson. “He proved it last year. He is so calm all day. What more do you need? As a driver, he’s fast and so calm.”

Ericsson is typically in good spirits and jovial.

He was stern and direct on pit road after the race.

“I did everything right, I did an awesome restart, caught Josef off-guard and pulled away,” Ericsson said on pit lane. “It’s hard to pull away a full lap and he got me back.

“I’m mostly disappointed with the way he ended. I don’t think it was fair and safe to do that restart straight out of the pits on cold tires for everyone.

“To me, it was not a good way to end that race.

“Congrats to Josef. He didn’t do anything wrong. He is a worthy champion, but it shouldn’t have ended like that.”

Palou also didn’t understand the last restart, which was a one-start showdown.

“I know that we want to finish under green,” Palou said. “Maybe the last restart I did, I didn’t understand. It didn’t benefit the CGR team.

“I’m not very supportive of the last one, but anyway.”

Dixon called the red flags “a bit sketchy.”

“The Red Flags have become a theme to the end of the race, but sometimes they can catch you out,” Dixon said. “I know Marcus is frustrated with it.

“All we ask for is consistency. I think they will do better next time.

“It’s a tough race. People will do anything they can to win it and with how these reds fall, you have to be in the right place at the right time. The problem is when they throw a Red or don’t throw a Red dictates how the race will end.

“It’s a bloody hard race to win. Congrats to Josef Newgarden and to Team Penske.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500