Wallowing under the lights of the Singapore night, and enjoying the ever-present passion of the Japanese fans, Jennie Gow reports on the Eastern Promise of F1 that did not disappoint.
Coming to the other side of the world can sometimes feel as if you are living a scene from ‘Lost in Translation’. Nothing makes sense, the hours you feel the most awake are the times when the locals are fast asleep, and one hotel room starts to blend into another as you forget exactly where you are. It’s one of the reasons why I love coming to Asia for the Singapore and Japanese Grands Prix – everything is just a little bit different.
For the first time since I’ve been involved in Formula One, the Singapore Grand Prix was scheduled for the week before Japan, making the two races what we term as ‘back-to-backs’.
Normally in Singapore, we live a totally surreal life of staying on the European time zone. We get up at midday and head for dinner after a long, sweaty day at the track, at about 4am. This means that the race is on a good time for the UK and European TV audiences and, better yet, it looks spectacular underneath the 1,500 lights around the Singapore circuit.
However, this year the laws in Singapore changed, making the usual all-night bars and restaurants that the paddock used to live on a thing of the past (annoyingly for us!) Luckily, there are still a few hawker stalls dotted across town so we aren’t confined to uber-expensive and rather anti-social room service meals.
Also, with the knowledge that, instead of flying home straight after the race and keeping on European time, we knew we were heading to Japan in a day or two. And so, I have to admit, this year’s Singapore experience was even more unusual than normal. One of the best nights was watching the Rugby World Cup with a bunch of photographers and a bucket of cold beers. It was 6am when I got to bed and there was the usual guilt associated with a late night (on a school night), but getting out of bed at 2pm that afternoon? I think that’s a record for the most amount of sleep I have ever had on a race weekend!
Singapore was surreal for another reason too: There was no Mercedes 1-2. We’ve got so used to them of late, but I’m sure you’ll agree that for once it was nice seeing someone else on the top step of the podium. It’s what the sport needs, and Sebastian Vettel drove impeccably all weekend. Was this a blip? Or was it something more serious for the Silver Arrows?
Next stop, Tokyo, where Bill Murray sloped around hotels in some eerie half-life in the movie ‘Lost in Translation’. Everything is cool in Japan’s capital – from bullet trains that are the same speed as a Formula One car, to menus that are impossible to read for us Westerners. It’s an assault on body and mind as you push through the jet-lag and try and assimilate to the bright lights and strange smells of a country that may as well be a million miles from ours.
The people are amazing and, on our first night there, struggling to tell the chef that I was allergic to milk and don’t eat meat – but do eat fish – was an experience. The couple next to us, with a little help from Google translate, thankfully helped us order before, at the end of their meal, proceeding to order a whole fish, grilled over charcoal in-front of our eyes, and presenting it to us whilst wishing us good travels in Japan!
When, I ask you, is the last time you did something like that for a total stranger? Most of us, me included, just get annoyed with tourists getting in our way on tubes, and taking an age to do the things we take for granted!
It wasn’t the only time we were treated with incredible hospitality – from sharing Yakitori to having drinks with strangers at bars, Japan is one of the most sociable and kind places I have ever had the good fortune to visit. If you ever get the chance to come to the Far East, I cannot recommend it enough.
It wasn’t all fun and games on the double-header trip, though. Going back to Japan and Suzuka was a painful experience for many. It was the scene of the horrific accident which robbed us of Jules Bianchi last year. Many made a silent walk to the scene of the crash. For others, that was too hard. For all, the way the Japanese fans made tributes, brought flowers and gave cards to the Manor/Marussia Team was a really beautiful sentiment.
I’m relieved that the sun shone on race day. A wet and overcast race would have been too much. That said, all the drivers that I spoke to said they were going to go out there and drive with Jules in their hearts, whatever the weather.
Lewis Hamilton was unbeatable and moved to 48 points ahead of Nico Rosberg in the Championship standings, equalling the win statistics of that of his hero, Ayrton Senna – He now has 41 GP wins in Formula One.
It clearly meant the world to Hamilton. After the race, he was the most joyous I’ve seen him and, barring any strange occurrences, he must now know the title is all but his. Looking further into the future, there is nothing to stop him going on and winning title number three and more. Onwards, to Russia.