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Singapore: chasing the day

Maurice Hamilton September 19, 2012
Track action begins as night falls over Singapore © Sutton Images
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It's really odd to walk past restaurants where people are tucking into hamburgers, salads and chocolate gateau and all you want is a bowl of cornflakes.

That's one of the many penalties that come with operating on a European time clock while working in Singapore. But it's the only way of coping with a night event running to the same routine that governs every Grand Prix from Barcelona to Brazil. Formula One has a schedule that each team measures to the final second from the moment they arrive in the paddock until the last lap top is flipped shut. There is no way that can be changed even if it means you always seem to be chasing the day.

These are different days to the Sixties when you turned up at a venue and no one knew exactly at what time the local automobile club had decided practice should start, never mind how long it would run. Modern F1 teams, with their detailed agendas, briefings and massive workloads in this era of no testing, would have a blue fit if confronted with the news that practice would commence as soon as the Clerk of the Course returned from a long lunch. I exaggerate - but not by much after watching F1 teams hang around endlessly in Monaco and Barcelona's Montjuich Park in the late Sixties and early Seventies.

Anyway, it brings me neatly back to the problem of night racing in Singapore because I don't recall actually having lunch at any stage. You feel peckish but confused. The nutritional muddle begins when you awake in the hush of a darkened, air-conditioned room, feel famished and pull back the thick curtains (if you're lucky) to find the sun high in the sky and a city powering through its day. It's a bit like the morning after the long night before, but without the headache and a mouth resembling the bottom of a parrot's cage.

You know how it is first thing in the morning: it's all about automatic routine requiring the minimum of thought and decision-making. All you want is breakfast. Instant bewilderment and frustration, therefore, when the restaurant receptionist asks if you'd like a glass of complimentary wine while deciding on whether to go for today's speciality, the artichoke and black truffle soup, followed by pigeon, peas and pickled onions. This hardly seems the moment to ask for orange juice, a small bowl of the best muesli and an Ulster Fry with extra soda bread.

Singapore is eight hours ahead of GMT but the paddock remains on European time © Sutton Images
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So, you get to the track, make the usual preparations in the media centre, stroll the paddock and, before you know it, the light is fading and you're looking for.....lunch....or something. No time for that as practice begins and the artificial lighting surreptitiously comes into play. Only when the session has finished and your gaze switches from the brilliantly illuminated track to the outside world do you realise night has fallen - and it's definitely not lunchtime even though, back home, the local sandwich shop will be wondering where you are.

By the time the track activities have finished, it's past 10pm. Now you're tired, hungry and even more befuddled. And you can't blame the drink because not a drop has passed your lips even though, in the background, the beat of night club music indicates light refreshment should be next on the agenda. Your European body clock, still ticking to F1 time, says otherwise even though local rituals seem to dictate that, right now, attempting to be creative on a lap top keyboard is like making sense of an Eddie Jordan discourse on whatever subject has come into his head.

Downtown Singapore, for all its glamorous imagery, is largely a business and commercial hub, a fact you are reminded off as you search for a taxi in the quiet streets adjacent to the track. Dinner would be welcome. But where? The nice lady wiping the tables in the restaurant tells you the kitchen closed some time ago. As you stand there, dishevelled and drained by the humidity, the polite refusal might not be so bad were it not said with the sad manner of addressing a hopeless tramp asking for the price of a cup of tea.

The first year, 2008, was the worst, the day ending in a hotel lobby with a beer and an overpriced snack menu. Time and experience soon sought out lively outdoor eating places where taxi drivers and locals go. But that does not alleviate the struggle to stay awake until 4am and beyond.

Singapore is a wonderful place and a magnificent street track that really works. The trouble for Europeans is that the day constantly seems to be accelerating into the distance while you have slipped a gear or two while trying to keep pace. It's weird. You go to bed just as Singapore is getting up. And the last thing you want is breakfast. That comes later. Much later.

Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1 in the build-up to each Grand Prix.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1. A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live