The Season of Darkness – Singapore 2017

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities

As the sun set behind the towering dome of the Singapore National Gallery, the heavy beat of drums echoed around the circuit. Brightly coloured banners fluttered in the cooling breeze. There were still threats of rain. Earlier in the afternoon a violent thunderstorm had soaked track and spectators alike. When the sun returned, the temperature quickly rose, the humidity ramped up and I happily sloshed about in my sandals on the soggy grass. But this was Singapore. Afternoon thunderstorms were the norm. Evening rain was unusual. The track would dry. The race would run. A Ferrari would (hopefully) win.

The last month has not been kind to Ferrari fans. I wasn’t forced to watch the complete domination of the silver cars over the scarlet at Monza as I was enjoying the ear-piercing shrieks of a mass of Ford Cosworth DFVs as they hurtled down the main straight of the Historic F1 race at Zandvoort. Last weekend I had to watch with dismay and disbelief as Kimi’s car was wheeled from the front row of the grid when it lost power before the race even started. It was unable to be resuscitated and spent the race parked forlornly and silently in its garage. At least there was some glimmer of hope as Seb made his way through the pack before being thwarted by a lack of fuel to continue his fight for a podium position. But I was in attendance at the Singapore race…which made it difficult to see anything positive about two Ferraris in tatters before they had got 100 meters down the road.

Singapore was a complete contrast to Spa which I had attended three weeks before.  A few hundred meters from the Raffles City Convention Centre we entered the circuit, crossed the track via an overpass and were met by a huge expanse of lush green grass. The irony struck me.  Spa had been a mass of concrete enclosed by a circle of olive green conifers. We had trekked to the track, traversing a muddy forest trail, a spicy aroma emanating from the pine needles being crushed under our feet.  Singapore was a circuit of twisting city streets. However, within that narrow strip of fenced and barricaded tarmac, was an oasis of verdant green. Domed buildings, church spires, and skyscrapers dotted the skyline. Spread about us were picturesque statues and picnicking families. It was like a stroll in a garden versus a trek in the wilderness.

It was already dark when we arrived at the track for qualifying. Despite the darkness it was hot and sticky…the mugginess of the air oppressive. The day before there had been wide open green spaces. Now there were massive crowds of people standing shoulder to shoulder. A band was playing on the nearby stage and most were ignoring the fact that a Porsche race was in progress. We could hear the car engines reverberate above the sound of the music. Singapore at night looked like a Christmas tree. The Singapore Flyer shimmered in multicolour splendour, spotlights illuminated the surrounding buildings, and brightly coloured lights dotted the edges of the circuit.

The Red Bull duo had been fast all weekend, but the Ferraris were close. Would it be Max or Seb on pole? Of course, Daniel could have pipped them both but Max has out-qualified Dan more often than not over the past year. We didn’t have to wait long to see the Ferraris as they were out first. All the cars did their first time and Ferrari was fast. But as the slower cars came out for their second flying lap the times began to drop…and drop by more than a second. The speed ramped up session by session…until Seb just pipped Max for the prize…at least the prize for quickest on Saturday which while good for bragging rights doesn’t actually mean anything.

On Sunday I sat gazing on the architectural wonder of the Singapore National Gallery. It captivated me as I watched it, first sparkling under bright sunshine and later under spotlights. I chose our seats to observe the beauty of the cars backlit by the beauty of the buildings. It was much easier to photograph the building than the cars because at least it stayed still! The sky above changed from bright blue to gradually increasing cloud cover. The clouds got darker and greyer. As the rain poured down the dome was barely visible through the onslaught. The thunderstorm passed but the clouds stayed, episodilly a few minutes of random rain drops would fall on us, letting us know that there was still a possibility of more to come.

We all know what happened on Sunday evening. But prior to the race there was a concert. Duran Duran filled in the two-hour gap usually spent waiting impatiently for the action to come.  The band had formed in 1978, and released their album Rio in 1982 – the year I finished high school. It was probably their only album that I knew well. I probably hadn’t listened to them since. At the time I wasn’t aware that they would be the highlight of the evening. As the band played, occasional glimpses of the setting sun could be seen between and behind the clouds. The crowd was noisily enthusiastic. Fathers held up small boys so they could see the stage above the people towering over them. Mothers showed their pre-teen girls how to dance. The girls, in turn, looked at their mothers in askance that they would make such an exhibit of themselves in public. They didn’t sing “Hold Back the Rain”…and maybe the rain wouldn’t have made any difference. I don’t believe it was the wet track that caused the first lap…first corner…first 100 meters…starting conflagration…

“And if the fires burn out there’s only fire to blame
(Hold back the rain)
No time for worry ’cause we’re on the roam again
(Hold back the rain)
The clouds all scatter and we ride the outside lane
(Hold back the rain)
Not on your own so help me please, hold back the rain

I knew when the rain started half an hour before the race that it wasn’t going to be good for Ferrari…their car more skittish and unwieldy in wet conditions. I knew having Max beside Seb was always going to be a danger. I knew that one or two cars could easily end up colliding over the first few corners, fighting for the lead. I never dreamed that Kimi would get such a rocket start, hurtling up the outside of Max and getting his nose ahead of him. Then the nightmare started. The battle was swift and complete, destructive and decisive. Both Ferraris mortally wounded followed by two hours of racing with Daniel’s underlying gearbox issue meaning he was unable to mount any sort of challenge to Lewis. A podium for Nico Hulkenberg, or even Fernando Alonso, would have helped my mood immensely but both were eventually forced out with mechanical issues and Niko now has the unwanted record of the most race starts without a podium.

I was fortunate to be sitting next to a Mexican Ferrari fan and her Scottish partner. She was enthusiastic and knowledgeable and knew every car and every driver. Most of the other women around us were looking on bemused as their respective partners tried in vain to explain the finer points of strategy. After the crash her partner disappeared. When he returned he had changed his scarlet Ferrari shirt for a golden Daniel Ricciardo one. He thought he would join us and become an honorary Australian as at least it meant he had someone to cheer for.

“…It was the worst of times…it was the age of foolishness…it was the epoch of incredulity…it was the season of darkness…it was the winter of despair….”

There was no wisdom, there was no belief, there was no light, there was definitely no hope…and there was no use wishing…

 

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