IT’S ONE of sport’s toughest challenges; the world’s finest drivers racing wheel-to-wheel at up to 320km/h, enduring 5G in corners and under braking, and cockpit temperatures approaching 60-degree Celsius…. for two hours. One mistake and you’re in the barrier, and likely out of the race.
It could only be the physical and mental endurance test that is the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix. For Red Bull Racing driver Daniel Ricciardo, it’s a showdown that sorts the men from the boys, and a highlight of this year’s 21-race calendar.
“A street circuit already requires a high level of concentration, and doing that with the humidity of Singapore is fun but challenging,” says the Australian, who last month announced his switch to the Renault F1 team for 2019.
Read next: What does Daniel Ricciardo know about F1?
“It’s the one race of the year where you can’t open your visor to get cool air, and it’s actually worse because all the humidity and heat of the car just stays inside the streets as it doesn’t have anywhere to go.
Ricciardo is considered something of a Singapore specialist, having been on the podium at the Marina Bay Street Circuit every year since 2014 – his first season with top team Red Bull Racing.
It’s an event he now focuses on in his pre-season training, given vivid memories of how underprepared he was the first time around.
“I have always made a point of being over-prepared for that race because it’s the longest race of the year, it’s the hottest, and it’s the busiest,” says Ricciardo, who will lose up to 3kg in fluid over a two-hour period.
“It’s far and beyond the toughest race physically and for concentration. My first race there [for HRT] in 2011, I didn’t know what to expect and it was, physically, the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
“I never wanted that feeling again because that wasn’t fun so I made a point just to always prepare well, do a lot of heat training and, from a confidence point of a view, when I get there knowing I’m super prepared that helps my driving as well.”
Compare that to the fan experience, which could be considered F1’s version of the Superbowl – with racing under lights and a line-up of international music acts on stage – all against the stunning backdrop of one of the world’s great cities.
And while the tropical weather is perfect for a cold drink trackside with friends – for the drivers, the Singapore lead-up begins weeks before, with all 20 pushing hard in the gym with heat training once they land.
“If we can make the sessions that we do in the gym as hard or much harder than [anything] they’ve ever experienced in the car, then when they actually get into the car, it will actually feel easy,” says Phil Young from GP Human Performance, who has trained champion F1 drivers including Fernando Alonso.
“A lot of our focus is high intensity interval training, which will involve periods of heavy weight repetitions with very short recoveries.
“There’s a system called Tabata, which is where you do 20 seconds of effort followed by 10 seconds of rest and you do that eight times. That is a good form of high intensity interval training that simulates what happens in the car.”
Of course, F1 drivers need razor-sharp reflexes. Not just for racing wheel-to-wheel, but consistent lap times, and making corner-by-corner setup changes on the smartphone-like steering wheel that might have up to 35 buttons, switches and rotary dials to be used in a specific order at a moment’s notice.
As you might expect – that, too, is factored into a driver’s training.
“We get them playing squash and things like that. That’s really aimed at getting their hand-eye co-ordination back into the right mode,” says Young.
“We also test them by putting them through repeated fatigue, and then straight into a scenario where they have to concentrate.
“We might put them on a rowing machine and work them very hard so they’re almost to their maximum capacity; they would then jump off there and have to get straight onto a Batak [reaction training] machine, and have to concentrate to make sure they maintain the baseline score they set before the workout.”
For Ricciardo, Singapore will also be a shot at the victory he should have taken there last year, a pesky gearbox oil pressure issue robbing him of the chance to challenge Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, a three-time winner of the event.
And while fans were treated to a thrilling spectacle, including a first-ever wet start and disastrous Turn 1 crash, Ricciardo left the Marina Bay Street Circuit frustrated, stating “I can’t win the bloody thing!”
“Obviously second is not a bad result,” says Ricciardo. “But I wasn’t actually that happy with my race. I think I do have it in me to win around there but it’ll have to wait.”
The 29-year-old considers Singapore to be something of a home race (alongside Australia, and Monaco where he now lives), given the short flight from Australia – one his family and friends, and thousands of Aussie fans, take annually.
“It’s definitely established itself on the calendar, everyone kind of knows it, being the original night race and the real spectacle night race,” Ricciardo says.
“It’s got the reputation as well for being super-long, pretty much hitting the two-hour limit every year, hot, physical and draining.
“I think the way that the city kind of gets around the race is really cool as well. I’ve had family and friends come to it and they’ve only ever said good things, so it’s a good one.
“For me, I embrace the challenge. I love street circuits, period. But knowing that one is such a physical challenge as well is always fun.”
Should Ricciardo win in Singapore this year, everyone will know he’s given his maximum to conquer the toughest race on the calendar.
The FORMULA 1 2018 SINGAPORE AIRLINES SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX will be held from September 14-16, with more information at singaporegp.sg.
If you’re looking for a last minute getaway with a racing line, why not make it a long weekend and head to Singapore for the race?
For F1 fans, the event couldn’t be better timed, as Singapore is the first race after the end of the European season when the world championship battle is just heating up, and every point won or lost makes a difference.
There’s plenty of action on-track, with F1 and other exotic machinery threading the barriers at high speed. While off-track, there’s a lot to see and do, with interactive race-themed activities, support paddocks to peruse, and parties galore, all surrounded by the event’s iconic lanterns.
It’s a short flight away from most Australian capital cities, and the event can be done on almost any budget with single-day walkabout tickets starting from approximately $78, single-day grandstand tickets starting from $108, and three-day grandstand tickets starting at $298. There’s also plenty of affordable accommodation, both in and around the city.
Stewart Bell is a Formula 1 journalist from Melbourne, Australia, who provides content on behalf of the Singapore GP organisation.