Strange happenings on Singapore’s F1 track
by Iffah Nadhirah Osman
WHAT is it about Singapore’s Formula One (F1) night race?
Touted as one of the most demanding circuits in the F1 racing calendar, it’s getting a reputation not only for its technical challenges but also for interesting – or you might say strange – happenings, such as a lizard sighting or the appearance of the safety car at almost every instalment of the race.
For the superstitious, rest assured that the track is blessed before the start of each race by 10 religious leaders of different faiths: Hinduism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Jainism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and Baha’i.
Here’s a look at the incidents – both funny and alarming – that have happened on the Marina Bay street circuit:
Things you don’t expect to hear in #FP3… 📻
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 17, 2016
While everyone else seems to be having a normal day on a Saturday (Sept 17), Red Bull driver Max Verstappen certainly had a very different experience. He was startled at the sight of a large monitor lizard during the third turn of the final practice session. Verstappen said, over the car-to-pit radio: “There’s a giant lizard on the track.”
It must have been scary for him but one couldn’t disagree that it is a little amusing at the same time. AsiaOne reported that this incident sparked quite a bit of engagements on Twitter.
— Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) September 17, 2016
Last year, an idiot was walking on the circuit, now it’s a gigantic lizard. Singapore is a strange place.
— Ron (@roncharls4) September 17, 2016
Verstappen’s own race engineer replied rather wryly over the radio: “You came face to face with Godzilla.”
Well, that wasn’t the only thing that happened during the F1 weekend this year. A race marshall decked in the official orange suit had to run for his life as 21 race cars zoomed in his direction. The race marshall was in the middle of the tarmac, clearing off debris from an earlier accident where Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr crashed into Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg just seconds after the race flagged off. Thankfully, the marshall managed to run to the side of the tracks and no one was hurt.
The International Automobile Federation (FIA) has said it will investigate the incident. A representative of FIA told the media that the procedures were not “properly executed” by the “clerk of the course and team of officials”.
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 20, 2015
Wildlife are not the only ones intruding onto the track. British national Yogvitam Pravin Dhokia, 27, was seen on the circuit while the race was still in progress last year. How did he even manage to enter? The Straits Times reported that he climbed through an opening after Turn 13 of the circuit on the Esplanade Bridge. Dhokia sauntered across the track before doubling up his pace when he saw an oncoming Ferrari emerge from the turn.
Had he not reacted quickly to the situation, he could have been hit by the cars which were racing at speeds between 280kmh to 290kmh.
Dhokia was sentenced to six weeks jail on Nov 3 for committing a rash act. Not only that, criminal trespass was also taken into consideration during his sentencing. Deputy Public Prosecutor Marshall Lim showed a video clip of Dhokia walking along the track during the trial. Dhokia had taken this video of himself using his mobile phone.
The court heard that a blood test had also been taken. The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) reported that Dhokia had consumed some anti-malaria medication and this had caused some side effects such as self-endangering and unusual behaviours. Dhokia could have served a jail term of six months and/or fined $2,500.
Ex-F1 driver Heikki Kovalainen of team Lotus was really unfortunate to have ended his race with his car on fire. This happened when he was on the second last lap of the race. With flames bursting out the back of his car, Kovalainen followed his instincts and pulled up on the finishing straight instead of going to the pit stop. The Williams team handed over a fire extinguisher and the brave soul put out the fire by himself.
Kovalainen told The Telegraph: “I spun the car to get back onto the track, which I think cracked the fuel tank pressure release valve and it looks like that caused an airbox fire.”
Nelson Piquet Jr. of the Renault team was instructed by Team Principal Flavio Briatore and executive director of engineering Pat Symonds to crash his car intentionally so that Fernando Alonso could benefit from it. He was told the exact corner that he needed to crash. That corner didn’t have any cranes that would easily lift off a crashed car or a side entrance to the track. In the event of this crash, a safety car would be on the ground to control the rest of the competitor’s speed especially during a hazardous situation. This would also allow Alonso, who started 15th, to surpass other racers before Piquet’s crash.
Piquet was pressured to agree to this as Mr Briatore refused to tell him if he would still be in the team the following year, said The Guardian. He was also sacked by Renault on Aug 3 in 2009.
On Sept 4, Renault was accused of conspiracy. Initially, the Renault team denied the charges and wanted to challenge the allegations in court on Sept 21. However, they changed their decision in the end and will not make any further comments before attending the hearing in Paris. Briatore and Symonds left Renault on Sept 16.
During the FIA hearing, Renault was disqualified from F1 and suspended for two years. Briatore was suspended from any F1 and FIA related events while Symonds got banned for five years. However, in a turn of luck for Briatore and Symonds, the French court came into the picture in 2010 and saved them by overturning their bans, although both of them agreed not to work for any F1 or FIA events.