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2012 Formula 1 Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix April 10, 2012

Posted by Dru in East Asia, Sports, Travel.
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Author’s  Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “2012 Formula Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Os

This year I decided that my grand trip would be to head to Malaysia to watch the 2012 Formula 1 Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix.  After going to the Singapore Grand Prix in 2011, I talked about what our next trip would be with my girlfriend.  We decided that it would be cheaper overall and probably more enjoyable to head to Malaysia to watch the F1 Grand Prix than to go to the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka.  In Singapore, we had a great time and I enjoyed seeing and doing many things.  I had no expectations whatsoever in Malaysia and after doing some researching, I found a cheap flight and ordered tickets online to the F1 Grand Prix.  I wasn’t expecting too much from what I had seen but I did expect a typical F1 experience.  Unfortunately, whether it was due to the promoters or Malaysia itself, I was let down in many ways.

The atmosphere of the Malaysian Grand Prix was similar in many respects to the other Grand Prix I had visited.  The need for a party like atmosphere with many familiar overtones was dominant.  First, there were the typical shops where you could enjoy buying various F1 merchandise at F1 prices.  It is safe to say that almost every F1 race has the exact same shops when it comes to merchandise.  You will find shops that sell all of the various team clothing and accessories but you will be hard pressed to find a lot of it at the Malaysian Grand Prix.  I found that the Singapore GP was a little better overall in terms of what I could buy.  It could be because the F1 season is just starting when the Malaysian GP is being held so many of the teams don’t have enough merchandise on offer, but that is just speculation on my part.  Then there is the food.  You can’t go to any F1 event without noticing the types of food that are on offer or trying it when you are there all day.  In Japan, there are a lot of standard foods that I eat at the race all the time and they are usually delicious.  At the Malaysian GP, I found the food to be sub-par for what I would like to eat.  While there are a lot of good things to eat, there was too much bad western food and the Malaysian food that was available was just average.  I didn’t mind it too the food in Malaysia too much but after eating at the Japan GP or even the Singapore GP, I was a bit disappointed with my experience here.  Maybe in the future the circuit organizers can improve their food offerings as other areas of Kuala Lumpur had very good things to eat.

In terms of facilities, the Sepang International Circuit is a nice place.  The circuit is very interesting with a lot of good racing.  They have several sections and going to the GP is relatively cheap.  You don’t need to buy a ticket to just go to the races and enjoy the atmosphere.  The only time you need to show your ticket is when you head into the grandstands, but even then it doesn’t matter too much.  The layout is a little strange as they have a large parking lot that serves as the drop off and pick up point for the various buses.  You then walk up or take a shuttle up a hill that leads to the main entrance.  The main mall is basically a public area that has a welcome centre and shopping leading to the main grandstands.  It is a nice setup that allows people who haven’t paid for tickets to still experience a bit of the GP itself, but I was amazed that they didn’t have a few basic merchandise items that were exclusive to ticket holders.  Once you are in the grandstands, you get to figure out where you are sitting, which is not very easy depending on which area you are in.  The signage was very poor for a world class circuit but that is very easy to improve if they invest a little money.  The main flaw to the design layout was the fact that the grandstands were sectioned off by security.  I had to cross security to get to my seats and to buy food, but if I wanted to go back and get a shirt or a program, I had to leave the security area.  While they did provide UV stamps so we could re-enter, it was very troublesome to get through security, and with the heat and humidity, I was worried my stamp would “melt” away from my sweat.  I do wish they had a few shops in the grandstand area, but there wasn’t a lot of space either.  While the layout of the plaza area wasn’t ideal, the seats were great.  I had a great view of the entire back half of the track from the back main grandstand.  The front and back straights were covered by a canvas roof, but the roof had two big flaws.  The first was that the roof wasn’t UV protected.  I continued to tan a bit in the sun even though I was in the shade.  It was unexpected but for a 13 year old circuit, I can’t complain too much.  The main problem was the rain.  While I was under the roof, the roof leaked a lot.  Whether it was the seam or the steel girder holding up the roof, during the rain it just dripped water all over me.  There were two or three seats that were really bad and I had the unfortunate luck to be in one of them.  Thankfully Petronas handed out free ponchos to whoever could get their hands on one and I had a small cover for the rain.

The race itself was pretty interesting.  There were 4 races that I knew of for that day.  The first was an amateur race that lasted just a few laps.  It was fun to watch but not the best race in the world.  Next was a Malaysian racing series, I think, with various GT cars.  It was a better race but half of it was run under a safety car due to a tremendous crash at the start of the race.  After the restart, it was somewhat procedural.  The last support race was a GP2 race.  It is the feeder series into F1 itself with many drivers in GP2 graduating into F1.  It is a bit of an up and down series with many drivers deciding to go up and then after failing to survive in F1 they return to GP2.  For the older drivers in F1, they tend to change series completely with little to no chance of returning to F1.  This is an unfortunately problem in F1 today with a lot of teams requiring drivers to bring sponsorship money into the team before they can be considered a member of the team.  It is an unfortunate problem of a world where the economy is still lagging and many car companies don’t have enough money to support their own teams.

The main event was, of course, the F1 Grand Prix itself.  The entire weekend was a build up to a race that started at 4pm on Sunday March 25th.  The hour before the race was a scorcher.  Over 30C and high humidity meant that I was sitting and sweating at the same time.  I kept as cool as I could and just relaxed for most of the day under the shade of the back grandstand.  As the race was about to get underway, a huge thundershower was rolling in.  It seemed okay at first and a little hard to see for me in my seat but some parts of the circuit had rain and others didn’t.  As the race got underway, people were cheering and watching intently.  After a handful of laps, and some frantic pit stops to change tires, the race was suddenly stopped due to the amount of rain flooding the track.  Malaysia is a country that expects rain and has good drainage but when there is a thundershower, all bets are off.  There was too much standing water so the race was red flagged and delayed almost an hour.  However, when the racing got back underway, it was very intense.  The rain was still falling when they restarted but it was lightening up.  It then stopped and allowed the track to completely dry by the end.  There were a few accidents on track but nothing that would completely stop the racing.  There was a big battle between the Sauber of Sergio Perez and the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso.  A typical David and Goliath battle where most of the people were cheering for Perez to slay Alonso and win the race.  Unfortunately, due to a small mistake at the end of the race and the team and driver agreeing to hold second place, Perez failed to win the grand prix.  It was sad but understandable for such a small team to value the safety of a guaranteed podium over the chance of a win.

Overall I would say the race was a lot of fun.  It met all of my expectations but unfortunately it didn’t exceed them.  My expectations were set a little low but I was expecting it to be a tough challenge to rival Singapore in terms of fun.  The circuit itself is not difficult to access and there are a lot of positives about going to a grand prix in a foreign country.  I don’t regret going to the Malaysian Grand Prix.  All of the problems I had with this race were pretty small.  While the problems were small, they all added up and they need to be improved before I consider going back for either F1 or MotoGP in the future but if they do fix enough of the small things in the next few years, I will be back for the races.  Otherwise, I’ll have to find another excuse to go to Kuala Lumpur.

2012 Formula 1 Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix is part of a series of posts detailing my experiences of visiting various F1 races around the world.  To read more about the various races I have attended, please follow the links below:

2011 Formula 1 Singtel Singapore Grand Prix October 11, 2011

Posted by Dru in Sports.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “2011 Formula 1 Singtel Singapore Grand Prix” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Jc

For anyone who has read my blog over the years, you know that I am an avid race fan.  I have been to the Japan GP for Moto GP (motorcycles) almost every year since I’ve been in Japan.  I have also been to the F1 Grand Prix in Japan 3 times as well as Rally Japan in Hokkaido last year.  This year, I decided to take a trip to Singapore to watch the F1 race.  Singapore does not have the same history as Suzuka or even Fuji Speedway but it is quickly growing.  The location has been likened to an Asian Monaco Grand Prix due to the similarities of a road course on narrow streets.  Like Monaco, the race winds its way around historical buildings but unlike Monaco, the race also passes new modern buildings that were finished very recently, or are still being completed.  The Singapore GP has also built up a lot of entertainment for both casual and diehard fans alike.

The run up to the Singapore GP lasts roughly a week before the actual GP.  While the F1 circus probably doesn’t arrive until the Wednesday before the race, the event starts roughly 7-10 days ahead.  Many of the shopping malls start by getting their decorations up and many shops have grand prix sales.  It is an exciting time to just be in the city and you can easily feel it in the air.  I didn’t arrive in Singapore until the Thursday before the race, which gave me three and a half days to soak up the atmosphere of the race weekend.  At that time, everything was in place and things seemed to be running smoothly.  Most shops had a minimum 20% discount on items.  It was great to see and many shopping malls had outdoor shops of various F1 sponsors.  Tag Heuer had a portable shop erected outside a shopping complex in the Orchard district.  Puma had a small container ship transformed into a portable shop located near one of the main entrances to the circuit.  While walking around the various shopping malls, you would be highly likely to also run into a previous model of F1 cars on display.  I only saw three, Lotus Renault, Force India, and Ferrari.  I would assume that there were more, but I didn’t run into them and there was little to no information on where they would be.  That is the only challenge when visiting Singapore during the F1 season, some of the public locations around the city are hard to find and you just have to stumble upon them.

The actual circuit is split into 4 fan zones.  Zone 1 encompasses the main straight and grandstands as well as the paddock.  Zones 2 and 3 are located in nicer viewing areas, and Zone 4 is the general area at the far end of the track that is closer to the city.  Most of the casual fans will flock to Zone 4.  This is the largest zone with many viewing platforms, a few grandstands, and the concert venue.  The entire weekend is filled with various concerts on each day.  They set aside a large grass field and built a temporary stage at one end.  During each concert, it is nothing but a sea of people in the entire field.  In fact, I’m sure many people buy tickets just for the concerts, rather than the F1 race.  Being more of an F1 fan than a fan of the musicians, I didn’t go to any of the concerts.  By the time the race ended, I was too tired to push through all the people and barely watch a concert.  I thought that by the time I walked from Zone 1 to Zone 4, the field would be completely full and I wouldn’t be able to see anything.  Zones 2 and 3 are pretty boring to be honest with only a few entertainers roaming around.  The only difference between the two zones is the fact that Zone 2 has one of the famous grandstands facing Marina Bay itself.  These grandstands face a floating platform and the cars themselves race under the grandstands at one point.  Otherwise, both Zones 2 and 3 are almost no different to Zone 1.  Zone 1 is for the real race enthusiasts.  It is where you will find all of the people hanging out waiting for the race.  While both Zone 1 and 4 have F1 villages where you can buy merchandise, Zone 1 has better viewing platforms and it is around the most important corners in the race.  I also found that more kids and families stayed in Zone 4 than Zone 1 and a lot more F1 merchandise was carried around in Zone 1.  It was noticeable difference but not by a huge amount.

The experience of the F1 weekend is something that I can’t explain.  It is a thrilling and exciting event that must be experienced to understand.  Every day is filled with people.  The streets are filled with F1 enthusiasts just roaming around wearing their favourite team colours.  Inside the circuit area, you can see so many people.  After going to F1 at Suzuka and Fuji Speedway, I must say the level of noise in Singapore was much greater.  They had “survival kits” for $2 each that contained a poncho and earplugs.  On Friday, I was walking around and experienced just one practice session.  At first, things were okay.  My ears were fine and I thought it wasn’t bad until I headed up and crossed the track at one of the overhead passes.  The scream of the engines were deafening and I could feel it shaking every cell in my body.  I had to plug my ears just to keep them from ringing.  I went to another location located under a bridge where the sounds of the engine echoed.  It was so deafening that without plugging my ears with my hands, my ears felt as if they were starting to bleed.  It was terribly loud due to the echo, but it was extremely fun.  The other experience of the race that must be felt is how close you actually come to the track.  In regular tracks, you are in grandstands that are metres away from the track itself.  There is also a large runoff area for the driver’s safety.  In Singapore, the track is narrow and the viewing areas are usually no more than a metre or so from the track barrier.  It is exciting to see the cars miss a turn and probably more so to see them crash.  I was not in a corner where a car had crashed, but I was in a corner where the cars missed the corner a couple times.  It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great either.

In terms of the race itself, qualifying was a bit of a disappointment for me.  I was hoping to see Kamui Kobayashi do well but he crashed out in the second round.  The race was nice and interesting and the first few laps were exciting to see cars go through the turn two by two.  I was camping out at turn 5 as I liked the position for photos.  Things seemed to be going well and there were no problems at all, from what I could see.  I heard a few things but didn’t see much as there wasn’t a TV screen nearby.  Thankfully some people had Fanvision portable TVs and I could sneak a look from time to time.  I wish I had spent money on renting a Fanvision as I would have been able to see much more of the action.  I’m not sure if I would be as happy as I wouldn’t be able to use my earplugs, but who knows.  If you don’t have a screen to watch the action, I would highly recommend a Fanvision in order to keep up with what is happening around the track itself.  At turn 5, there really wasn’t much action happening for the entire race.  Cars would go by really quickly and that’s about it.  I enjoyed it a lot but had to guess what happened a little when Michael Schumacher crashed into Sergio Perez and brought the one yellow flag of the race.  I also couldn’t tell when the race would end either.  It was a difficult time to keep track of the race but in the end, Sebastian Vettel won the race with Jenson Button in second and Mark Webber in third.  As of writing this entry, Vettel is leading the championship and needs just 1 point to win it.  Jenson Button is in second and needs to win every race to win the championship.  It is more than likely that Sebastian Vettel will win the championship in Japan on October 9th.

All in all, the race was a great experience.  It was the best race I had ever been to, albeit I have only attended 3 races in my life now.  It could be a combination of a vacation and how close I was to the actual action.  Singapore really knows how to throw a great party and they should be patted on the back for it.  I am reminded of a story about the Olympics themselves.  When I went to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, everyone, including foreign media, reported how much fun it was to be in the city.  It was a real party atmosphere.  When people went to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, they said it was a great event but outside of the event it was very boring.  When going to the races in Japan, I found it to be more alike Beijing than Vancouver.  While the location of the course itself is partly to blame, I feel that having more F1 related activities in Nagoya or Osaka could help a lot.  The same goes for Moto GP.  They cities near the events need to make it a destination in order to bring people in and keep them in.  Doing so would help increase the number of visitors as well as people who visit the area for more than just a passing weekend.   The Singapore Grand Prix is a race I would love to see again, but not sure if I’ll do it anytime soon.  You will get a race that is held at night so that you can enjoy the city by day.  You can party it up with all of the F1 related activities both inside and outside of the circuit itself.  It is a non-stop weekend that I highly recommend.

2011 Formula 1 Singtel Singapore Grand Prix is part of a series of posts detailing my experiences of visiting various F1 races around the world.  To read more about the various races I have attended, please follow the links below:

Information:

Official Website:  http://www.singaporegp.sg/

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