SINGAPORE – As multi-coloured fireworks illuminated the Marina Bay skyline at the 2023 Formula One Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix, it was not the red-and-blue livery of a Red Bull car that was the first to zoom past the chequered flag for the first time since November 2022.
The 2023 season had been largely predictable, with Red Bull winning all 14 races ahead of the Singapore leg – till Sunday.
But under the city’s bright lights, the night race delivered thrills and spills, and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz snagged his first Grand Prix win of the season as the Spaniard led from start to finish.
British pop star Robbie Williams led the celebrations as he kicked off the post-race entertainment at the Padang right after the final lap.
And the fans lapped it up, as once again the Singapore Grand Prix proved to be a hit with locals and overseas visitors, attracting a nearly sell-out crowd of 264,108 over the three-day race weekend.
The turnout was larger than the 250,000 spectators expected by race promoters Singapore GP, though it was lower than the record 302,000 in 2022. The drop was due to the redevelopment of The Float @ Marina Bay.
But the buzz was back in full force in 2023, with thousands braving the humidity at the F1 village and Padang to watch high-octane music performances by Post Malone, Kings Of Leon, and a line-up of artistes presented by 88rising, including Jackson Wang, Niki and Rich Brian.
Mice (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) events have also been a strong draw, with more than 28 held here over the week, including the Time100 Impact Awards, Forbes Global CEO Conference, Token2049 and the Milken Institute Asia Summit.
Amid the festivities, the uncertainty that surrounded the race in July felt a world away, when an ongoing corruption probe involving key figures behind the event grabbed news headlines.
Transport Minister S. Iswaran and tycoon Ong Beng Seng, key figures in Singapore’s pitch to host the grand prix, are being investigated by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau.
Mr Ong was spotted at the weekend mingling with guests at the paddock, and on Sunday, he was out on the track shortly before the drivers’ parade and shook hands with Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong.
Prominent faces were out and about, with Oscar winning actress Michelle Yeoh, local billionaire and owner of Valencia football club Peter Lim and local singer JJ Lin among the guests.
In a sign of continuing strong demand, Singapore GP announced on Sunday that the Super Early Bird tickets for the 2024 race have sold out despite going on sale only 72 hours earlier.
Singapore-based Briton Raeesa Dar, who was among the many fans on the track on Sunday, plans to catch the race again in 2024.
The 30-year-old teacher said: “The lack of rain so far means lots of race time, which is great to see. The racing, the musical acts, the smiling faces make it an absolutely unforgettable experience.”
Final-year ITE College East student Elysha Izzah, 18, said: “The crowd has been so lively, and I made so many new friends who have braved the heat. It is so great to see people coming together over their love for Formula One. The excitement will always be there because of how iconic this track is.”
Calling the Post Malone concert her personal highlight of the weekend, undergraduate Trisha Yeong, 23, said: “The Singapore heat isn’t kind to a big crowd, but the energy and excitement for the race, together with the party atmosphere, have been really contagious.”
But perhaps the attraction of the Singapore Grand Prix was best explained by 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button, who was a guest speaker at the Time100 awards event, which honoured those who have made an impact in their respective industries.
He told The Straits Times: “During the day, there are a lot of people here for practice and qualifying. But when the sun goes down, it is suddenly a party event. There are so many different places around the track around the city that really cater towards a fun weekend. There is so much action and excitement around the city. It is probably the best race you can come to.”