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Formula One readies for first night race

Forget their inexperience with night racing and the strong possibility of rain. The main concern for Formula One drivers ahead of Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix is how they'll sleep.

BANGKOK, Thailand – Forget their inexperience with night racing and the strong possibility of rain. The main concern for Formula One drivers ahead of Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix is how they’ll sleep.

As the F1 show rolls into its newest town this week with McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Felipe Massa staging a late-season fight for the championship, drivers on the circuit are also preparing for its first-ever night race.

When it was first announced, teams had questions about the lighting, the potential for glare off the surface if it rained, and the wisdom of combining the novelty of a night race with a newly constructed track that none of the drivers has seen, let alone driven on.

Most teams have come up with video-game-like simulators to allow their drivers to get a feel for the track before they arrive, but the major mystery remains the glare caused by rain in tropical Singapore.

“I would have welcomed the chance to test on the track, especially in the rain,” BMW’s Nick Heidfeld said. “Rain combined with the artificial light is the great unknown for me with this race.”

But as the event has drawn nearer, and the weekend schedule completed, more pragmatic questions have arisen.

With Saturday qualifying not due to start until 10 p.m. local time and Sunday’s race at 8 p.m., what time should the drivers wake up? Since the timing of the race is to fit in with European afternoon viewing habits, should the teams and drivers be equally unchanged in their preparations?

Red Bull’s David Coulthard has opted for a unique pre-race preparation.

“I am staying up late at night, I am going out to nightclubs, and I’m eating a lot of carrots because they apparently help you to see better in the dark,” Coulthard joked.

Honda’s Rubens Barrichello had to look twice at his team’s weekend itinerary that had its staff leaving the circuit at 3:30 a.m., describing it as “crazy.” But the Brazilian also appeared relaxed, saying he will pursue “a lively nightlife to get used to the schedule”.

McLaren is leaving nothing to chance in maintaining its European time zone in exile – ordering its Singapore hotel to black out the windows, hold phone calls and prevent housekeeping staff from rousing any team members until the afternoon.

The initial caution expressed by teams about night racing has largely given way to excitement, which has been matched by F1 fans, with organizers saying last week that all but a few hundred of the 80,000 tickets had been sold.

“In Singapore the action will also be taking place at night and that in an Asian metropolis and against an amazing backdrop,” BMW team principal Mario Thiessen said. “This will give the event even more appeal and excitement.”

“You only need to think of the special atmosphere you get at a football match under floodlights – the surroundings melt into the background, the action itself takes centre stage. I’m expecting this premiere in Singapore to be the highlight of the year.”

Hamilton, who leads Massa by one point in the championship standings, was not worried about competing at night.

“It doesn’t seem to be a problem in other sports and there have been huge preparations for this, so it will be great,” the British driver said.

Hamilton also said it would be hard to deliberately resist the clock.

“Apparently not acclimatizing is much harder than adapting, because your body naturally wants to change,” Hamilton said. “For the drivers, our meal, waking and sleeping rhythms will all be in European time, for example we will get up early afternoon for breakfast, have supper at 1 a.m. and go to bed at around 3 a.m.”

Defending champion Kimi Raikkonen has not won a race since April, with his Ferrari struggling for grip in wet conditions over the past two rain-affected races. He’s hoping a change of time zone will provide a jolt.

“I enjoy evenings and night time more anyhow,” the Finn said. “I like to sleep until noon every day so for me this seems the perfect venue. I am more awake in the evenings than in the mornings.”

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