Lots to make noise about

The roar of Formula One cars racing around the Marina Bay street circuit has fuelled much of the high-octane excitement associated with the Singapore Grand Prix.

So what happens when that unforgettable sound is somewhat muted at this September's night race, with F1 making the switch from the 2.4-litre V8 engines to the quieter 1.6-litre V6 turbo hybrid ones this season?

Ong Beng Seng, the man who brought the F1 race to Singapore, does not think it will affect the atmosphere at the Sept 19-21 event, as he believes the race has more than enough to make up for any perceived loss in the visceral F1 experience.

Said the hotelier yesterday at the announcement of Singapore Airlines as the event's title sponsor for the next two years: "I think it's fine. It's not that bad. Not as bad as people say.

"Obviously, there's a reduction in sound but I think they will do something to tweak it a little bit. And it's not that bad in Singapore because our track is in the city, where there is a lot of noise bouncing off the buildings."

The quieter engine sound has created a big ruckus among the racing community, and the International Automobile Federation (FIA) confirmed last week that it is investigating ways to raise the volume.

The FIA was even threatened with a lawsuit after the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, when Australian Grand Prix chairman Ron Walker called the change in engine noise a breach of contract. He claimed that the event had been stripped of its spectacle.

Drivers' opinions have also been split. Reigning F1 champion Sebastian Vettel went as far as calling the new sound "s**t" but 2009 world champion Jenson Button is thankful that it has cured his constant post-race headaches.

Despite the uproar, Singapore GP organisers insist that the local race does not depend much on the engine roar.

In fact, much of the draw of the Singapore race - one of two night races in the 19-circuit competition alongside Bahrain - revolves around its peripheral activities as organisers market it as a lifestyle event.

While thumping dance music and soaring vocals may not rival the sounds of F1 engines, top entertainment stars like R&B princess Rihanna, American pop star Katy Perry, teen idol Justin Bieber and Mandarin pop king Jay Chou have all performed to sell-out crowds on the sidelines of the Singapore GP.

Said Michael Roche, executive director of Singapore GP: "We're a car race with supporting entertainment. And it's not just about one big stage - we have seven, eight stages, we have roving artistes, 60 to 70 food and beverage outlets.

"We try to make it a complete event for fans to enjoy the weekend.

"We delivered at a very high level last year. It's just about coming up with new ideas this year."


This article was published on April 16 in The Straits Times.

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