Singapore's Marina Bay circuit burst onto the scene in spectacular style in 2008, becoming the first Formula One race to be run at night, entirely under artificial lighting. While the track is quite bumpy and divides driver opinion, there is no doubt that it makes for an incredible spectacle.
The circuit holds a unique record of having at least one safety car appearance in every race to date.
Coronavirus forced the cancellation of the 2020 and 2021 events but the race was able to return from 2022 onwards.
The race was announced in May 2007 following the agreement of a five-year deal between Formula One Management CEO Bernie Ecclestone, Singapore entrepreneur Mr Ong Beng Seng, and the Singapore Tourism Board. An initial circuit plan by Herman Tilke was refined by KBR, Inc, incorporating permanent pit buildings and a start finish straight constructed on vacant land next to the Singapore Flyer ferris wheel.
Using public roads around the Marina Bay area, the circuit utilises powerful lighting systems to replicate daylight conditions and allowing the event to be scheduled in European time – ideal for world TV audiences, if a little strange for those taking part.
The lap makes its way from the start/finish area to the Turn One-Two-Three complex. Passing under under the Benjamin Sheares Bridge to Republic Boulevard, the circuit turns onto Raffles Boulevard and then proceeds along Nicoll Highway, Stamford Road and Saint Andrew's Road around the Padang, past the City Hall. Another key feature follows as the circuit heads over the Anderson Bridge to a hairpin, along Esplanade Drive beside the Merlion Park. Form there it joins Raffles Avenue and cuts right after the Esplanade to a floating arena section which sees the cars pass underneath the grandstands before a return to the pit area via another temporary road around the Singapore Flyer.
"It's a very physical circuit - more than I expected, actually," says 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton. "You need to put a lot of work into the car to get a good lap - I'd say it requires double the energy of Monaco over a single lap. One lap around here is like two laps of Monaco!"
The first corner complex was modified after the 2008 running of the event to incorporate a safer pit lane exit. Instead of exiting out directly on the racing line ahead of Turn One, cars leaving the pits now feed in on the run to Turn Two. A tightening of the first corner has also helped created a better (if still difficult) overtaking opportunity.
Similarly, the pit lane entry was modified for the second year of the Grand Prix, to alleviate concerns that there could be a high speed collision between a car entering the pits and another attempting to take the racing line round the final corner. The wall inside final corner was repositioned, allowing an entry lane to be created which feeds cars into the pits ahead of the penultimate corner.
Other modifications over the years have centred on the Turn 10 'Singapore Sling' chicane. High-sided kerbs led to fears that an out of control car could become airborne, with Ferrari's Felipe Massa comparing them to "little tortoises that would wreck the car if you get something wrong". The kerbs were lowered several times during the inaugural weekend and, for the following year's event, were repositioned in order to make the entry more gradual. If anything, the drivers hated this even more – Lewis Hamilton dubbing it 'the worst corner in Formula One' – and the chicane was eliminated altogether for the 2013 race, replaced by a single-apex left-hand bend.
More recent changes come to the Turn 11-12-13 complex in 2015. The right-hand Turn 11 was re-aligned to sit tighter with the left-hand side of Fullerton Road for a slightly slower corner speed compared to 2014. The left-hand Turn 12 was also modified slightly so that drivers now enter the left lane of Anderson Bridge, before accelerating towards Turn 13 at 200km/h – which is a similar speed to 2014. The hairpin at Turn 13 was widened by a metre in a bid to enable more overtaking opportunities.
For 2023 onwards a revised course was required due to redevelopment work to turn The Float at Marina Bay into “NS Square”, a community and events venue. As a result the track will no longer include the Bay Grandstand while the redevelopment works are underway, with Turns 16-19 eliminated in favour of a 397.9m long straight linking Turn 16 and the old Turn 19. The revised course has 19 corners and a reduced lap length of 3.060 miles / 4.928 km. The Grand Prix distance has been increased by two laps to compensate.
Work on the new NS Square starts in March 2023 and is expected to be completed in 2026, with the Bay Grandstand and previous track layout expected to be reinstated in 2027.