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The Circuit

Singapore banking on F1's night-time appeal

  • Story Highlights
  • New Singapore street track has taken 18 months and $105m to build
  • The race is expected to earn Singapore $71m a year in tourist revenue
  • Singapore is using its five-year deal to host a GP to boost its appeal to visitors
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Neale Graham
For CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Formula One breaks with almost 60 years of tradition when it takes a step into the dark this weekend in Singapore.

Singapore's skyline adds to the allure of F1's first night race, which races around the streets of Marina Bay.

It is the first time since the world championship began in 1950 that a grand prix will be run outside of daylight hours, providing all sorts of challenges and potential for excitement.

For all the teams' simulations and reassurances that things will run as smoothly as a day-time race would, no one can be certain.

And that is a big selling point in a sport too often criticized for its predictability.

The demands of F1 mean that it has taken 18 months and a reported $105 million to ensure Singapore is as ready as it can be for its race into the unknown.

Hermann Tilke, who has designed every new F1 track since 1999, has devised a 3.148-mile (5.066-km) street-circuit layout.

It twists and turns around Marina Bay, with the area transformed since the race was announced in May 2007.

New pit buildings have been built and the entire track was relaid, during the night, between April and June this year using more than 15,000 tonnes of Shell bitumen asphalt.

The circuit -- one-fifth of which is new roads -- will be open to regular motorists throughout the year, so the material had to have enough grip for F1 and be hard-wearing enough for regular traffic.

Barriers, spectator and perimeter fences and six temporary overhead spectator bridges have all been installed to handle the 100,000 sell-out crowd.

To address the light issue, the circuit has been fitted with almost 1,500 lighting projectors, specially designed by Philips to limit glare by firing the light at different angles.

The temporary lighting system lines one side of the track, around 33ft (10m) above ground level, offering illumination three times brighter than a football stadium at night.

Nick Syn, Singapore GP technical director, said: "Safety is one of our paramount concerns, not just for the drivers but for everyone else who has to work round the circuit. And of course there has to be enough light for TV.

"It would require a very unlikely sequence of events to happen before you'd even get partial power failure. So we're very confident it's as robust as we can make it.

"Essentially, we don't want anyone to have to do anything too different to what they normally do at a daytime race."

Nevertheless, the race weekend schedule has had to be altered -- although drivers are sticking resolutely to their European body clocks.

"This means I'll get up early afternoon for breakfast, have supper at 1am and go to bed at around 3am," explained McLaren's Lewis Hamilton.

And the 8pm local time (10pm for qualifying) start means that teams will be working long into the night.

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No one has had any practice of running after sundown before heading out to Singapore, let alone in the wet.

Rainfall is expected and allied to a night-time start on a floodlit street circuit, concerns have been raised about potential dangers such as standing water and glare.

"If it rains, there is the unknown of whether there will be a problem with glare or the sparkle of light from droplets of rain that is greater than you would ordinarily get," explained McLaren's chief operating officer Martin Whitmarsh.

"To manage this, we are using coatings for the helmet visors that won't allow droplets to collect."

While the events on track will grab the attention, what happens off it is every bit as important for the organizers.

Having inked a five-year deal with Formula One Management, Singapore is determined to use the grand prix to raise its profile as a business and holiday destination.

Even in year one it seems to be working, with 40 percent of tickets for the weekend sold to overseas race-goers.

The race is the focal point of 'Singapore GP Season,' a series of F1-themed activities, events and experiences held over three weekends before, during and after the race.

"The sporting world's attention will be on Singapore during the Formula One night race and we expect to fully deliver on a top-notch program that will excite all racing fans," said Jason Ong, of the Singapore Tourism Board.

The Singapore government is also readying workers in the tourism sector by offering training to 2,000 supervisors in shops, bars, restaurants and attractions in what it calls "the finer points of providing good customer service," as well as essential information on the race.

And a specially designed online game has been launched, allowing users to sample the F1 experience by speeding round the downtown circuit.

All the effort should prove worthwhile: the Singapore government -- which is footing 60 percent of the bill to stage the race -- is hoping the event will boost its tourism coffers by $71 million a year.

To further offset their outlay, the government will be charging a tax on hotel room revenues for seven days around the race, expected to raise $10.6 million a year.

As F1 continues to develop in Asia, it is anticipated night races will become the norm to satisfy the needs of the lucrative international TV markets and the sponsors; next year's Malaysian Grand Prix is expected to be floodlit and others are sure to follow.

However, the history books will read that Singapore held the first. F1 is entering a new dark age.

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