Will Gray

Tech Talk: How Singapore is made to sparkle

Will Gray

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Last
weekend's Singapore Grand Prix showed once again how impressive Formula One
racing can be in the dark of the night - but what does it take for the race to
light up the show?

The
starting point is a complex lighting set-up that involves more than 100km of
temporary cabling and almost 1,500 individual lighting units around the circuit
perimeter, all of which must be set up and dismantled as quickly as possible to
limit disruption in the heart of the city.

This rig is
designed to create the brightness levels expected from daylight racing without
shining light into the drivers' eyes and it consists of a massive ring of
horizontal aluminium trusses, similar to those used in lighting rigs at rock
concerts. These sit between eight and 10 metres high on steel pylons placed
every 32m all around the track and have light projectors mounted on them every
four metres along the entire length of the track.

The rig
runs along just one side of the track on the same side as the television
cameras, to reduce glare when filming the race, and the consistency of light
around the entire circuit is achieved using internal reflectors that are individually
modified to adapt to the surrounding ambient brightness.

The system
requires an immense amount of power to operate, with each light unit rating at
2kW - and it results in an output that is four times brighter than football
stadium floodlights.

If the
lights went out, it would be a disaster so the most important aspect of this
set-up is safety. The entire lighting network is powered by its own network of
12 twin-power generators, located in soundproof containers around the perimeter
of the track. To ensure everything runs smoothly, engineers are assigned to
each individual generator and the whole system is carefully monitored for
diesel and power levels through the main control room in the pit building.

Although
the aim is to simulate daytime conditions when the cars are out on track, teams
still have to adapt with drivers running high-contrast visors on their helmets
and teams increasing the brightness of the cockpit display to cope with the
changed light conditions.

The biggest
effect of racing at night, however, is not even felt on the circuit itself but
in the overall weekend programme.

All team
members, be it a mechanic performing a pit stop or a driver racing out on
track, need to be in peak condition when the cars are in action. Uniquely, that
means teams try to stay on European time rather than switching to local -
meaning they get up in the middle of the day and don't go to bed until the
early hours of the morning.

Teams go to
great lengths to make sure the small sections of Singapore they inhabit are
geared to a European time zone and innovative solutions include blacking out
hotel windows to prevent sunlight getting in when it's light and installing
natural light bulbs to simulate light when it's dark; taking up entire hotel
floors and banning cleaners from entering the area; and cancelling all phones
in rooms to prevent an unwanted wake-up call.

Three years
after the inaugural race, however, most teams have experienced this weird
phenomenon already so their schedules are already well prepared and tested -
leaving them able to concentrate on the battles on track, no matter what hour
they are racing.

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