Panasonic Toyota Racing takes a step into the unknown this weekend with the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix. Not only is this the first time the city state has hosted the Formula 1 World Championship, it is also the first time a Grand Prix has been held at night.
The island of Singapore lies on the southern tip of the Malayan peninsula and, with an area of just over 700 square kilometres, it is the third smallest state to host a Grand Prix, after Monaco and Bahrain, but with over 4million inhabitants, it is a bustling metropolis.
The new circuit, which is 5.067km long and features 23 corners, is located in the Marina Bay area of Singapore City and includes iconic landmarks such as the Singapore Flyer big wheel, the Esplanade and Raffles Boulevard. The lay-out is not just spectacular, it also features several unusual characteristics - the drivers will travel over Anderson Bridge, under a grandstand and through the 300km/h turn six; claimed to be the fastest corner on a Formula 1 street circuit.
That cocktail of glamour, novelty and challenge brings an obvious comparison to another street circuit. "It can definitely be the Monaco of the east because of the character of this street circuit," says Pascal Vasselon, Senior General Manager Chassis at Panasonic Toyota Racing. "But it could be also the Nürburgring of the east because we are talking about 23 corners, which starts to sound like the old Nürburgring!"
Jarno Trulli concurs, although as a driver his priority is to understand the finer points of the lay-out in order to get maximum performance out of his TF108. "I've seen the plans and the Grand Prix looks amazing so far, although you always need to drive the track first before having a proper idea of it," he says.
"You need to understand the corners and the speeds so you know more about the set-up and the kind of downforce we are going to run. It is a new challenge because we don't know the track or the conditions so it will be interesting."
Despite the incredible location, it is the novelty of racing at night which has created a wave of anticipation in Formula 1 circles.
Many team members at Panasonic Toyota Racing have experience of competing at night from the team's adventures in the Le Mans 24 Hours, while others, such as Timo Glock, have experienced it elsewhere in their careers.
Unlike at Le Mans, the TF108s will not be equipped with headlights; instead around 1,500 lights have been installed around the entire track to ensure near-daylight conditions for the drivers. Timo raced under lights during his Champ Car season in 2005, when he finished eighth in a 400km race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, so he is more prepared than most of his rivals for the challenge ahead.
"The main issue is that you are driving at a different time of day," explains Timo. "Normally you would be resting in an evening but in Singapore the race will start at 8pm. They will give us as much light as possible but as it is a night race I don't expect it will be like daylight in every corner. That is fine though.
"Driving at night is a fun experience and it is definitely a really good show for the fans; that is the most important thing."
For the drivers, adapting to the different timetable is the key issue but for other team members that is just part of the conundrum of racing at night. An observation team of engineers and logistics experts visited Singapore in July to witness a lighting test and study the impact artificial lights will have on team operations.
"We have looked at different things," says Chief Engineer Race and Test Dieter Gass. "We have looked at a pit board for example which is visible at night and we have to make sure everything is visible in the garage and on the pit wall. Also the display on the steering wheel might need to be different because normally it has to be quite bright in order to be visible on a sunny day."
Panasonic Toyota Racing has devoted a lot of energy to minimising the effect on team members of the unique timetable, which is the single biggest logistical challenge of the new circuit. "That has been the biggest concern," reveals Team Manager Richard Cregan. "All the other logistical matters are pretty much the same as with any other flyaway race.
"We have worked closely with the FIA and FOM in deciding the timetable and we have worked internally to come up with an appropriate daily schedule because you can't have guys starting work at 8am and leaving at 3am; that would not be fair. So we have come up with solutions to shift the whole working day later."
It is not simply the absence of daylight and the unusual timetable which could create a challenge in Singapore. On September evenings in Singapore the humidity of the day often breaks with heavy rain while teams will experience the unusual situation of air and track temperatures falling during the course of the race and practice sessions.
"I think for us the biggest challenge will be the temperature," says President John Howett. "The surface temperature of the track will be very low and normally Formula 1 tyres work best in higher temperatures. Then of course at that time of year there's a high probability of rain. So we will face difficulty with temperature, made worse possibly by heavy rain. Night racing is a challenge but we're a team that has come from Le Mans so we should be able to handle that quite easily."
So, the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix presents more challenges than any other race on the calendar, but Panasonic Toyota Racing has left no stone unturned in its preparations, giving Jarno and Timo the platform to fight once again for the podium. And that would be the perfect preparation for the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway next month.
For a video feature previewing the Singapore Grand Prix and featuring exclusive interviews with Jarno Trulli, Timo Glock, John Howett, Pascal Vasselon and Dieter Gass, please visit the Broadcast Room at www.toyota-f1-world.com.