Friday, September 23, 2011

Mark Webber column

Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso with Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel just behind him at the Singapore Grand Prix
Highlights - Singapore Grand Prix
This weekend's Singapore Grand Prix is one of the season's showcase events - and probably the toughest of all for drivers.
So many things add up to make it that way and I love the challenge and endurance aspect of the race.
The grand prix runs for two hours; it's a long lap on a very demanding course that is pretty repetitive, with lots of 90-degree corners and heavy braking.
It's bumpy, which is uncomfortable in the cockpit and makes the demands on concentration very high, and, on top of all that, it is incredibly hot and humid, even though we're driving at night.
Television just does not do it justice and you need to be there to begin to appreciate it.
It's the same with a lot of sport that's held in extreme conditions, whether it be playing Test cricket in India or competing at the Australian Tennis Open in the middle of summer.
Singapore is of course on the equator and I'm sure some of you will have been there on holiday, or to somewhere like Sri Lanka or Malaysia, and experienced what that can be like in terms of intense heat.
We are wearing three layers of fireproof clothing. There is no ventilation in the cockpit - even though it is open, the air is directed around the driver as much as possible. With a racing engine behind us, and radiators either side of us, temperatures in there exceed 50ºC.
In a grand prix there is no respite - it's high intensity action for the entire duration of the race, with core body temperatures often higher than 40ºC and your heart rate above 170 beats a minute.
Mark Webber Webber finished third under the lights of Singapore at last year's grand prix It's a raw environment; there's no comfort, and you just have to get on with it.
The key thing is to keep on top of your hydration and that starts three or four days before the race - don't forget we have three hours of practice sessions on Friday, and two hours of practice and qualifying on Saturday before we even get to the race.
It's incredibly important to keep hydrated, and it's not about just being thirsty. If you dehydrate, it can have a major effect on body and cognitive function. So for us it can even become dangerous.
We have a drinks bottle in the car but, because of the tight confines of the cockpit and the need to keep weight down, that holds no more than a litre - and I'm definitely going to lose a lot more fluid than that during the race.
Our workload is made even higher by the fact the race is at night.
The lighting in Singapore is very good but it still requires a little bit more effort than normal to compute what you're seeing.
It's not natural light and there are inconsistencies around the track: some places have more light than during the day; some have less.
But those little subtleties of light are something you really notice at 180mph. Just think of what it's like when you're driving at night on a motorway and the lights are flashing past you. Then multiply it…
Finally, there's the fact that, by and large, we stay on European time, even though Singapore is six or seven hours ahead of that.
You have breakfast at three or four in the afternoon. You leave the track at 0130-0200 and try to get some dinner.
It's pretty surreal but it's all worth it - it's a very rewarding grand prix and the tough environment helps makes it that way.