Surviving Singapore: Dan’s grand plan

How to thrive at the year’s toughest F1 race? Daniel Ricciardo has the answer.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Slip into some fireproof underwear, throw on a race suit, nestle into a helmet and lower yourself into a boiling hot Formula One car. It’s still over 30 degrees after 8pm, the relentless humidity hovers in the 90th percentile, and you’ve got 23 corners to negotiate of a street circuit with concrete walls ready to punish the most miniscule mistake. Repeat that for 61 laps, and you’ve got the Singapore Grand Prix, surely the toughest test in F1. And it’s a test that Daniel Ricciardo relishes.

Since it debuted on the F1 calendar back in 2008, Singapore has become known as the ‘Monaco of the East’, and become one of the most anticipated races of the season. The race, set against a neon-lit backdrop of skyscrapers under night skies, looks spectacular, and the Asian business hub always attracts a lengthy list of high-flyers and the rich and famous, not to mention those who visit the island city-state to see F1 from the most unique of vantage points.

It sounds like fun until you contemplate the physical exertion required to complete the 308km race distance, and while Ricciardo likes it these days, his first experience in Singapore was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

“In 2011 for HRT when I made my debut there, that was honestly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done to this day,” the Red Bull Racing star recalls.

“I wasn’t really ready for it and how tough it is, and what didn’t help was that I damaged the front wing on the first lap and got myself a lap down. You’re two laps in, one lap down, in an HRT and not really in the race anyway, mentally down on yourself and it’s that hot … it wasn’t a good one.

“But since, Singapore is one of those races I’ve really thrived in and really enjoyed the challenge of, so bring it on.”

It’s little wonder Ricciardo is so bullish about Singapore, and not just because a vast number of fans make the short (by Australian standards) commute from his home town of Perth to cheer for their compatriot. Ricciardo finished third in Singapore in 2014, and second only to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel last year.

They’re not results that come by accident, and while Singapore is just one of 21 races on the longest calendar in F1 history this season, it’s the one that requires the most – and the most specific – preparation, as Ricciardo’s performance coach Stuart Smith details.

“We specifically begin to prepare for a race like Singapore a month out, where we start with as much heat training as we can,” Smith says.

“Where possible, it’s training him in hot environments so he can get used to that feeling multiple times before he has to do it. When there’s no options to be able to do controlled heat training in a lab setting, we improvise and try and get a heat stimulus through many different methods. The most important thing is to get a repeated heat stimulus prior to the beginning of the race week.”

Ricciardo concurs that the work he does before Singapore is almost as important as what he does once he arrives.

“It’s not like any other race, and you have to prepare for it like that,” he says.

“You get some drivers and maybe they’re bluffing, but they’ll say ‘Singapore isn’t that hard’, but I think it is.

“Over the course of the weekend, you have to hydrate so much more than you think, you literally have to force fluids into yourself. Building into that weekend, I try to get a good training block in, a lot of heat training. A lot of guys wear ice vests and that sort of thing in Singapore, but I never understand that because as soon as you take the ice vest off, you’re boiling hot anyway. You’d rather be comfortable in the heat, I’d reckon.”

‘Comfortable’ isn’t a word that comes to mind when you see the drivers on the podium in Singapore after the race – they all look, quite understandably, exhausted – and Ricciardo has his own way of getting his core temperature down after two hours on the limit.

“You don’t get to recover immediately after the race as there’s always media to do, but you have to get fluids into you as soon as you can, because you don’t have much liquid in the car as we’re trying to keep the weight down,” he explains.

“A lot of fluids – and quickly – is what I do. And then as soon as you can, a long and cool shower.”

The revamped F1 calendar for 2016 has Malaysia, usually a staple of the flyaway rounds at the beginning of the season, rescheduled to October as the race after Singapore, with a weekend’s break in between. Before Singapore came into the sport, the race at Sepang was considered the most difficult in F1 with its long corners and mid-afternoon timeslot under the steaming Kuala Lumpur sun, but Smith says Singapore has taken that mantle. Which is why he – and Ricciardo – are ticking every box to ensure they’re ready for next weekend.

“In our experience, Singapore is a lot tougher than Malaysia,” Smith says.

“We stay on European time for the night race so that isn’t a factor, but the heat, the concrete walls, the fact the heat doesn’t dissipate or go anywhere, there’s no rest in the busy lap with many heavy breaking zones – it’s the hardest race of the year physically. By a long way.”

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