Spent a good part of the weekend in a room with a spectacular view, chowing down on delicious food, drowning in buckets and buckets of champagne (there were bubbles in my bloodstream when I woke up for work on Monday morning), and blowing out my eardrums. Add to the mix a relatively exciting race (not for Vettel of course, he had that in the bag even before it begun) where Hamilton blew out Massa’s tyre and Schumacher careened right into a wall, a few good men (and women) for company, and some of the best service I’ve ever experienced in SG, and I can safely say that F1 weekend was a blast. It’s true what they say – nothing gets you closer to the drivers, the action, the teams, the cars, and those drop dead gorgeous racer-girlfriends (daaaamn Michibata why you gotta be so hot?) – than hanging out at the Paddock Club.
Walking in, it felt a little like I was entering Shanghai Tang Land (if Shanghai Tang decided to launch its own theme park). The little village came complete with asian motifs on every wall, wait staff in mandarin collars, lots of lattice work and lanterns, and everything drenched in bright pops of colour. A very chic take on chinoiserie, and a look the guests thoroughly enjoyed.
Across the board I thought the service was superb. HPL does hospitality very, very well, and they’re smart about it. For F1, they very cleverly leverage on Temasek and Nanyang poly hospitality/f&b students to staff the event, alongside service professionals from the Ritz, Ascott, etc. Lots of young, fresh, smiling faces everywhere you go, who know what they’re doing and are happy to deliver great service. Wish I ran a restaurant, I’d hire all of them in a heartbeat.
The little process-nazi in me rejoiced in the efficiency of their event logistics! (I know it’s nerdy, only Rui will understand my fascination with processes, but well-planned logistics really intrigue me!) On Saturday, we took a cab to Kallang and then boarded one of the hundreds of little shuttle service vans they had running guests to and fro (who knew there were so many mini buses in Singapore?) We arrived at the Paddock Club in under 15 minutes, security checks on bags and buses all included, where we were ushered directly into the champagne bar on the first floor for a the first of what would be many rounds of cocktails. At every point we were greeted politely and smiled at enthusiastically, I am partly convinced that they slipped the service staff some kinda happy drug before hand.
And what’s F1 without the fast cars and fully grown men in onesies? The pit walk was pretty exciting, and it was great to see that the pit crew got a bit of limelight over the course of the night :) They say the race is really won in the pit, so having a crew behind you that can get your machine in-and-out in the fastest time possible can make or break a great driver. Again, the little process-nazi in me rejoices at the precision and power that brings this sport together. It’s pretty remarkable really – wish my car servicing had that quick of a turnaround time.
I suppose the best part about being at the Paddock Club is the unrestricted views of the pit action right below, while you’re ensconced in the luxuriously decked out, carpeted confines of the second and third floor suites. From that vantage point, you get a view of the screens of the team owners (Richard Branson purportedly sits front and center at the Virgin console every year which the Singtel suite overlooks), you have front row seats to the flurry of activity and intensity of the pit in action during the race (love watching the crew changing tyres in quick time, I was counting the seconds off in my head), and get live updates from the various commentators via these tech-ed out little handheld devices. Then there’s the ubiquitous bucket of bubbly, the magic champagne flute that somehow stays topped up all night long, and walking trays of canapes which only serve to sweeten the experience (and fatten you up).
However, my favourite part of the evening was getting to meet JGV in person! (Just about died. The man’s a culinary genius and sucha savvy business man. swooooon) Celebrity Chefs Nobu Matsuhisa and Jean Georges Vongerichten graced the event and served up a feast for ravished fans in their respective dining rooms. JGV’s was perpetually packed over race day, with waiting times of about 40 minutes for a table. The spread however was well worth the wait: tender roast beef browned on the outside with perfect pink centers, succulent lobster with foam, tuna tartare with a ginger-wasabi dressing and oscietra caviar with cream over lemon gelee were big hits that had us greedily going back for seconds (or thirds or fourths – I think at last count Specky must have had 4 slices of the chocolate mousse cake with caramelized popcorn). As for Nobu, Charme described our mission for the weekend rather well: “I’m going to attempt to eat my weight in sashimi.” Which is precisely what we did.
All in all, I think it’s safe to say that I finally understand all the hype that surrounds this global sporting event. What makes it so popular is that it’s not a sport at all. It’s really a giant networking session (with killer after-parties) that brings together the movers and shakers and world taste makers, alongside racecar drivers (their sexy girlfriends) and global tycoons.
It also showcases Singapore at its very best – a hyper modern cutting edge global city. I do think it signals that Singapore is finally achieving a level of service and hospitality (after all those service quality campaigns the government poured money into) that can actually be defined as “truly world class” – a title they like to sling around but is rarely an accurate description of things on our sunny little island. So kudos to the team (and all their partners) for a job well done :)