Insider Snippets from the World's Most Decadent Sporting Event
Forever ducking in and out of exotic locales, Vanity Fair’s Brian McNally transcends his masthead title of “Our Man in Saigon.” Together with his brother Keith McNally, the London-born journalist was once high-chieftain of the New York restaurant scene after opening Odeon, Indochine, and 44 among others in the 80s and 90s. He now files his deliciously cynical prose from the Antipodes, writing about “the Manhattan-Hamptons-St Barth’s grind” with a fresh perspective fueled by his own passions—one of which is the world of F1 racing. In this global spectacle, machines that press the very limits of human engineering shred a series of host cities' streets at speeds of up to 220mph, while in the club houses the beautiful and ultra-wealthy mingle with heads of state and corporate barons. On the occasion of the Singapore Grand Prix, the only F1 race to take place at night, NOWNESS sent photographer Darren Soh beyond the velvet ropes and into the heavily guarded pits to document the sights, sounds and speed––and asked McNally to tell all.
The spectacle itself, the race, is really something. Even the sound of the cars seems to be extreme.
The spectacle is impressive, the cars extraordinary, the noise indescribable and dangerous. No sport is more poorly served by television in terms of conveying atmosphere than F1. On the other hand, no sport is better served by television when it comes to raking in cash, primarily because it's possibly the only sport that is impossible to follow without TV.
We are talking about a lot of money here.
The money involved in F1 is staggering. In terms of cost, revenues, logistics, sponsorship, nothing comes close. An average of 600 million people worldwide watches each race on TV, an aggregate of around 12 billion for the season. Twenty minutes after the race ended the tires and equipment in each of the pits had already been [packed up] and was being shipped off by chartered plane to Tokyo for the next race on October 10.
Do you have a sense of what's happening in the cars, the little specific tweaks that are making differences out there?
I think a major part of the attraction of F1 is that almost no one has a clue what's going on. The level of technological innovation is so refined, and the rules so arcane (especially as they relate to engine specs) and change so often. But F1 exercises an hypnotic effect, whether because of the speed, the machines, the danger, or the drivers.
The drivers must have incredible hand-eye coordination?
Today’s drivers are intelligent, intensely focused, supremely skilled and serious, racing not for king and country but for $30m a year. But there is something fascinating about young men who are prepared to race at speeds of 200mph—with G-forces reaching five—for nothing more than money, thrills and the desire to go around a circuit at a couple of hundredths of a second faster than their rivals.
How was the nightlife?
Because the F1 Singapore is a night race, anybody who felt obliged to demonstrate the slightest interest in the race had to stay up late. But Singapore is a late city. There were all sorts of parties, various concerts––Mariah Carey!––and nightclubs. The spectacular Ku De Ta nightclub on the roof of the new Sands Hotel casino had just opened and was buzzing away until late, but I loved going to the chicken and rice restaurants at 4am: plastic chairs, brusque service, fantastic food. They would close when they ran out of food—oddly enough not unlike some bars that seemed to close when they ran out of girls!
Brian McNally picks his F1 heroes here.