LONDON (Reuters) - Formula One takes a step into the dark this season with new faces and new races, including the first to be held at night in Singapore.
That floodlit grand prix in late September will be a highlight of the 18-round season that starts in Australia on March 16, with the city state also witnessing the sport’s first street race in Asia.
Using public roads snaking around the Marina Bay area, organizers say the track will be almost four times brighter than a typical stadium.
Nearly 1,500 projectors linked by 108 km of cabling will produce enough light to meet High Definition television broadcast standards.
Drivers, some of whom raised concerns about safety and visibility when the night race was first mooted, are generally relaxed about the prospect now.
“I never experienced a night race before so it’s a new challenge for everyone, for the drivers and engineers and (governing) FIA,” said Toyota’s Jarno Trulli.
“I hope that we just take into account that the safety is the most important thing, and as long as we have enough light I am happy to race anywhere,” added the Italian.
Monaco, the glamour highlight of the calendar ever since the championship started in 1950, will be joined by another European street race when the Spanish city of Valencia makes its debut in late August.
Hockenheim replaces the Nuerburgring as host of Germany’s round of the championship while the U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis is no more, at least for this year.
Two drivers, France’s Sebastien Bourdais and Brazilian Nelson Piquet, will be making their race debuts in Melbourne while Germany’s Timo Glock and Sebastian Vettel start their first full seasons along with Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima.
Bourdais, Vettel’s team mate at Ferrari-powered Toro Rosso, will be the first French driver to start a season since Olivier Panis retired in 2004.
The bespectacled, Le Mans-born driver has won the ChampCar series in America for the past four years.
”So far Sebastien has done a good job,“ said team boss Franz Tost on the Toro Rosso Web site (www.redbullf1.com). ”He has to get used to the rhythm of an F1 race weekend and the first few grands prix will not be so easy for him.
“But I expect he will be a front runner from the fifth or sixth race onwards.”
Piquet, joining Germany’s Nico Rosberg as the son of a champion on the current starting grid, has been promoted from test driver to partner double world champion Fernando Alonso at Renault.
The 22-year-old, whose father and namesake won three championships, says he is ready for the challenge and hoping to learn from the Spaniard at a team who won nothing last season in a disappointing end to their two-year reign as champions.
“He has a lot of F1 experience, he knows the circuit and he has won two titles. He is the perfect benchmark,” the Brazilian said of Alonso.
“I hope he will help me to improve and I think that together we can do a good job for the team.”
Nakajima is also the son of a retired grand prix racer, his father Satoru driving for Lotus and Tyrrell from 1987 to 1991 and scoring points in 10 races.
The Japanese, who made his debut with Williams at the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix last year, should be challenging for points right from the start if his team’s testing performances are any indication.
With compatriot Takuma Sato’s Super Aguri team struggling for survival, Nakajima can expect also to be his country’s leading driver.
Glock takes departed compatriot Ralf Schumacher’s place at Toyota in a comeback for a man who scored points on his stand-in debut with Jordan in Canada in 2004 before disappearing from sight at the end of that year.
The 25-year-old has managed to fight his way back after racing in America and then returning to win the GP2 support series last year after competing against Britain’s Lewis Hamilton in 2006.
“Now I can draw a line and start again from zero,” said Glock, who recognized that his hopes of renewing battle with McLaren’s Hamilton looked remote given the expected performance gulf between their cars.
“What Lewis did last year was definitely quite special but the point was that he had the package to do it,” he told reporters at the Toyota car launch in January.
”I know that he is quick, I fought against him in GP2 and we had a couple of good fights.
“For me it will be difficult to do what he did. We have to be realistic and it’s definitely not a possibility for me to fight for the championship this year, but I will fight to do it in the future.”
Editing by Clare Fallon