Singapore GP diary: 'Unhealthy' haze hangs over Singapore, then disappears

SINGAPORE -- The Formula One paddock is a busy place that hosts a lot of serious business over a race weekend, so we try to bring you some of the news stories you might otherwise miss ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix.

Hazy days in Singapore

When Singaporeans were saying they'd never seen haze like it before, you knew there was a potential issue.

On Wednesday evening, when many Formula One personnel began arriving into Singapore, the city's Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) was hovering between 170 and 180. Basically, the air quality in Singapore was "unhealthy" and not far from moving into the "very unhealthy" category.

The toxic haze has come from mass forest fires in Indonesia, where thousands of hectares of ecologically rich land has illegally been burned.

So bad was the haze, Singapore's National Environment Agency was advising citizens to avoid prolonged or strenuous outdoor activity and to spend as much time as possible indoors.

Fortunately, some respite came on Thursday. The PSI had dipped to 140 by 10 a.m. local time and 117 at midday. By 5 p.m., the reading was down to 99 and into the "moderate" category.

The haze is expected to continue clearing ahead of opening practice, but it could return at even higher levels on the PSI index Saturday and Sunday.

As part of their contingency planning, race organisers have stocked up on protective face masks to hand out to those most at risk -- such as the elderly, children and pregnant women -- and to sell at a nominal price of $2 to other racegoers if the PSI goes above 151.

Although the race is one of the longest and most physically demanding on the calendar, there is little risk to the drivers themselves.

According to Dr. Luke Bennett, who works with a number of teams and drivers as medical and sports performance director for F1 health specialists Hintsa Performance, the risk to drivers is almost zero.

"I think dangerous is probably a little bit too strong a word for a relatively fit 20-something athlete," he told ESPN. "The drivers are competing inside a helmet as well, which provides a degree of filtration of the air, not to mention the air moving over the surface of the car, so in terms of competitor's risk, I would say it is almost nil.

"For the community in general, particularly people who are elderly or pregnant or have a lung disease of some sort, then absolutely there are risks, particularly living in smoke-haze conditions over the longer term. Within the team we keep an eye on the few individuals who have asthma or other lung diseases and restrict at-risk individuals to be indoors as much as possible.

"We might limit people running the track (a popular activity among paddock folk once track action has finished) if they have a history of asthma, but otherwise in the cohort of people that we are lucky to have travelling in Formula One, generally the risks are pretty low."

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A home race ... of sorts

Alex Albon has never driven around the Marina Bay street circuit, but he might be about to claim the Singapore Grand Prix as his unofficial home race.

On Thursday evening, the Red Bull driver was asked if this weekend had a special home vibe about it, given it's the closest race to his native Thailand.

"Kind of," Albon told the media. "But it's still a two-hour flight, so not really."

But when he discovered that it was his face on the front cover of the official race program, he was quite impressed.

"There you go! Positives," he said, laughing. "I've got family coming and obviously Red Bull Thailand, so I want to do well for them."

For the record, Singapore is a lazy 1,420km (870mi) from Bangkok.