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[SINGAPORE] The food and beverage options at this year's Formula One race have been significantly expanded, with promoter Singapore GP having roped in local celebrity chefs and five-star hotels for its hospitality suites.
The objective is to ensure that, at this seventh edition of the iconic night race at the Marina Bay Circuit of the Singapore Grand Prix, nobody will have reason to say "Same old, same old".
The décor of the suites, and even the crockery, will be new.
Singapore GP media and communications director Jonathan Hallett said: "A lot of our guests have been with us for six years, and we want them to have a new experience this year."
The hospitality suites come in three categories - the Paddock Club, Sky and Club. The first is at the F1 Pit Building, while the other two are sited along the pit straight and Turns 1, 2 and 3.
A Paddock Club pass costs S$8,500; a Sky suite costs S$7,250, and a Club suite, S$5,750.
About 6,000 people are entertained during the three-day race weekend - Friday's practice run, Saturday's qualifying and Sunday's race.
Singapore GP executive director Michael Roche said the suites have been given a fresh, lighter colour scheme; the Paddock Club has been fitted with a new reception, which has been done up in a plain palette highlighted by red carpets and red flowers.
"It will be resort-like, cool and welcoming," he said.
Behind it, the Lifestyle area will have its usual spa, and calligraphy, palmistry and merchandise stands. New this year is the Marina Bay Creamery, which will serve up artisanal ice cream, coffee and dessert.
Beyond the pretty garden of cacti are Jean-Georges Vongerichten's four new restaurants: the Crudo & Caviar with its sashimi and sake; Pizzeria with pizzas and Italian beer; Tapas for its small bites and sherry from Spain and South America; and Steakhouse Grill. The Steakhouse Grill has the largest dining space with the most opulent decor, amid which guests will dine on everything from charred beef tenderloin with smashed herbs to crispy pork with sweet and sour glaze and salmon with paprika and lemon.
The four Jean-Georges restaurants occupy an area double the size of his single outlet last year.
One highlight of the Paddock Club Lifestyle area is the Marina Bay Seafood Co restaurant and bar - not just for the food and drink served up, but also for its being just metres away from the pit lane entrance. Nowhere on the F1 calendar will a fan get this close to a lobster and Lotus at the same time.
At the Sky and Club suites, four craft beers from Archipelago Brewery will slake the thirst of fans, on top of the usual range of champagnes and wines.
The chefs of seven hotels - Mandarin Oriental, Pan Pacific, Marina Mandarin, Hyatt, Marriott, Intercontinental and Goodwood Park - collaborated on the menu for the suites and it was no mean task.
Mr Hallett said: "We had 14 separate tastings over 21/2 months. We've put in so much effort. No other event will do that."
And on top of the buffet spreads, chefs from three local restaurants - Ola, St Pierre and Pind Balluchi - will cook on the al fresco Sky terraces or in the air-conditioned suites.
New this year is the butler-served, sampler-sized surprise, featuring mini-courses such as a crispy quail egg in celeriac remoulade, presented in its shell on an old-fashioned cardboard egg tray.
Mr Hallett said: "We didn't want to be just another buffet with caviar and wagyu. We want to bring back an element of surprise with specially-made items."
But it will not be all fine-dining fare, he added: "There will be comfort food like satay and gourmet hot dogs in a box."
Mr Roche is confident that the very wide range of F&B will keep giving race fans something new to try. "I'm not sure you can get through all of them - even if you come for all three days," he said with a laugh.
The crockery chosen for this year is a range from Japan, made from recycled paper. Mr Roche said this eco-friendly pick, together with bamboo tableware, won't need to be washed with large amounts of water or detergent. And there will be a lot of plates. The four Jean-Georges restaurants alone will need close to 60,000 over the three-day weekend; the Como Cuisine suite in the Pit Building will go through about 20,000.
Despite the enhancements, Mr Roche said this year's F&B budget isn't bigger than last year's, thanks to some clever re-arranging of food items.
He said: "The challenge is to make it all new and we had the pleasure of working with 18 chefs from around the world. So when you see all the outlets packed, it is very rewarding."