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Life in the fast lane

The Singapore Grand Prix is one of the must-see races of the Formula One calendar and also offers superb business and networking opportunities. Boase Cohen & Collins Senior Partner Colin Cohen recounts his visit there last weekend.

THURSDAY 14 SEPTEMBER

After a hectic few hours in the office, I make a mid-afternoon dash for the airport to start what is always one of the best weekends of the year, the Singapore Grand Prix. In just a few short years, the race has become established as a glamour fixture on the Formula One calendar, a heady mix of close-up street racing, concerts, corporate hospitality, networking and socialising that makes it a must-attend event.

After checking in at the Pan Pacific Orchard hotel, I rendezvous with my fellow race fans. There are five in our party. My nephew Jason Cohen has flown in from Shanghai and we are joined by three of my closest friends and business associates from Hong Kong – David Lamb, Partner and Co-Chairman of corporate law firm Conyers Dill & Pearman; Stephen Weatherseed, Managing Partner at accountants Mazars, Hong Kong; and Victor Apps, now retired but formerly Senior Executive Vice-President and General Manager of Manulife Financial Asia. If anything goes horribly wrong, we should be well covered from a legal, financial and insurance point of view.

FRIDAY 15 SEPTEMBER

Much of the day is taken up with client meetings. We live in an age of instant global communication with our smartphones and myriad audio-visual tools and yet there is still no better way of building and maintaining a long-term business relationship than a face-to-face meeting. And so it turns out to be a busy but hugely productive day.

Business completed, I head for the Marina Bay circuit and catch up with my colleagues in the grandstand for the opening practice sessions. I’m a massive Lewis Hamilton fan but this is a long, tortuous and comparatively slow track with multiple turns – it simply doesn’t suit our hero’s Mercedes, which is far better on faster tracks with long straights. The Red Bull and Ferrari teams are expected to be much quicker and so it proves in the case of the former, with teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen dominating the two sessions. Lewis has to settle for third but can at least be happy that Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, his arch-rival for the world title, makes a mess of his limited track time and posts just the 11th-fastest lap. It’s been an entertaining but tiring first full day in Singapore and we head for our hotel.

SingF1 Wheel PHOTO

The Marina Bay circuit is a magical sight during Friday night practice.

SATURDAY 16 SEPTEMBER

I have another client meeting in the morning before going to a lunch that could technically be described as “working” since it includes two old business associates, Kim Seah and Alfonso Ang. They are Partners in Singaporean law firm A. Ang, Seah & Hoe which, like Boase Cohen & Collins, is a member of global legal services referral organisation Ally Law. So we have a table of seven at Les Amis, the famed French restaurant that boasts two Michelin Stars. Between inevitable motor racing talk, I have time to discuss some Ally Law business with Kim and Alfonso and they also offer a few insights on the week’s controversial election – or perhaps that should be selection, since all the other candidates were declared ineligible – of Halimah Yacob as Singapore’s first woman President.

SingF1 LesAmis PHOTO

Enjoying a superb lunch at Les Amis – (from left) Jason Cohen, Stephen Weatherseed, David Lamb, Kim Seah, myself, Victor Apps and Alfonso Ang.

While talking we have time to marvel at the culinary skills of Executive Chef Sebastien Lepinoy – a friend of mine from his days in Hong Kong – and Pastry Chef Cheryl Koh. It is a superb lunch and we head out in good spirits to enjoy the afternoon’s musical offerings, which include British singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas, who is highly entertaining, and Duran Duran, who go through their repertoire of 80s hits to remind me of my formative years in Hong Kong.

Amid all this wining, dining and music, it’s easy to forget we’re actually here for the motor racing but, come evening time, we eagerly head to our seats for the qualifying session. Clearly smarting from his 11th place the night before, Herr Vettel delivers a quite stunning fastest lap to take pole position ahead of Verstappen and Ricciardo in their Red Bulls. Poor Lewis can only manage fifth and, with overtaking virtually impossible on the twisting street circuit, faces a tall order to retain his narrow lead over Vettel in the world championship standings.

SUNDAY 17 SEPTEMBER

What better way to start Race Sunday than with a magnificent brunch among friends at the Grand Hyatt? With such great company, a wonderful setting and fabulous F&B, even the prospect of Lewis losing his championship lead fails to dampen our spirits. Full of expectation, we have time to enjoy a concert by British star Seal before taking our seats in the grandstand. It is raining, the first time this has happened at the Singapore Grand Prix, which should make the race more interesting, but we are still resigned to a Vettel victory procession.

SingF1 Grid PHOTO

Sitting opposite the starting grid, excitement builds as we wait for the race to begin.

So much for our predictions! From our vantage point overlooking the starting grid, we wait amid the ear-splitting noise as the red lights go out and the cars roar off to the first turn. Then, we look at the big screens and watch, to our amazement, as Vettel at the front makes an aggressive move to defend his position and takes out Verstappen and his own Ferrari teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, who had made a lightning start from fourth. Verstappen and Raikkonen are finished. Vettel limps on to turn three, where his damaged car hits the wall and ends his race as well.

Lewis, meanwhile, sails through unscathed to capture the lead and, in a race featuring frequent interruptions from the safety car, he drives with peerless skill and determination to take the chequered flag ahead of Ricciardo. In my opinion, it might well be the finest drive of Lewis’s career, and there have been some truly great ones. He has extended his world championship lead over Vettel from three points to 28 and this particular Hamilton fan retires to his hotel thinking it has been an almost miraculous ending to what was already a brilliant weekend.

MONDAY 18 SEPTEMBER

Up at a brutal 5:30am for the flight back to Hong Kong. Work beckons but so does the Malaysian Grand Prix, which is less than two weeks away. Naturally, I have some clients in Kuala Lumpur, which means my attendance is an absolute necessity.