Raikkonen to Ferrari, Webber on the edge, Lotus courting Hulkenberg (?) and Di Resta under pressure – it all makes great reading for the sport’s fans, but nothing can quite compare with the headline-grabbing act that is the Singapore Grand Prix.
Not only is it Formula One’s only night race (for now anyway; Bahrain is set to go under floodlights in 2014), but Singapore also sits at a crucial juncture in the calendar. ‘Silly season’ is now well underway with seats still up for grabs at McLaren, Force India, Sauber and Williams to name but a few, and the championship battle has reached a pivotal moment for those seeking to challenge the dominance of Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull.
The reigning World Champion enjoys a comfortable 53 point margin over perennial rival Fernando Alonso, and a near-colossal 81 point difference to 3rd placed Lewis Hamilton. While both Alonso and Hamilton have triumphed at Singapore before, the history books do not make comforting reading with the German recording victory in both the last two encounters at Marina Bay.
This was the race in 2012 that finally decided Hamilton it was time to move to pastures new at Mercedes and it could prove to be just as important in his hunt for the driver’s title with new team Mercedes. Dominant at the high-downforce dependent Hungaroring in July, the F1 W04 has struggled on faster circuits at Spa and Monza but appears to have overcome tyre woes that blighted the early season campaign for the Silver Arrows.
“The chicane [at turn 10] has been removed for this year which I’m pleased about, and the track should suit our car so I hope we can have a good weekend there.” said Nico Rosberg on Thursday.
“There has been a lot of hard work at our factories in Brackley and Brixworth since the summer shutdown and the developments that we have found will be introduced during the upcoming flyaway races.” confirmed Team Principal Ross Brawn.
“Whilst our design and development priorities are naturally increasing towards our 2014 efforts, our aim is to extract the maximum from the car we are racing and regain our second position in the constructors’ championship.”
“…it’s a track I like and where I have usually gone quite well, getting four podiums from five starts, so again this year, I’m tackling the weekend in a positive frame of mind, with great confidence that I can do well again.” claimed Alonso.
Ferrari experienced a relative upswing in form at Monza after lacklustre outings in Germany and Hungary, but the Spaniard was still unable to catch runaway winner Vettel – Massa was rewarded for his 4th place effort by being fired for 2014, and the Brazilian has ruffled feathers in Maranello by claiming he is now ‘racing for himself’ and will not be looking to assist Alonso’s meagre title hopes.
Red Bull seemingly don’t need updates to stay ahead of the pack – but don’t be fooled. Singapore has signalled the start of a period of sustained success for the Anglo-Austrian team in both 2011 and 2012, with Vettel embarking on a run of 4 straight victories that carried him to the championship. With 2013 resembling the whitewash of 2011 rather more than the edge-of-the-seat nature of Vettel’s 2012 campaign, it would be difficult to imagine anybody breaking the triple-World Champion’s stranglehold on the Asian ‘flyaway’s’.
It’s especially hard to envision when you consider McLaren, arguably Red Bull’s most consistent rival of the last few years, is struggling merely to score points in 2013. Despite getting both cars into the top ten in Italy, Jenson Button is not anticipating great things in Singapore thanks to the circuit’s resemblance of Melbourne’s Albert Park, where McLaren struggled at the start of the year. Force India supremo Vijay Mallya still believes his British-based outfit has a realistic chance of re-passing McLaren for 5th place in the constructor’s championship, such is the level of underperformance at Woking presently.
“They [McLaren] only scored one point in Monza, so they are definitely catchable.” claimed the Indian.
“We need to perform better ourselves, that’s very clear. We’re working hard to find more performance, but at the same time we’ve made it quite clear that we will not compromise next year’s programme. It’s always a balancing act, but we know what we need to do.”
Vettel – seeking his 3rd straight victory, and with wins in both the 2011 and 2012 races at the circuit, the German is looking set to add to his laurels in his pursuit of what appears to be an inevitable 4th crown.
Williams – Sauber’s surprise 3rd on the grid at Monza courtesy of Nico Hulkenberg proved the small-budget teams can still spring a surprise or two on the big boys – and Williams have the benefit of having been a member of this ‘club’, initated in the tricks of the trade. Maldonado was 3rd on the grid here last year, while Bottas has shown he is more than capable of being quicker than the Venezuelan – a long shot for a surprise front row?
Caterham and Marussia – With high attrition rates now a thing of the past in contemporary Formula One, Singapore represents one of the last big challenges for drivers with ample opportunity to muck it up. Along with Monaco it’s probably the best chance for one of the ‘new’ teams to score their first points, but an inexperienced line-up at both Caterham and Marussia might prove to be a handful.
McLaren – Fitting into this category far too many times this season, McLaren will be fighting an uphill battle at Marina Bay against a bumpy track surface – something the MP4/28 reviled in Melbourne. Points would be an achievement for them this weekend.
Lotus – Kimi Raikkonen may have signed for Ferrari for 2014, but his 2013 fate remains very much wrapped up in the hands of Lotus. Despite winning the opening Grand Prix of the year, they’ve never looked quite so good since and are coming off the back of a run of disappointing results.
Paul Di Resta – Now in his 3rd F1 season, Paul can ill-afford mistakes like that that saw him crash out on lap 1 in Monza. It’s time to make an impact, because the sands of time are fast running down on his chances of making it into a top team.
What They Say
“The tyres we are bringing to Singapore this year represent a change from last year, when we went for supersoft and soft. This is because the tyres are generally softer across the board this year in order to maximise performance and grip. Singapore is quite bumpy – a typical feature of street circuits – and there’s lots of street furniture such as painted white lines and manholes that compromise grip and traction. We’re racing at night, which presents a unique set of parameters for the tyres to deal with when it comes to the way that track and ambient temperatures evolve. The cars also carry the heaviest fuel load of the year, which again has a direct effect on tyre wear and degradation. It’s a long race, and that gives the teams plenty of scope to come up with some interesting strategies at what is a truly spectacular event in every sense.” Paul Hembery, Pirelli
“The Marina Bay circuit has more turns than any other track on the calendar, however, most are taken in first to third gear. Average speeds are therefore correspondingly low and the engine is working at between 8,000 rpm and 13,000 rpm for the majority of the corner apexes and exits. The stop-start nature of the track and the short bursts of acceleration between the turns make Singapore one of the least fuel efficient of the year so we try and be as careful as we can with the engine settings to avoid a weight penalty. Temperatures are also something to watch carefully – particularly as the race is the longest in duration of the year. Not only are the ambient temperatures high, but the slow turns give the engines little time to breathe so we will tend to use an engine at the end of its life.” Remi Taffin, Renault Sport F1
“There’s no reason to think that a podium will be out of reach. We’ve been quite competitive on twisty circuits this year and Singapore shares a lot of Monaco’s characteristics. Romain loves that type of circuit, while Kimi has always been quick in Singapore. It will be an interesting weekend. It’s probably best we don’t mention the wall, but it’s true that we probably have a better car on high-downforce circuits like Singapore than medium-downforce tracks like Spa where we struggled a bit. We have a good reliability record, a durable car, and the Singapore Grand Prix is likely to be one of the longest of the year in terms of running time.” Eric Boullier, Lotus Team Principal
Friday – High 31c/Low 26c – Storm
Saturday – High 32c/Low 26c – Cloudy
Sunday – High 31c/Low 26c – Cloudy