2011 Singapore GP Singapore Fernando Alonso won last year's race

As Sebastian Vettel romps towards claiming the honour of being the sport’s youngest-ever double World Champion, the F1 circus heads to Singapore’s Marina Bay circuit to do battle as the last sequence of flyaway races gets underway.

The mathematics say he can wrap up the title as early as this weekend – by outscoring Fernando Alonso by 13 points, Jenson Button and Mark Webber by eight, and a single point to Lewis Hamilton.

But on to Singapore, which is something of an anomaly on the calendar. One of only two proper street circuits on the calendar (sorry, Australia Valencia and Canada don’t count), its tight confines punish mistakes and it has historically thrown up surprise results. Plus there’s the added novelty of it being the calendar’s only night race. Add in the high probability of wet weather, and this race could be a complete lottery!

So with that in mind, let’s attempt to gaze into the crystal ball and preview the Singapore Grand Prix…

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The Circuit

2011 FORMULA 1 SINGTEL SINGAPORE GRAND PRIXSingapore Circuit Map

Date: 25 September 2011 No. Laps 61
Lap Length: 5.073km Race Distance: 309.316km
Lap Record: 1:45.599, Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) – 2008
Last Year’s Winner: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)

With evident enthusiasm on the part of Bernie Ecclestone to explore the burgeoning markets in the Far East, in stepped Singapore to offer a night race spectacular on a 5-kilometre street circuit in the island state’s Marina Bay district.

Run under thousands of spotlights, the tight and twisty track is so well illuminated that it’s almost reminiscent of a day race in terms of light quality, but it’s anything but your typical Sunday afternoon drive…

The track has the challenges of a typical street circuit The Hermann Tilke designed circuit happens to sit in the camp of his tracks that the drivers actually like. This author would tend to disagree with that statement, as the previous two races held here have produced little in the way of passing opportunities and serious wheel-to-wheel racing that the previous rounds in Spa and Monza would typically provide in spades.

However, the technical challenge of the circuit is certainly one to be appreciated. A particularly bumpy track (although the surface has been somewhat smoothed out), the sparks flying from the bottoms of the cars reminded me very much of the 1980s and 1990s period of F1.

Singapore's spectacular night-time backgroundThe atmosphere is also second-to-none, with dramatic backdrops such as the Anderson Bridge, Raffles Hotel and Singapore Flyer simply adding to the spectacle.

This is a circuit that rewards a good set-up rather than outright pace, and it would be logical to assume that the cars that performed well in Monaco – those with good traction in particular – could do similarly well here.

One aspect that this circuit surprisingly takes a toll on – particularly given its relatively low average lap-speed – is brakes, and past races have seen several driver retirements and accidents when the brake pedal suddenly went soft on the driver.

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Memorable Singapore Moments

The Singapore Grand Prix is among the newest venues on the F1 calendar, but each of its three races has still provided plenty of action and intrigue:

  • 2008: A dramatic and incident-packed inaugural race in 2008 became the home of the disgraceful ‘Crashgate’ scandal, where Nelson Piquet Jr conspired with Renault team management to deliberately crash his Renault during the race, shortly after team-mate Fernando Alonso (who’d had a disastrous qualifying session and was starting midfield) had made his first pit stop. The ensuing safety car triggered a raft of pit stops by the cars in front, vaulting the Spaniard up the field and into a lead he wouldn’t surrender. The scandal wasn’t uncovered until almost a year later, with the sport’s greatest act of cheating rocking it to the very core…
  • 2009: Won by Lewis Hamilton, the 2009 race was one of strategy and good set-up, with the Briton blasting into an early lead from pole. His run was threatened by Nico Rosberg, who delivered a surprise performance in his Williams. The German looked set to claim a (then) career-best finish until he came unstuck exiting the pit lane after a tyre change, earning himself a drive-through penalty.
  • Heikki Kovalainen's Lotus catches fire 2010: An outstanding win by Fernando Alonso, who withstood race-long pressure from Sebastian Vettel to claim the sport’s first Grand Chelem – leading the entire race from pole and setting fastest lap – since the 2004 Hungarian Grand Prix. The race features plenty of incidents up and down the field – Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton collided to virtually finish Hamilton’s championship hopes – with the most spectacular being Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus catching fire on the last lap.

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Marina Bay Talking Points

What are the three big talking points of the Singapore Grand Prix?

  • Can Sebastian Vettel wrap up the title? ‘When’ rather than ‘if’. Mathematically, the German can become the sport’s youngest-ever double World Champion by finishing on the podium this weekend, subject to the fate of his chief championship rivals. If Vettel wins, he needs Alonso to finish fourth or lower, Button and Webber to finish third or lower. Whatever Hamilton does is largely irrelevant…
  • The battle for second place heats up: Assuming a Vettel title is done and dusted, it’s the titanic scrap for runner’s-up honours that’s proving extremely interesting. Fernando Alonso is somehow always a factor at this venue and has never finished off the podium here. At some point, Mark Webber’s luck has got to change, perhaps he could be a force this weekend? And the McLaren battle is proving equally interesting, with both drivers vying for top honours in the silver cars…
  • Will weather play a factor this weekend? The forecasters are talking up the chances of showers and thunderstorms all weekend, which could turn the highly unpredictable Marina Bay race into a complete lottery. The circuit has poor drainage and struggles to dry once any precipitation has gone. In short, we could see plenty of carnage this weekend!

So what do the Richard’s F1 readers and contributors think will happen this weekend?

Joseph
Joseph, Richard’s F1 Technical Correspondent

“For me, Singapore has always been a bogey track. I never know which way the race is going to go. 

“The event itself is fantastic, with the night race bringing another dimension to an already exciting formula. The track, however, is a bit hit and miss for me. It is a challenging track for drivers and cars, with a big toll on braking. Fernando has traditionally been strong here, even if one win was attributed to Crashgate. Fernando held onto the lead last year with just a few tenths over Sebastian ‘the finger’ Vettel, but looking at recent form, it could possibly be the other way around this year. McLaren showed at Monza that, particularly with Lewis’s car, they made the wrong call for set up for the race, lets see if they improve this round.

“Could Mercedes claim a podium, or even a win here this year? Nico came in a strong 5th last year, and MSC has shown good racing form lately. The Singapore GP hasn’t (from memory) been affected by rain just yet, but this part of the world is prone to monsoonal rain in the afternoon and evenings, and based on current forecasts, we can expect rain all through the weekend, and we know that Merc GP, with MSC in particular, look racey in questionable conditions.

“Sebastian should still be the man to beat here, and pending weather, MSC could be podium material?

Geoff  
Geoff, Richard’s F1 reader, Australia

The rumour mills says this could well be the last Grand Prix held on the Marina Bay circuit. Race organisers are reportedly looking at relocating the race to the city’s new ‘Sports Hub’, which is located slightly further out of town.

Certainly this would reduce traffic disruptions for locals, and Singapore’s excellent public transport system would be able to transfer spectators to the area without having to shut down a big chunk of the city.

Word is that the new circuit design will be built using the perimeter roads for the Hub’s various stadiums that are under construction – perhaps this may go some way to alleviate what has been a generally uninspiring circuit design at Marina Bay.”

Henry 

Henry, Richard’s F1 reader, Ireland

“Singapore has always produced the unexpected, and the 2011 round should be no different.

“We’ve had race-fixing scandals, Felipe Massa driving out of a pit stop with his fuel hose still firmly attached, Heikki Kovalainen putting out a blazing Lotus by himself … Singapore does tend to see the unexpected.

“Fernando Alonso is going to be a major player here. He won in disgraceful circumstances in 2008, claimed a podium the following year when the ‘Crashgate’ scandal finally broke, and then staked his championship claims with a fine win in 2010. Be it through sheer brilliance or scandal, he is always a factor at Marina Bay.”

Jen  
Jen, Richard’s F1 reader, Australia
 

“So here we are at that point where the Drivers’ Championship can be potentially decided by the end of the race weekend.  It’s sad to see it come around so early with a further five races to come after Singapore but its not all sewn up yet.  Vettel needs to win this race with Button and Webber placing third or lower and Alonso placing fourth or lower for him to secure the championship. 

“Ever since the inaugural race in Singapore back in 2008 we have seen a safety car in every race and the forecast this year is hot and stormy – the perfect recipe for an unexpected outcome.  I always enjoy this race for the scenery more than the race if I’m honest, but I think the potential for a championship decision could hold my interest more this year.  If not, another competitive drive from Jenson Button will keep me happy.”

 

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The Form Guide

Singapore’s potential for thrills and spills, upset results and controversy makes this among the most difficult races to predict on the calendar.

The barriers are close enough to the boundaries of the circuit that any driver errors will be punished, but there’s also enough space to ensure that the race isn’t punctuated by countless safety car interruptions.

Every race held here has been eventful, and the advents of DRS and Pirelli’s ultra-soft tyres could be on side to help tackle the one glaring problem with the circuit – it being a general lack of overtaking opportunities – this should be a very entertaining round of the 2011 season.

The odds of Vettel celebrating back-to-back crowns with a Singapore Sling this weekend are very good, and if everything falls into place then it will be the earliest title wrap-up since Michael Schumacher’s waltz to his fifth title in 2002, which was claimed with six races to run.

Fernando Alonso is always quick at Singapore Look out for Fernando Alonso, who is certainly the form driver when it comes to the Singapore Grand Prix. Perhaps there’s something about this five-kilometre ribbon of tarmac under lights, but in any respect, the Spaniard is always on song here. Granted, his first win here came off the back of Renault’s act of cheating, but his drives to a podium and win in 2009 and 2010 respectively were top-shelf.

The venue’s only other race-winner, Lewis Hamilton, will be fired up this weekend, having copped plenty of criticism for being too meek at last fortnight’s Italian Grand Prix, when he was stuck behind Michael Schumacher for lap after lap.

Away from the stoush at the top of the championship table, there are plenty of interesting battles to look for up and down the timesheets.

Mercedes GP and Renault will be continuing their scrap for the ‘best of the rest’ honours, with both outfits having shown an upswing in form over the last two race weekends at Belgium and Italy. With the much slower Singapore circuit awaiting them, are their improvements due to the higher-speed natures of Spa and Monza, or will it translate to the close confines of Marina Bay as well?

Further behind, the battle for sixth place in the Constructors’ Championship is really heating up, with Sauber being caught by Toro Rosso, and already overtaken by Force India in the points’ race. Over the last four rounds, Force India has scored 24 points, Toro Rosso 12, and Sauber has claimed just 2 points.

The Swiss team has squandered points’ opportunities when they’ve been on offer, and the Ferrari-powered C30 is simply not quick enough. Meanwhile, Toro Rosso can’t get Alguersuari was pretty quick here last year - can he add to his points tally? qualifying speed out of the STR6, but its race pace is excellent.

The battle between the Toro Rosso drivers, Sébastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari, is equally fascinating, and the recent momentum is all on Alguersuari’s side as Buemi again finds himself unable to maintain his form over an entire season.

Towards the rear of the field, Williams, Lotus and HRT are all banking on major upgrades to help boost their fortunes, with all three no doubt recognising that this weekend has the greatest potential to throw up a weird result.

So let’s try and predict a result this weekend… Red Bull’s unbeatable qualifying form should see Vettel claim another pole; but he could take a more conservative approach in the race, which might give Alonso an opportunity to claim his third win at this circuit.

That’s all on the assumption it remains dry. If the heavens open (and everyone’s saying they will), then this is really going to be quite the lottery. Expect a few shock results.

[Images via Hannah Corbett, LAT, Sutton Images]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.

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