We’re now into the final leg of the championship as the Formula 1 travelling circus makes the first of seven ‘flyaway’ visits to finish off the 2012 season.
Our first destination is Singapore, where the 24 cars will be running under the floodlights for the fifth time. While the racing might not always be what you’d call ‘classic’, the atmosphere is second to none and it’s a popular destination for fans and drivers alike.
And with McLaren showing plenty of momentum with three wins on the trot, can they make it a fourth, or will Fernando Alonso or the two Red Bull drivers – or someone else? – get into the mix this weekend?
Let’s take a look at the RichardsF1.com Singapore Grand Prix Preview…
2012 FORMULA 1 SINGTEL SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX
|Date:||21-23 September 2012|
|Venue:||Marina Bay Circuit, Singapore|
|Race Lap Record:||1:45.599, Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari F2008) – 2008|
|Event Schedule:||Free Practice Session 1||Fri 18:00-19:30|
|Free Practice Session 2||Fri 21:30-23:00|
|Free Practice Session 3||Sat 18:00-19:00|
|Race (61 laps, 309.316km)||Sun 20:00-22:00|
|Past Winners:||Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault RB7)*||2011|
|Fernando Alonso (Ferrari F10 Italia)*||2010|
|Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes MP4-24)*||2009|
|Fernando Alonso (Renault R28)||2008|
* Denotes victory from pole position
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 Hermann Tilke designed circuit happens to sit in the camp of his tracks that the drivers actually like. This author might be inclined to disagree with that statement, as the previous four races held here have produced little in the way of passing opportunities (the last three have all been won from pole) 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.
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.
Let’s take a look at our Marina Bay Circuit Guide:
The History Bit
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.
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
Rewind to 2011
The 2011 championship season’s records kept tumbling, and last year’s Singapore Grand Prix was no different with yet another win for Sebastian Vettel proving enough to move the young German to within one point of becoming the sport’s youngest-ever double World Champion.
But a mid-race safety car interruption bunched the field and created some excitement for fans, and the German still had everything under control, even when Button mounted a late charge to whittle down his lead in the final laps.
Button’s second place finish – his fourth podium result on the trot – owed as much to his excellent start as his fabled ability to nurse his Pirelli tyres during the race. The Briton held the position for much of the race bar his visits to the pits for fresh tyres, but he ultimately didn’t have the pace to pose a serious threat to Vettel’s almost assured run to victory. His podium finish – the fourth on the trot – would prove enough to ensure he was the only driver mathematically in the hunt to deprive Vettel of title number two.
Former Singapore winner Hamilton had a race that pretty much exemplified his woeful 2011 season, coming off with a drive-through penalty after yet another collision with Felipe Massa. That he managed to battle through to finish fifth owed as much to the McLaren’s speed as it did to his ability to exploit the well-placed DRS zone to help him overtake the slower cars ahead of him.
Mark Webber finished an excellent third, twice overtaking Fernando Alonso during the race to claim the final podium spot, while the Spaniard was left to again rue coming off second-best in another wheel-to-wheel dice with a Red Bull driver.
Behind the top-five, Paul di Resta claimed sixth place and the best finish of his short Formula 1 career. The only runner starting in the top-ten run on the harder Pirelli rubber in his opening stint, his first pit stop came much later than his nearest rivals, while his second trip to the pits came just as the Safety Car was brought out, allowing him to leapfrog Nico Rosberg and Adrian Sutil.
The excellent result for Force India saw them comfortably move into sixth place in the Constructors’ Championship battle with Sauber and Toro Rosso, in what was the team’s most competitive showing this season.
Sergio Pérez claimed the final point in tenth place, surviving a read-end mauling from Michael Schumacher, which launched the seven-time World Champion into a frightening bit of ‘air time’ as he attempted to overtake the Mexican. Schumacher caught the back of Pérez’ Sauber, and sailed into the barriers at high speed, fortunately without injury, although the Safety Car was brought out to clean up the mess.
Singapore Talking Points
So what do the RichardsF1.com readers and contributors think will happen this weekend?
The Form Guide
While Red Bull Racing might still be in front of the Constructors’ Championship standings, the Milton Keynes squad has found its advantage being rapidly eaten away by the fast-closing McLarens. Sure, the RB8 was always set to struggle on the high-speed Monza and Spa circuits, but a double DNF last time out – when McLaren, through Lewis Hamilton, gained 25 points with his win – must have been galling.
This is the best opportunity for Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber to reignite their championship challenges with a strong display here. If they don’t, then they could be in real trouble for the rest of the season…
Down at Ferrari, the atmosphere will remain positive after another good haul of points last time out on home soil. Granted, the result wasn’t the win that the tifosi had been praying for, but what matters is that Fernando Alonso was still able to extend his points lead. The Spaniard is the only two-time winner here, and having won here in 2008 and 2010, can he add 2012 to his tally?
Despite their recent on-track successes, McLaren has found itself in the limelight for the wrong reasons. First off, we have the ongoing ‘will he or won’t he?’ debate over Hamilton’s future with the team, on top of the Woking outfit’s failure to get both of its cars in the points at each of the last three rounds. If the team wants to have a serious crack at both titles, it needs to improve reliability and consistency.
Mercedes will be heading into Singapore with a spring in their step after a successful three day test session at Magny Cours, in which they put their revised DRS and exhaust designs through their paces. By all accounts, it has given the troublesome W03 a performance boost, and given Singapore’s similar characteristics to Monaco – where Michael Schumacher qualified fastest – they could be in for a competitive showing this weekend.
Lotus will welcome back Romain Grosjean into its second seat, after the Franco-Swiss driver was forced to watch the Italian Grand Prix from the sidelines following his Belgian Grand Prix misdemeanor. He’s given every assurance that we’ll see a calmer style of driving hereon, but he knows better than anybody how much his performances have hurt the team’s chances of challenging for the Constructors’ Championship. His role will now be to support team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in challenging for a win and the Drivers’ crown.
Don’t forget to enter your F1 Predictions!
The fourteenth round round of the 2012 RichardsF1.com F1 Predictions Competition is now open, and you can enter your predictions for the race right here to be in the running for some great prizes throughout the season and at the end of the year!
The cut-off to submit your predictions is no later than five minutes before qualifying starts, so make sure you’re in it to win it!
You can view the latest Predictions Competition ranking right here.
There were more changes in the points table following the Italian Grand Prix round, and the overall winner’s title remains open to many people to claim. Again, we’ll be awarding a prize to this weekend’s highest points-scorer (before ‘double up). Will it be you?
To enter your predictions, click here.
As always, RichardsF1.com will be bringing you the best of the on- and off-track action this weekend, so make sure we’re your first port of call for your Singapore Grand Prix fix!