Compared with other Grands Prix this season, the Italian Grand Prix didn’t quite deliver the drama and controversy between the Formula 1 championship protagonists, this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix could showcase more than just the traditional end-of-race fireworks display.
Arguably one of the toughest events on the calendar, the tortuous floodlit street circuit will see the next chapter in the Mercedes dogfight, particularly with Lewis Hamilton having trimmed the points deficit to Nico Rosberg after winning at Monza.
|2014 FORMULA 1 SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX
|Date||19-21 September 2014|
|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)||Sun 21:00-23:00|
|Lap Record||1:48.574 (2013)|
|2013 Winner||Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing)|
* All session times are quoted in Singapore Time (UTC +08:00 hrs)
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 five races held here have produced little in the way of passing opportunities (the last four 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.
The 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.
Rewind to 2013
As Sebastian Vettel gets ready to hand over the baton of ‘World Champion’ to a different face, the German may well reflect on last year’s visit to Singapore as a high point in his run to a fourth successive championship.
His third win on the trot on the street circuit was an utter demonstration in dominance. He romped to pole position and then cruised to victory in the race – at some stages he was over two seconds a lap faster than anyone else! – while Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Lotus’ Kimi Räikkönen (who was suffering with the onset of the back injury that would hasten his departure from the team) rounded out the podium.
The sister Red Bull of Mark Webber should have finished on the podium, but in the Australian’s typically luckless final year in F1, his gearbox started to fail with the chequered flag almost in sight. Forced to pull over and retire his smoking car, he hitched a lift back to the paddock with Alonso on the cool-down lap and was subsequently hit with a controversial ten-place grid penalty for his actions.
The Form Guide
The final six flyaway races kick off the real business end of what has been a fascinating 2014 Formula 1 World Championship season. Lewis Hamilton is now less than the equivalent of a race victory behind teammate Nico Rosberg in the Drivers’ Championship standings, and with Singapore traditionally a race of high attrition and unpredictability, we could see the lead change or blow out if either one of them comes to grief.
The battle between the Mercedes duo calmed down after a comfortable run to a 1-2 for the Silver Arrows, with the threat of a challenge from the Williams team ultimately never materialising. A rare race error by Rosberg handed victory to Hamilton, who will need a similar error (or some other misfortune) from his teammate if he’s to make a further dent in the German’s points lead.
Singapore is not a particularly power or aero-dependent circuit, and while Mercedes will still head into this weekend as a clear favourite, it would be a surprise if they have as straightforward a run as they did last time out at Monza.
While the tropical city has a reputation for wet weather, we’re yet to experience a rain-affected race here. The weather forecasts suggest an 80% chance of rain on Sunday, which could really throw the cat among the pigeons and play into a number of rivals’ hands.
Red Bull Racing will be in the pound seats and could seriously threaten for a fourth successive victory here. Engine partner Renault has publicly expressed confidence in having a much better weekend given the circuit’s characteristics, and have already telegraphed that they will tune the power units to deliver plenty of grunt in qualifying – a smart move given the pole-winner has failed to claim victory here just twice in the event’s history.
Lying 72 points adrift of Rosberg, Daniel Ricciardo will need a win – and some trouble for the Mercs – if he wants to maintain his slender hopes of an unlikely tilt at the Drivers’ Championship, and a fourth win of the season would be just the ticket. While he’s had a rough season and is mired in rumours about his ongoing future with the team, three-time winner Sebastian Vettel should prove to be more competitive here as well.
If this year’s Monaco Grand Prix is something of a form guide, then Williams and Ferrari should be scrapping for the final top-six positions as they dispute third place in the teams’ standings, while the McLaren and Force India runners will once again resume hostilities in their ever-fascinating battle for fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship points race.
The Renault-powered Toro Rosso – and possibly even the Lotus team – could be the dark horse for a top-ten qualifying result. Both showed plenty of pace in Monaco, and each team has declared that this could be their weekend to return to the points-paying positions.
Monaco produced some upset results, and in the tight fight at the bottom of the table, the street circuit saw Caterham, Sauber and Marussia in contention for potential points’ finishes, with Marussia eventually sneaking through courtesy of Jules Bianchi. This is possibly the last realistic opportunity for either Caterham or Sauber to get their points’ tallies off the ground, and given the high rate of drama seen in years past, it should not be ruled out at all in 2014.
Images via XPB Images