The flyaway leg of the Formula 1 season begins this weekend underneath the spotlights in Singapore.
|2015 Formula 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix|
|Date||18-20 September 2015||Lap Length||5.065km|
|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||Qualifying||Sat 21:00-22:00|
|Race (61 laps)||Sun 20:00-22:00||2014 Winner||Lewis Hamilton|
Session times quoted in Singapore Standard Time (GMT + 08:00)
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. The last six races held here have mixed amount of wheel-to-wheel racing, although the advent of DRS has helped that enormously. That being said, the last five races here have all been won from pole.
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 are a throwback to 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.
This year’s event will see a few changes to the circuit layout, most noticeably a reprofiling of the section between Turns 12 and 13 to present another overtaking opportunity. The FIA has also announced that it will create a Monza-style cones, bollards and an exit lane at Turn 1 for any drivers who take to the run-off.
Rewind to 2014
Having given a rather limp performance at the preceding Italian Grand Prix, the pressure was on championship leader Nico Rosberg to thwart any building momentum from teammate Lewis Hamilton as the Mercedes drivers’ fight for the title moved into the final flyaway races.
The German was 22 points clear of Hamilton in the standings coming into the weekend, but would leave Singapore three points behind after his F1W05 Hybrid developed a terminal gearbox problem before the start of the race.
Hamilton had romped to pole ahead of Rosberg, but the signs were ominous on the evening of the night race. Apparently afflicted by a stomach ailment in the hours before, a sign of things to come occurred when the vintage Mercedes he was a passenger in for the drivers’ parade broke down…
In the half-hour leading up to joining the grid, the German’s electronics were misbehaving on his Mercedes F1W05. With his gearshift all awry, the team tried a change of steering wheel and a complete software reset on the dummy grid, but he couldn’t get going on the parade lap and was pushed into the pit lane for more attention.
With Hamilton on the front row all to himself, only a botched start would ensure he wouldn’t have an easy lead into Turn 1. With luck on his side, he eased away while the second-row starting Red Bulls were slow off the line, and proceeded to dominate the race from there.
Rosberg did manage to join the race at the tail of the field, but his gearshifts were decidedly faulty and he retired after 13 laps when he made his first attempt at a pit stop, minus any clutch or speed limiter. His 22-point advantage heading into the race weekend was gone, and if Hamilton claimed victory, it would become a three-point deficit.
There was some tension in the middle of the race when Hamilton’s sizeable lead was slashed by a Safety Car period, and he needed to put in a series of hot laps to build enough of a lead over the chasing Red Bulls so he could emerge still in the lead.
The Englishman delivered a masterclass performance, putting in a blistering sequence of laps to rebuild a gap of 25 seconds to try and stay in the lead. He pitted with 10 laps to go and rejoined behind Sebastian Vettel, but armed with fresher tyres, Hamilton breezed by the German within a lap-and-a-half to reclaim the lead and cruise to victory.
Vettel and teammate Daniel Ricciardo completed the podium just ahead of a hard-charging Fernando Alonso, while Williams driver Felipe Massa finished fifth.
Sixth place and perhaps the most exciting of all to watch was Jean-Éric Vergne in the Toro Rosso. The Frenchman admitted to botching his qualifying performance and had vowed to make up ground in the race. He didn’t, however, make his life easy by earning two five-second stop/go penalties for exceeding the track limits in his efforts to overtake his rivals.
After serving the first in his second pit stop, Vergne earned his second with a wild lunge on Pastor Maldonado and used his fresher tyres to pick off a number of cars ahead of him with a succession of bold passing moves. First came Nico Hülkenberg, then Kimi Räikkönen’s Ferrari, and finally Valtteri Bottas’ Williams – which had been keeping a train of cars at bay for half the race. It was an entertaining drive to say the least, and he ensured he had at least a five-second margin in hand to not drop a place in the final results.
The Form Guide
A year on from the race that ultimately killed his prospects of beating Lewis Hamilton to the Drivers’ Championship title, this weekend could well deliver a repeat for Nico Rosberg.
The German has suffered his worst run of races in almost two years, with a distant second-placed finish to Hamilton and an eighth place to show for his efforts in the last three races. His late-race engine failure at Monza was the nadir of the trio, and he now sits a whopping 53 points behind Hamilton with only seven races to go.
His prayers will have to be answered in the form of Hamilton striking major trouble in at least two Grands Prix, but such if the reigning champion’s form, it seems an unlikely prospect. Rosberg performs well on street circuits, however, and has a solid record at Singapore. Could this be the weekend where his championship challenge gets back on track or falls apart?
With Red Bull Racing and Renault’s fractious relationship deteriorating almost by the minute, there’s a second degree of irony that this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix presents the two parties with their best possible shot of being at their most competitive. The team had indicated Hungary and Singapore were its best chances in 2015 due to the abundance of corners and relative lack of straights; it claimed a double-podium at the former and could well repeat the dose at Marina Bay.
The team elected to sacrifice the preceding Grand Prix at Monza by notching up a raft of grid penalties to give it enough engines to see out the season. It could be a wise strategic call.
Another team pinning its hopes on points this weekend is McLaren, which has similar horsepower issues with its Honda engines (although without the public discord between team and engine builder). After its down-on-power engines were blown away on the straights at Spa-Francorchamps and Monza, the team should have no such problem at Marina Bay and instead will have the opportunity to show that its problems are entirely engine-related and have nothing to do with the MP4-30 chassis itself.
Like Red Bull Racing, the team spent the preceding two rounds racking up spare engines to see out the year. The only concern remains reliability, and the hot conditions in Singapore won’t help matters. It has to target a return to the points this weekend.
At the very back of the grid in the Manor F1 Team, there will be a new face in the form of Alexander Rossi who will finally make his Grand Prix debut in place of Roberto Merhi. The American has shown terrific form in the GP2 Series this season and will be keen to prove that he deserves a long-term drive in the top open-wheel racing series.
Essentially he’s driving the same car the team ran last year – and in which he had a practice outing at Spa-Francorchamps that year – so the environment shouldn’t be too unfamiliar. If he can run close to the pace of teammate Will Stevens, it will be a successful weekend in all respects.
Our journalist Josh Kruse will be on the ground at Marina Bay to bring you all of the action and plenty of interviews from the paddock. Enjoy the weekend!
Image via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team and Sutton Motorsport Images