Singapore Grand Prix Preview

Wednesday 18-September-2013 17:39

As we head east we go from one F1 extreme to the other - Monza is the lowest downforce circuit while this weekend's destination, Singapore, requires maximum downforce.

The much-lauded Marina Bay race circuit has only one more season as Formula One's unique night race. Next year it will be joined by the Bahrain night race. Or that's the plan, anyway, it's often difficult to predict what will actually happen in Bahrain.

With the Singapore race effectively run at European time zone equivalents, the drivers and team personnel adjust their personal clocks and go to bed in the early hours of the morning and don't get up until lunchtime. James Hunt used to work those kind of hours too, although he was occasionally obliged to get up a lot earlier, as they didn't start practice sessions at 18:00.

The circuit is tight and twisty with an emphasis on getting good traction out of the 23 corners. This year the often-criticised chicane at Turn 10, dubbed the 'Singapore Sling', has been removed and replaced by a single-apex left-hand bend, which means that cars approaching the realigned corner could be up to 40 km/h faster. So even more of a sling.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso confirmed that lap times will be lower as a result, tweeting: "Working in the simulator. New Turn 10 in Singapore this year, without the chicane of before. The lap is around one second faster." The organisers have moved the barrier back accordingly.

With the speeding up of the track, bang goes Kimi Raikkonen's lap record for Ferrari from 2008 - however he's not too disheartened: "I don't mind the unusual times we run in the car as it means I don't have to get up so early. I have some unfinished business after my three grands prix here so far. I crashed while fighting for fifth place in 2008 (he still got fastest lap), finished down in tenth in 2009, and took sixth last season, so I want more this time."

The Singapore Grand Prix is a unique challenge beyond the fact that it's a race run at night. It has all the low-speed challenges of a Monaco-like circuit, yet the temperature and humidity - while not quite as extreme as Malaysia - make it very tough. Thus you get Malaysia-like conditions for nearly two hours on an attention-holding Monaco-like circuit where it's difficult to stay focused. The dispatch of the Safety car can push it right up to the two-hour limit.

The circuit is wider than Monaco and there are more chances to overtake, but there is still a high likelihood of a Safety Car at some point in the race either through accidents, car failures or judgement failures. Pirelli have brought the SuperSoft and the Medium tyres so managing the tyre wear on these will be critical and divers could find out that the first time they notice the tyres are going away is when the rear end of the car is sliding into the Tec-Pro barrier.

Although there are places to overtake, it's not easy and so with a one-compound gap between SuperSoft and Medium (i.e. missing out Soft) the likelihood is the SuperSoft will be considerably faster. Thus the cars getting into Q3 in Qualifying will be battling for pole on SuperSofts, while those who only just made it into the top ten might well play the strategic game. Thus the front four rows on the grid will be keen to put as much time as they can between the mid-grid, knowing that they will have to stop a lot earlier.

Pirelli's Paul Hembery also pointed out some more hazards to watch out for: "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."

With Mercedes having dominated the Monaco GP, and Lewis Hamilton being supreme on the streets of Marina Bay - last year he retired from a comfortable lead - Mercedes are the hot favourites for victory. That and a Sebastian Vettel retirement are what the championship needs to spark it into life again because most are now expecting a Red Bull sweep of both titles.

Hamilton and Raikkonen both suffered in Monza and it was left to Fernando Alonso to keep up the only significant pressure on Vettel. His second place at Monza came after Felipe Massa had let him through from fourth place to third. Massa, now released by Ferrari, says he won't co-operate any more. "I will not race for Alonso from now on," he told Brazilian television, "right from Friday at Singapore I'll be working for myself. I will attack all the time, every lap. It's come the time to look after myself."

So we will see a re-energised Felipe in Singapore, very keen to get ahead of Fernando Alonso and to prove that he still has the speed and is still very employable? Felipe will be wanting to get in front of Alonso at exactly the time Fernando doesn't need him to get in front. Given Felipe's banzai starts this could prove to be very nerve wracking/entertaining into Turn 1 in the last seven races of the year. Luca Montezemolo insists that Massa will follow the party line and the team comes first, but we shall see...

One added element that hasn't been a significant part of Singapore races in the past is the impact of rain. This year there is rain forecast for Friday afternoon and early evening, Saturday afternoon and early evening (but not during Qualifying) and Sunday (but not during the race). A wet night race could be very interesting and would add significantly to the perils of a street circuit.

We know what Monaco and Canada are like in the rain, but F1 drivers aren't used to watching out for the potentially slippery white lines of Marina bay. The race has been a bit of a car breaker in the past, but rain could tip the balance even further. This is a grand prix where Williams, Marussia and Caterham have got to be alert to the possibilities of a great result and keep their cars on the island.

Pastor Maldonado who has excelled around Monaco and Melbourne's Albert Park should really be looking for a points finish.

Last year Martin Whitmarsh saw Lewis Hamilton retire from what looked like certain victory, this year, he only has an outside chance of getting on the podium. Like so many in the paddock he speaks in awed tones of what the organisers have achieved.

"It was around 10 years ago that the idea of a Formula One night race was first floated. At the time, I remember thinking it was an incredibly imaginative and ambitious idea, but, given the scope and scale of such an endeavour, I also thought it an unlikely possibility. However, the organisers of the Singapore Grand Prix have shown huge determination and ambition to bring the idea to fruition, and, as we approach the sixth edition of the race, I think everybody in Formula One now regards the event as one of the cornerstones of the Grand Prix calendar. Indeed, it's one of the miracles of televised sport."


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