Formula 1 has swopped the sprawling European country side for the city lights of Singapore as the paddock readies for the thirteenth round of the championship.
As far as street race go the Singapore grand prix doesn’t have that much in common with its so-called Monegasque counterpart. While the Monte Carlo grand prix is steeped in regal history Singapore brings a more modern feel to the paddock.
Singapore made its debut on the calendar back in 2008 as F1’s first ever night race. It would become known for the controversial, pre-planned, crash of then Renault driver Nelson Piquet Jr. It was later uncovered that team principal Flavio Briatore has ordered the young Brazilian driver to deliberately crash and induce the deployment of the safety-car to aid teammate Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard would take a second victory around the streets as a Ferrari driver in 2010. It’s a happy hunting ground for Sebastian Vettel too who has seen the chequered flag first on three occasions.
The Marina Bay circuit is a five kilometre test of extreme concentration under intense conditions. Was the race only a handful of laps we’d scoff at the idea that this floodlit circuit could be seriously hard work for drivers. But with sixty-one laps, each with twenty-three corners and oppressive humidity the Singapore grand prix demands both physical and mental concentration of the highest order.
There could be more than two Mercedes in the mix as well. The importance of horsepower can be played down somewhat around a street circuit which could open the door for a few contenders. In Hungary and Monaco Red Bull Racing were well in the mix with both Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo.
If there increased competitiveness is a given this weekend then this is the only clarity that the once near unbeatable team appear to have at this moment. The uncertainty of the team’s future is being fuelled by the fact that its deal with engine supplier Renault runs out at the end of the season. As it stands, it looks as if the only two choices on the table for the Austrian team are either a year-old Ferrari engine or an abrupt adios to the sport. Renault itself is believed to be close in taking a 65% controlling interest in the Lotus team.
Amid the imminent French takeover the struggling Japanese sits Ferrari who will fancy their chances this weekend. Whilst team boss Maurizio Arrivabene has been singing the praises of his drivers the engine department delivered an upgrade for Monza with which Raikkonen was pleasantly surprised. While Singapore doesn’t demand the same straight line speed as Monza the upgrade would have brought a slight improvement to the driveability and power delivery to the engine which is important around the twisting streets.
Two weeks ago Sebastian Vettel delivered a morale boosting second place at the team’s home race. But a boost in confidence won’t be enough to halt the Lewis Hamilton behemoth. It has to start in qualifying where it’s going to require another exceptional run in qualifying if they are to have any say in Sunday’s proceedings.
A 53 point chasm sits between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg and while the numbers are against the German it is in the mental game where he has taken the biggest beating, even without the Monza failure. If Nico Rosberg has the psychological ability to fight back he must now lay it all on the line.