The European leg of the F1 season is now behind us, as the teams and drivers make their way towards Asia.
Next up is the Singapore Grand Prix, which will take place at the spectacular Marina Bay Street Circuit this weekend. This race has always delivered in terms of drama and excitement, with last years’ chaotic instalment handing Lewis Hamilton a critical advantage in the championship race.
But what should we expect this year, and who are the key contenders likely to kick off the final third of the F1 season with a win? Let’s take a look:
The Drivers to Watch
There’s no disputing that Hamilton will arrive at the track in a bullish mood, with the Brit having won three of his last four outings and opened up a much-needed 30-point lead over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
His last victory was particularly significant, as he romped home at Italy’s iconic Monza track in yet another tight and drama-filled race. While Hamilton’s eight-second winning margin was ultimately flattering, it provided a huge boon for Mercedes and a body-blow for Ferrari on their home turf.
Hamilton also prevailed at the Marina Bay Street Circuit last year (he has won here on three occasions overall), following a dramatic first lap collision between the two Ferrari’s and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Mercedes were also victorious when Nico Rosberg won on his way to a much-deserved world title in 2016.
Interestingly, the only driver who can better Hamilton’s record in Singapore is Vettel, who has prevailed on four occasions here, and even claimed a hat-trick of triumphs for Red Bull between 2011 and 2013.
This, coupled with the fact that the tight turns and minimal straights of the Marina Bay circuit are ideal for Ferrari, means that Vettel and his teammate Kimi Raikkonen may start as narrow favourites. Even Mercedes boss Tito Wolff has conceded as much, while also reiterating that Red Bull will provide a considerable threat on what is thought to be one of their strongest circuits.
Make no mistake; the team is ideally suited to a circuit that offers plenty of low and medium-speed corners, with Daniel Ricciardo having won in similar conditions at Monte Carlo back in May.
The Key F1 Statistics
While logic suggests that Ferrari and Red Bull will start as the favourites here, it’s interesting to note that Mercedes have won three of the last four races in Singapore. They were also the last team to lock out the front row at Marina Bay in 2014, when Hamilton claimed both pole position and the chequered flag.
However, in two of the last three seasons Mercedes have only managed to line up 5th and 6th on the grid, and while Hamilton won from this position last year, a similar performance in this years’ qualifying could prove decisive.
Not only is Vettel the most successful driver at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, but he has also claimed the most poles here, with four. The German has also led for 221 laps in Singapore, including three full races in which he blazed a trail from start to finish. In 2013, Vettel completed an unusual ‘grand slam’ victory, during which he led every lap from pole to the race itself.
Red Bull’s affinity with the Marina Bay track is also reflected by the historic performance of the precocious Ricciardo, who has finished on the podium in all four of his visits with Red Bull. While he has never actually won here, he has the skill and the tools to break this trend this time around.
What About the Circuit and the Tyres?
In many ways, the 5.063km Marina Bay Street Circuit is the most physically demanding on the F1 schedule, with its tight turns, bumpy surface and often unbearable levels of humidity.
There’s also a total 23 corners for drivers to navigate, which requires a great deal of wheel work and high levels of concentration. It’s not unusual for drivers to lose up to 3kg during the race, and this can have a significant bearing on individual decision making and the outcome of the race.
The track is also known for its unusual features, including the iconic Turn 18 where drivers pass underneath a packed grandstand.
This should not distract from the challenging nature of the Singapore Grand Prix, and there’s no doubt that both Ferrari and Red Bull will be hoping to optimise their competitive advantage, while also easing the burden on their drivers.
Strategy will also play a key role here, particularly in terms of tyre selection. It’s believed that the F1 Singapore Grand Prix will mark the return of Pirelli’s softest compound in their range, namely the pink-walled hypersofts which initially appeared in Canada and Monaco earlier in the season.
This will be joined by the ultrasoft and the soft, with Pirelli missing a step in order to increase the range of options available to constructors.
This will create several tactical permutations, in order to account for the unpredictable weather conditions and the possible introduction of the safety car. It also helps teams to deal with the high ambient temperatures and humidity levels), which will otherwise cause significant damage on a track with such a high number of tight corners.
Street tracks also showcase variable grip, so there will be a greater emphasis on strategy and driver skill rather than speed and raw power.
Ultimately, the F1 Singapore Grand Prix remains one of the most unpredictable races on the calendar, which is probably why Mercedes have prevailed here recently despite being at a competitive disadvantage.
Whatever happens, the naturally-gifted Hamilton is likely to be the first or second past the chequered flag, while Red Bull’s Riccardo may also be one to watch in challenging conditions.