A preview of the Singapore Grand Prix: Can Hamilton continue his title march?

September 12, 2017

- Grant Whittington

Another day, another twist in the Formula One title race.

 After a disappointing weekend in Hungary one month ago, Mercedes rebounded with a superb showing in Belgium and sustained this momentum by claiming first and second place in the Italian Grand Prix at the weekend.

More importantly, Lewis Hamilton achieved victories in both Belgium and Italy, enabling him to claim an outright lead in the title race for the first time ahead of Sebastian Vettel.

The season will take another sharp turn at Singapore in two weeks time, on a track that should suit Vettel’s Ferrari. In this post, we will look ahead to this race, and look at how the F1 title race is likely to unfold.

 How Mercedes Stole a March at Monza

 Monza saw Hamilton deliver a typical performance, as he earned a record 69th pole in treacherous, wet conditions on Saturday before dominating the race from start to finish to claim his sixth victory of the season (two more than Vettel). He even led teammate Valtteri Bottas in a Mercedes one-two, who fought his way from sixth place on the grid to secure a place on the podium. Vettel, who started in sixth after Red Bull pair Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were hit with grid penalties, trailed in third and is now three points behind Hamilton in the Drivers’ Championship.

Overall, this has capped a superb six weeks for Hamilton and Mercedes, with the British driver having won three of the last four races to overhaul his Vettel at the top of the standings. This run has included particularly dominant performances at Silverstone and Monza, while the British driver also recorded a keenly-fought win in Belgium. This has transformed a 14-point deficit into a 3-point lead for Hamilton, while it has also afforded Mercedes a healthy 62 point advantages in the Constructors’ Championship.

A Look Ahead to Singapore: Can Vettel Regain his Lead?

 Some pundits have been quick to point out that this weekend’s success was crucial for Hamilton and Mercedes, particularly with Singapore Grand Prix up next. The Marina Bay street circuit is renowned for its tight and bumpy track, while the hot and humid conditions in Singapore also placed rigid demands on drivers and vehicles alike. In recent times, this has negated Mercedes’ increasingly negligible speed advantage, enabling Red Bull and Ferrari to close the gap on their rivals and achieve some significant results in Singapore.

There is every chance that this trend could continue this year, with Vettel set to start as favourite in Singapore and Red Bull Team Principle Christian Horner claiming that his drivers will be targeting wins at the Marina Bay street circuit. So despite enduring a difficult race at Monza when both Red Bull drivers were hit with grid penalties, Horner believes that the teams’ chassis are tailor-made for success in Singapore and that they will prove more than a match for Ferrari.

While Mercedes (and particularly a driver of Hamilton’s talent) cannot be discounted, Horner’s assertion is supported by this year’s Monaco Grand Prix in Monte Carlo. On a track that is similar to the Marina Bay street circuit, Vettel and his Ferrari teammate Kimi Räikkönen achieved an impressive one-two while the precocious Daniel Ricciardo came in third and just three seconds behind. Ricciardo even came a close second in the 2016 Singapore Grand Prix, with his fellow Red Bull driver Max Verstappen finishing in fourth after an exceptionally close and keenly-contested race.

It is interesting to note that Mercedes’ drivers actually claimed first and third in last years’ Singapore Grand Prix, but the car has struggled on similar tracks this season and the performance in Monaco will be a huge cause for concern ahead of the next race. With Ferrari’s cars ideally suited to the conditions in Asia and Red Bull’s talented drivers expected to be empowered with fresh engines, Hamilton will need to call upon all of his talent and courage to achieve a third consecutive victory (and fourth in fifth races).

In this respect, the challenge facing Hamilton and Mercedes will be to produce a competitive performance in Singapore, in order to claim a place on the podium and at least optimise their points haul even if they cannot win. This is something that the brilliant but occasionally inconsistent Hamilton has struggled with during the last two years, as he seems to lurch almost exclusively from stunning, lead-from-the-front victories to truly abject performances.

If he was to follow suit here, Hamilton could find himself behind once again and facing a double-digit point deficit.

How Will the Race Pan Out and What Will it Mean for the Drivers’ Championship?

Perhaps Hamilton’s greatest hope is that Vettel is denied a win by his Red Bull rivals, who are arguably due a race win after a number of near misses so far this season. It is six races since Red Bull’s sole win of the season, when Daniel Ricciardo secured a superb win from 10th place on the grid at the Baku street circuit in Azerbaijan. His teammate Max Verstappen has yet to win at all, and both have the credentials to secure a potentially pivotal win in Singapore.

If either can race to their full potential and use the conditions in Marina Bay to their advantage, they could dominate the podium and leave Ferrari scrambling for points. So even if Mercedes and Hamilton struggled to perform, Vettel would not be able to take full advantage and open up any kind of dominant lead over his rival. This would enable Hamilton to maintain the momentum he has managed to build since Silverstone, ensuring that the Drivers’ Championship will be determined over the course of the final six races of the season.

With both Hamilton and Vettel looking to claim their fourth world title, there will be a great deal at stake when the flag is raised in Singapore. The real question that remains is whether Vettel can regain the championship lead, or if Red Bull’s pair of talented but combustible drivers can throw a significant spanner in the works?

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