- Singapore Grand Prix
Sleepless in SingaporeChris Medland September 20, 2012
The European season is over and suddenly attentions are turning towards the end of the year and the fate of the championship. Seven flyaways mean there is still plenty of racing left to do, but Formula One's return to Asia signals the arrival of the business end of the season. As part of a calendar which is seeing new races added on an almost yearly basis it can be tough to stand out as unique, but Singapore certainly manages that with the most spectacular setting for a grand prix.
On formAlthough McLaren made it three consecutive victories with Lewis Hamilton's win in Italy, that result very nearly came under threat from Sergio Perez late in the race. Having scored two podiums during his second season already and still been deemed too inexperienced to drive for Ferrari next year, Perez delivered the perfect response by overtaking both Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso on track to secure second place. The Sauber was quick in both Spa and Monza, and the team is confident an update introduced this weekend will ensure it remains so in Singapore.
Out of formMore out of luck than out of form, but Nico Hulkenberg endured a dismal weekend in Italy. With Force India looking strong after practice, hopes were high that both cars would get in to the top ten, but before Hulkenberg could set a time in Q1 his car stopped on track and left him 24th on the grid. In the race he struggled to make progress through the field and eventually retired with three laps left due to failing brakes. Team-mate Paul di Resta scored points in eighth place and, if reports are to be believed that both Force India drivers are on McLaren's radar as potential replacements for Lewis Hamilton, then Hulkenberg will need luck back on his side to impress Martin Whitmarsh and co.
One to watchMichael Schumacher appears to be able to get the most out of the Mercedes on street circuits if this season is anything to go by. Pole position in Monaco (before a grid penalty) was followed by the only podium to date since his comeback in Valencia. Mercedes admits it has not focused on car development enough recently, but new exhausts tested at Magny-Cours last week - where Schumacher was an interested spectator - are expected to be run again on Friday and could give a performance and tyre usage boost to propel Mercedes in to podium contention.
Talking pointsHamilton's future
There's no getting away from it. Speculation surrounding Lewis Hamilton's next contract was and still is the talk of the paddock since before Monza. The situation remains pretty similar, with Hamilton yet to confirm or deny a contract offer from Mercedes and saying he's in no rush to sort his future. Hamilton insists he won't be distracted by the situation, but he can certainly expect plenty of questions on the topic as McLaren seems to be hardening its stance in negotiations and starting to look at back-up options as it tires of XIX's approach.
One of the idiosyncrasies of the Singapore Grand Prix is the nocturnal nature of the paddock. Despite being in a time zone that is eight hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, the start time of the sessions match those in Europe (except for Friday practice starting a few hours later). The result is the paddock stays on European time, getting up in the afternoon, working through the night and going to bed in the early morning. It's a strange schedule for the teams, drivers and media.
While we've referenced Hamilton's future already, there are still a number of unconfirmed seats elsewhere on the grid too. The cover of darkness at Singapore is the ideal place to conclude any deals, and plenty of talks will be going on behind closed doors. Will Michael Schumacher continue? Will Felipe Massa find out his fate after admitting he's eager to know where he'll be driving next year? What of Sergio Perez; with McLaren reportedly sniffing around does that change Ferrari's stance? And is Valtteri Bottas going to get the race seat he appears to be being primed for at Williams? That's just scratching the surface, too...
Off the back of a low downforce track in Monza which requires a special configuration, we can expect a raft of upgrades as the development race becomes crucial to the championship. Lotus has already announced a new floor and rear wing for Singapore, while Mercedes is expected to run its new exhaust layout too. While Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren will all be looking to update their cars, even the likes of Sauber admits it is hoping an upgrade will see it remain competitive following Perez's podium in Italy. The key to being competitive this weekend could lie in getting the new parts to work quickest.
- The Singapore Grand Prix is one of only two races that utilise floodlights, with Abu Dhabi being the other
- The race is one of the longest on the calendar in terms of time; the quickest of the four races so far was won in a time of 1hr56m06s
- The Singapore Grand Prix was originally a Formula Libre race which took place between 1966 and 1973
- In all, it requires 1,600 light projectors, with a total power requirement of 3,180,000 watts, all fed by 108,423 metres of power cables, to light the circuit
- Fernando Alonso has won the Singapore Grand Prix twice - in 2008 and 2010 - while Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have a win apiece
- Kimi Raikkonen holds the lap record around Marina Bay with a time of 1:45.599 set in 2008
- The average lap speed in the race is just 97.56mph. Only Monaco is slower
- The safety car is almost guaranteed to make an appearance - it has done so at least once during each of the four races so far and six times in total
CircuitThe race provides a fantastic spectacle for spectators, but for the drivers it's a very tough circuit. On the whole, short straights are punctuated by low and medium speed corners, with only the run between turns five and seven allowing the cars to hit top speed. As a result, maximum downforce is required. The number of slow-speed corners does open up the possibility for overtaking, with the braking zones for turns seven and 14 the best opportunities. The bumpy road surface, humidity and workload - 23 corners and 80 gear changes a lap - make it hard work for the guys inside the cockpit.
FIA driver stewardFormer Toyota driver and two-time Le Mans winner Allan McNish is the driver steward in Singapore, having also fulfilled the role in Monaco and Hungary last season.
WeatherWhile there is always a threat of thunderstorms in tropical locations, the Singapore Grand Prix looks set for three dry days of track action once again. There's never been a wet session in the four years so far at Singapore, and while Friday morning could see showers the heat and humidity should ensure the track is dry by FP1. The risk of rain is even less on Saturday and Sunday but, like other races in Asia, the teams will still be keeping an eye on the radar regardless.
BettingFollowing on from his second win in three races Lewis Hamilton is the favourite with the bookies at 9/4, while Fernando Alonso is 4/1 and Jenson Button - second here last year - tempting at 5/1. The best value is Sebastian Vettel, however, who is 7/1 to win on a circuit he won on last year and one which should suit Red Bull much more than recent races. Mark Webber is also good odds at 14/1, while Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher are both great value at 11/4 and 3/1 respectively to finish in the top six.
ESPN predictionThe bookies may not agree, but as the paddock returns to a track that should suit Red Bull's RB8 more than the previous two at Spa and Monza Sebastian Vettel is ESPNF1's tip to make it back-to-back Singapore Grand Prix victories.
Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1