Singapore Grand Prix Preview

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The 14th round of the 2017 Formula 1 season will take place under the night sky with the sparkling lights illuminating the Marina Bay Street Circuit in Singapore. The Singapore Grand Prix and Bahrain Grand Prix are the only two night races on the F1 calendar. The race creates a sci-fi movie effect on TV as it is hosted under the psychedelic lights and runs through the winding and narrow street circuit in the Lion City. The tenth running of this race launches the final seven flyaway races of the F1 season, as the F1 circus swings through Asia, USA, Mexico and Brazil, before finally arriving in Abu Dhabi for the final race.

Grand Prix Preview

The History

This night race was launched in 2008 and over a decade has established itself as one of the most popular races among the new races. The street circuit comes to life under 1600 lights with a total power of 3,180,000 watts which is fed by 108,423 meters of power cables. The circuit is lit four times as brightly as a normal floodlit stadium. Under the glaring lights the F1 cars roar around the twisty and slow circuit. The inaugural Singapore GP saw the enactment of the infamous “Crash Gate” episode.

The Marina Bay Street circuit is a complete contrast to the high-speed, low downforce circuit at the previous race at Monza. The hot and humid conditions and the very bumpy nature of the street circuit leads to an energy-sapping experience for the drivers. The faster cars of 2017 with the increased G-forces could take a very heavy physical toll on the drivers and could be the toughest race of the season on that front. The race normally lasts close to two full hours and starts at 2 p.m. local time (2 p.m. European time). All the team personnel who have flown in from Europe stay on European time to perform at the optimum, during the night race.

 The Teams and Drivers

Red Bull Racing with three wins has the most wins of any team at this circuit. Mercedes and Ferrari have two wins each. In the nine races held at Singapore since 2008, Sebastian Vettel (2011, 2012, 2013, 2015), Fernando Alonso (2008, 2010), Lewis Hamilton (2009, 2014) and Nico Rosberg (2016) have been the only winners.

Alonso won the first Asian street race under controversial circumstances for the Renault F1 team in what is now known as the infamous “Crash Gate” episode. A year after the win was secured, Alonso’s teammate Nelson Piquet Jr revealed that he was under orders from Team Principal Flavio Briatore and Chief Engineer Pat Symonds to crash into the wall to bring out the Safety Car and help secure Alonso a win. This resulted in the Renault team being given a suspended two-year disqualification and the key instigators of the episode were banned from F1.

The Circuit

The 5.065 km Marina Bay Street circuit with 23 corners (slow and medium-speed) and two straights is one of the slowest tracks on the calendar with an average speed of only 170 km/h. The anti-clockwise circuit with predominantly left-hand corners demands a high downforce setup. The cars are on full throttle 45% of the time and the fuel consumption is high. The brake-wear is very high, with the cooling of brakes demanding special attention.

As the track is a street circuit, it has a very bumpy and abrasive surface. The cars normally use higher ride-heights at this circuit because of its bumpy nature and the drivers have to drive over the high kerbs as they tackle the tight right-angled corners. At the start of the free practice sessions, the surface is very slippery and the grip improves as the track has rubber laid on it, as the weekend progresses.

Sector 1 (Turn 1 to Turn 6) starts with a narrow left-handed corner (T1) leading to a gentle right-hand corner (T2). This is followed by a tricky almost ninety degrees left-hand corner (T3) and a gentle kink (T4). This leads to the right-hand corner (T5) leading to the straight on Raffles Boulevard broken by the flat-out last corner (T6) of this sector.

Sector 2 (Turn 7 to Turn 13) starts with a set of three sharp corners at ninety-degree angles and high kerbs. The first left-hand corner (T7) leads to the right-hand hairpin (T8) leading to another sharp left-hand corner (T9). This leads to the famous ‘Singapore Sling’ chicane at Turn 10 which was not very popular with the drivers. In 2013, the track was redesigned with the chicane removed and replaced by a smooth left-hand bend. This makes a lap around the circuit faster now. Turn 10 leads to the chicanes (T11 and T12) leading to the Anderson Bridge followed by a sharp left-hand corner (T13) leading to the straight with good overtaking opportunities.

Sector 3 (Turn 14 to 23) comprises of a series of twisty low-speed corners. It starts with a right-hand corner (T14) followed by three sets of chicanes. This leads to the penultimate left-hand corner (T22) leading to the final corner (T23) and the start-finish straight.

There are two DRS zones this year. The first DRS detection point is before Turn 5 with the activation point after the apex of Turn 5. The second DRS detection point is before the apex of Turn 22 with the activation point after the apex of Turn 23. On the narrow winding street circuit, it is hard to overtake and the drivers starting from the front rows of the grid usually win. In 2012, the pole sitter Hamilton and Pastor Maldonado who started P2 retired from the race, handing Vettel who started P3 an easy victory. Rosberg took a dominant pole position and won for Mercedes last year.

Tyre Strategies

Pirelli tyre choices are the yellow-striped soft tyres, red-striped supersoft tyres and the purple ultrasoft tyres. The ultrasoft tyres is the tyre of choice with a majority of the drivers leading the way with 8 or more sets of ultrasoft tyres of the allocated 13 sets for each driver. A two pitstop race is predicted, but the high temperatures and excessive braking causes high tyre wear. The weather forecast for the race is for thirty-two degrees centigrade temperatures, high humidity levels and scattered thunderstorms. The chances of a Safety Car is high at this race as the narrow track with walls leads to accidents and with restricted accessibility, clearing debris also takes time.

 Current Form

Mercedes (435 pts) has extended its lead to 62 points over Ferrari (373 pts) now. Red Bull Racing (212 pts) is in a distant third place. Force India (113 pts) is in control of fourth place, followed by Williams (55 pts). Sauber bring up the rear of the field with five points.

Ferrari was beaten decisively at home with the Mercedes team securing a dominant 1-2 win at their home race in Monza. The Italian team comes to a track where their high downforce car will have an edge over Mercedes. The track also suits the characteristics of the RB13 and their drivers will be a big factor in Singapore.

The advantage Mercedes has with its superior Power unit (PU) will be negated on this slow track and their car with the longer wheelbase has had problems at the higher downforce street circuits. Ferrari will expect to win in Singapore, one of Vettel’s favourite tracks. Mercedes might look at damage limitation at a track that does not favour the W08.

Lewis Hamilton (238 pts) is for the first time this season leading the drivers’ title race. The Briton has a narrow three-point lead over Sebastian Vettel (235 pts) now. Valtteri Bottas (197 pts) is in third place and has fallen further back from the title contenders. Daniel Ricciardo (144 pts) and Kimi Raikkonen (138 pts) complete the top five in the drivers’ championship.

Hamilton broke Michael Schumacher’s record of 68 poles at Monza and won the Italian GP to finally lead the drivers’ championship. But Singapore could prove to be a different kettle of fish for the championship leader. The Ferrari SF70H is expected to perform well at this high downforce circuit in hot conditions. This is a track Vettel excels at and Hamilton, in contrast, has struggled on twisty street circuits recently.

Red Bull took engine penalties at the last race to maximize their chances in Singapore. Both Ricciardo and Max Verstappen could challenge for a win and could get in between the title contenders. With the final seven races coming in quick succession, neither title contender can afford any slipups. Singapore could set the scene for the final act of a gripping title fight this season.
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