The Singapore Grand Prix is quickly becoming the ‘second’ glamour event in Formula One. Set against the glittering night sky of Marina Bay, the event is one that F1 fans, driver and teams all look forward to due to its unique setting and tendency to provide some dramatic racing, boasting a 100% safety car record. As darkness descends on the 2013 F1 season, Sebastian Vettel is looking all the more likely to clinch a fourth straight world championship, but the German driver will be first be keen on securing his third consecutive win in Singapore.
And who would bet against it? The defending world champion has won the last two races at a canter in what were supposed to be Red Bull’s “bogey” weekends, with the tight and twisty Marina Bay circuit more akin to the partialities of the RB9 car. As a result, Vettel is on the verge of a sixty point lead with just 150 left to play for; if he were to lose it from there, it would go down as the greatest of comebacks/throwaways, depend on your cynicism. Teammate Mark Webber will be hoping to work his way onto the podium at Marina Bay as Red Bull’s stranglehold on both championships continues to strengthen.
However, the world champions may not have it all their own way. Mercedes have highlighted this grand prix as being their best chance of returning to form after two lacklustre weekends at Spa and Monza, and following Nico Rosberg’s excellent win at Monaco earlier in the year, it is fair to say that the team enters the weekend as Red Bull’s closest rival. Lewis Hamilton will be keen on making up for his troublesome weekend at Monza by impressing at a track where he has won before, taking to the top step of the podium in 2009. His championship hopes may be in tatters, but the Briton will be keen on adding to his single race win so far this season in the final seven rounds.
Also hoping to enjoy an upturn in fortunes are Fernando Alonso and Ferrari after a difficult run of results that has seen the team fail to win since the Spanish Grand Prix back in May. Strong results in Belgium and Italy had suggested signs of a reprise at Maranello, but they amounted to very little given the car ahead was still Sebastian Vettel. For the Italian team, Singapore is a case of being in the right place at the right time should Vettel’s car give up the ghost. Just as Lewis Hamilton’s title aspirations were strewn across the track along with his gearbox last season, the German driver still needs to account for such an occurrence (saying that, he has already accounted for two such occurrences).
All eyes will be on the two drivers whose futures have been decided since we departed from Monza: Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa. The latter will be replaced by the former at Ferrari, with the Finn preparing to work alongside Fernando Alonso as his equal. Although such a move is unlikely to change Raikkonen’s stance for the rest of the season, Massa may find himself – like Mark Webber – with a fresh outlook on racing. Massa admitted earlier this week that he feels more relaxed and that the move away from Ferrari could even be good for him, and this could be reflected in the race on Sunday if he can produce a result that would give Lotus serious food for thought. Nico Hulkenberg will be vying to do the same, but a repeat of his fifth place finish in Monza may not be on the cards at the circuit that perfectly juxtaposes the Italian temple of speed.
Lotus could do with a distraction. On track, their expected ‘strong’ races at Spa and Monza yielded very little, with Raikkonen’s twenty-seven race scoring streak being ended by two consecutive finishes outside of the top ten. Romain Grosjean battled valiantly at Monza, but he simply could not keep up with the likes of Rosberg and Ricciardo – the latter being an especially worrying premonition for Lotus. However, just as the team excelled in Hungary, Singapore could present Raikkonen and Grosjean an opportunity to get onto the podium and make up some of the ground lost to Ferrari and Mercedes in recent weeks.
Singapore has traditionally been a happy hunting ground for Force India, with Paul di Resta charging to P4 amid the madness at last year’s race. Although a repeat may not be on the cards, the Scotsman will be battling with McLaren for position, and it will be interesting to see just how great an impact the change in tyre construction has had on the super-soft tyre. This is the first race using the compound since the changes, and with Force India appearing to suffer more than most on the option rubber, it could play against them even further in Singapore.
Toro Rosso’s foray into the points could be set to continue as Daniel Ricciardo looks to prove his worth to future employers Red Bull (or current, if you’re going to be technical). His performance at Monza was sublime, fending off Grosjean and a charging Hamilton at the end of the race. Jean-Eric Vergne’s poor fortune persisted in Italy following an early retirement, but he can be certain that his second grand prix in Singapore won’t end in the same fashion as his first: being rear-ended out of the race by Michael Schumacher.
The high rate of attrition at Singapore could play into the hands of the three teams currently propping up the table: Williams, Caterham and Marussia. For Williams, points could be possible if the front-runners drop like flies, but once again it depends on whether or not the inconsistent FW35 can come good for one weekend. Last season, Maldonado and Senna both ran strongly, with the Venezuelan driver qualifying second before being forced to retire (Senna met a similar fate). Therefore, this weekend does present Bottas with a chance to claim his first points in the sport, and Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez will be keen on doing the same. Caterham will be hoping that their domination over Marussia continues this weekend which – coupled with a few DNFs – could see them re-take P10 in the constructors’ championship. For the Anglo-Russian team, it appears that their only hope is of the retirement list comprising of two Caterham cars.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic and Richland F1.