Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix 2017

Formula 1: A vital race in F1 title chase

The 2016 Formula One Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix at the Marina Bay street circuit on Sept 18, 2016.
The 2016 Formula One Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix at the Marina Bay street circuit on Sept 18, 2016. PHOTO: ST FILE

Drivers' title on knife's edge at Marina Bay, as results have decided six of nine world champs

With Lewis Hamilton holding a three-point lead over Sebastian Vettel in the Formula One drivers' championship, this week's Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix is shaping up to be as crucial as ever.

As the world's first night race heads into its 10th edition, history has shown that titles can be won or lost on the Marina Bay Street Circuit. The winner of the Singapore GP has gone on to become world champion nearly half the time - Sebastian Vettel (2011, 2012, 2013) and Lewis Hamilton (2014).

In three instances, in 2012 (Vettel), 2014 (Hamilton) and 2016 (Nico Rosberg), a driver trailing in the standings used the sport's only night race as a springboard to catapult himself to the top of the pile at the end of the campaign.

But two championship leaders (Mark Webber in 2010 and Hamilton in 2012) who did not win in Singapore went on to lose the title at the end of the season.

The momentum is currently with Hamilton with the Briton having won three of the last four races (Italian, Belgian and British grands prix) to snatch the championship lead from Vettel at Monza. But the 32-year-old knows Singapore could be pivotal if he wants to win his fourth world title.

He told the BBC: "I think still Ferrari are going to be quick there. They are rapid through the medium and low-speed sections of circuits.

"I am going there with a positive approach expecting to fight for the win, but if we can't, we take it at face value and damage limitation."

The Straits Times' F1 columnist David Tremayne certainly feels that as the 20-round season swings towards its last seven races, Singapore can be a turning point, especially since the prancing horses of Ferrari won in the street circuits of Monaco and Hungary this year.

He said: "Those statistics about the race are interesting. It can be a pivotal race. Felipe Massa certainly believes that it was for him in 2008, and says the (Nelson) Piquet 'Crashgate' affair is what lost him the title.

"I think it could be pivotal this year. Ferrari and Red Bull are the favourites, given Mercedes' poor form at Monaco, in which case if Vettel wins as expected, and Kimi (Raikkonen), Max (Verstappen) or Daniel (Ricciardo) also finish ahead of Lewis, he could lose his hard-won title lead a race after he overtook Seb. That would set Seb up with the advantage for the remaining six races, in which it's likely to be nip and tuck between them all the way."

But it will not be easy to conquer the tight and twisty circuit, which is also one of the most humid tracks, with drivers required to perform an average of 4,800 gear changes (compared to 2,000 for Silverstone and 3,100 for Sepang) while losing 4kg of sweat during the race.

This season's cars are 22kg heavier on average, have wider front tyres and bigger rear diffusers, but are pumping out more power to handle the higher cornering speeds, subjecting drivers to greater G-forces. Although the street circuit presents difficulties in overtaking, strategies may come into play.

ADVANTAGE FERRARI

I am going there with a positive approach expecting to fight for the win, but if we can't, we take it at face value and damage limitation.''

LEWIS HAMILTON, Mercedes driver and current championship leader, conceding Ferrari are favourites in Singapore.

FIRST STOP ON BUSY ASIAN STRETCH

We need to create some momentum and string together some consistent results with both cars inside the top 10. Singapore will be vital to kick-start this effort.''

CYRIL ABITEBOUL, Renault managing director, eyeing the Singapore GP to chalk up some points for the constructors' championships.

Mercedes' head of motor sports Toto Wolff concedes the high-downforce Scuderia hold all the aces in Singapore but the Silver Arrows will not surrender. He told Autosport : "I still believe there are certain characteristics of the tracks that suit the car or not, and you can see this year the slow, twisty circuits have rather suited Red Bull and Ferrari.

"Now, I don't think that's a pattern you can't break. It's about understanding the car and the more we clock mileage the more we learn about it."

Even the teams in the lower reaches of the standings can sense that Singapore represents a chance of rejuvenating their charge. The Republic is the first race of a seven-stop swing outside the sport's European hinterland.

Renault's managing director Cyril Abiteboul told the Formula 1 website: "We are now focusing on these (three) busy Asia rounds. Williams sit just 21 points ahead of us in fifth in the constructors' championship. With seven races to go, it's very much in our capability to chase that down by the end of the season.

"We need to create some momentum and string together some consistent results with both cars inside the top 10. Singapore will be vital to kick-start this effort."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2017, with the headline 'A vital race in F1 title chase'. Print Edition | Subscribe