Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix 2016

Hamilton vows no 2015 repeat

Lewis Hamilton tying his laces on stage after driving a race-car simulator during his public appearance at Marina Bay Sands. While his virtual car broke down, the Briton is certain he will not suffer the same fate as in three of the last five years.
Lewis Hamilton tying his laces on stage after driving a race-car simulator during his public appearance at Marina Bay Sands. While his virtual car broke down, the Briton is certain he will not suffer the same fate as in three of the last five years.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

While track favours Red Bull, championship leader is confident of another win to widen advantage

If Lewis Hamilton is a superstitious man, he might be worried ahead of this weekend's Formula One Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix.

Yesterday, in front of about 400 adoring fans, he watched his race car break down on the Marina Bay Street Circuit as other drivers zoomed gleefully by.

Thankfully for the three-time world champion, the technical fault occurred on a silver screen facing him.

Clad in his trademark get-up of a Mercedes team T-shirt, tattered jeans and a silver cap, the 31-year-old was taking part in a simulator challenge at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, part of a sponsors' event and his first public appearance here this year.

Virtual breakdown aside, the Briton is confident ahead of qualifying on Saturday, even if the Silver Arrows have triumphed only once in eight Singapore races.

Tellingly, Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg fizzled out in fourth place last year, while Hamilton called it quits after 32 laps - his only retirement of the 2015 season. Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel won the Singapore race for the fourth time.

LITTLE ROOM FOR ERROR

It's about getting as close to the walls as possible, about braking points, remembering the track layout... you need to get every corner perfect.

LEWIS HAMILTON, three-time Formula One champion, on the challenge posed by the Marina Bay Street Circuit.

Addressing the crowd, which occupied two levels, Hamilton said: "I definitely think we're not going to have as (many) problems as we had last year... but if we do, I think we've got the tools to get it correct."

The odds are certainly not in Mercedes' favour as they rev their engines for Formula One's only full night race.

Some have called the Marina Bay track, notorious for the tremendous downforce needed to negotiate the 23 turns, a Red Bull circuit as it favours the Austrian team's high-downforce design.

Mercedes' superior engine favours long straights. But the longest one in Singapore is 520m, the third shortest of all 21 races.

The road is also bumpy and the high heat and humidity wears tyres out faster.

Yet, while Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said this week that the Singapore GP represents a "big challenge", Hamilton remains confident he can score an upset.

"Last year we were blown away by the fact that we somehow got it wrong. (But) a lot of work went into understanding that," he said.

"It's about getting as close to the walls as possible, about braking points, remembering the track layout... you need to get every corner perfect.

"When you do 200 miles per hour (322kmh) it comes by very quickly... that's why sometimes I surprise myself when I hit brake where I need to brake, hit the bends the way I do, I don't know how I do it but I just do it."

Hamilton's record here may be far from stellar, with three retirements in the last five years despite two wins in total, but his star power is as bright as ever. He has won six times this season and leads the driver standings with 250 points, two ahead of team-mate Rosberg.

His arrival sparked mayhem in the crowd, as shouts of "Lewis, Lewis" pierced the quiet mall.

Emcee Claire Jedrek, Singapore's only woman race driver, nearly sparked a frenzy when she gave the cue for Hamilton to sign autographs, with fans jostling for a spot.

Looking unperturbed by the pandemonium around him, Hamilton also shared his favourite jaunts when in town, including Marina Bay Sands' infinity pool, and his preferred mode of transport outside the circuit. For the record and surely pleasing to his sponsors, Hamilton, who is third on the all-time win list with 49 victories, chose a Mercedes Maybach.

Hamilton played the convivial star yesterday, but as he climbs into his actual F1 W05 Hybrid tomorrow, all that will be swopped for laser-like focus as both driver and team will hope he fares better on the real tarmac.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2016, with the headline 'Hamilton vows no 2015 repeat'. Print Edition | Subscribe