The European season has come to an end, and F1 heads east for the first leg of its tour of Asia. The hot and humid Marina Bay circuit poses a unique challenge for the drivers and teams, and with just seven races remaining there’s plenty of reasons to watch this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix.
Can Sebastian Vettel win again to regain the championship lead?
In terms of circuit characteristics, Singapore couldn’t be any different to Monza, the track where Lewis Hamilton clinched his 59th Grand Prix win just two weeks ago. Unlike the Monza, and Spa prior to that, the Singapore circuit is likely to play to Ferrari’s strengths, hence the reason they’ve been installed as red- hot favourites this weekend
Sebastian Vettel holds the record for the most Singapore Grand Prix victories, twice as many as Hamilton and Fernando Alonso who each have two. If Ferrari do, as expected, return to the top step of the podium this weekend, they’ll be eager to make it a one-two finish, a result that no team has been able to achieve in the previous nine Singapore Grands Prix.
With several tracks coming up that will likely favour Mercedes’ car more so than Ferrari, Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix is a must-win race for Sebastian Vettel if he has ambitions to clinch his first title with Ferrari this year.
Will Mercedes falter and allow Red Bull to sneak ahead?
Mercedes won’t just be concentrating on Ferrari this weekend; it’ll have to keep a close eye on Red Bull too. The Milton Keynes team are expecting to have a strong weekend in Singapore, with the tight and twisty nature of the 5km long circuit reducing the team’s power disadvantage to rivals Mercedes and Ferrari.
Daniel Ricciardo is in fine form, having finished third once and second twice since joining Red Bull back in 2014. He also bagged the fastest lap at both the 2015 and 2016 Singapore Grand Prix and finished less than half a second behind last year’s race winner Nico Rosberg.
Verstappen, on the other hand, is desperate for a positive result this weekend having failed to reach the podium since round two in China. Six DNF’s already this season has seen him fall a massive 76 points behind teammate Ricciardo in the drivers’ championship, and has begun to show his frustration in recent races.
Qualifying will be fascinating, and crucial.
As has been the case on many occasions this year, qualifying for Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix is set to be a real spectacle. Watching the drivers wrestle their 2017 spec cars around the narrow Marina Bay circuit will be impressive to watch, but that aside, clinching pole position on Saturday will be crucial; perhaps the most important of the year.
Seven of the previous nine Singapore Grands Prix have been won from pole position, with only 2008 (the less said about that the better) and 2012 being the exceptions. Hamilton is looking for his 70th pole position (he’s already the F1 record holder) and fourth overall in Singapore, whereas Vettel will also be aiming for a fourth Singapore pole on Sunday.
An unwanted record looms for Nico Hulkenberg.
It’s strange to think that Nico Hulkenberg is yet to stand on the podium during his F1 career, but despite that, there’s a strong argument to say he’s amongst the most talented drivers never to do so.
F1 podiums can be hard to come by though, and Hulkenberg will be all too aware of the unwanted record he’s about to inherit. Should he fail to finish in the top three in Sunday’s race, he’ll set a new record for most Grand Prix starts without a podium. Not something he’ll want on his CV.
Despite Renault showing improvement in recent months, as shown by strong top six results at both the British and Belgian Grands Prix, a podium finish seems unlikely and Hulkenberg seems destined to add his name to the record books.
Is it too late for Jolyon Palmer to save his career?
Jolyon Palmer has had a nightmare season; failing to score a single point and being out qualified 13-0 by Hulkenberg. If the pressure wasn’t already on him, Renault is expected to announce this weekend that they have signed Carlos Sainz as his replacement for 2018, so he’s now in a race to save his career. But is it too late?
Rumours are circulating that Renault may be negotiating a deal to see Sainz released from his Toro Rosso contract early, in time to make his Renault debut at the Malaysia Grand Prix next month.
Should that happen, then Singapore will be Palmer’s last chance to prove he deserves a spot on the grid next year. Right now, it’s hard to see where he’d find a seat or what he could do in Singapore to avoid leaving F1 completely, but stranger things have happened.
Perhaps his best hope of staying involved next year may be in a third driver role, but even those are becoming frequently hard to come by with most team using young driver programs to fill those seats.
The question that remains is whether Palmer has any fight left in him, or will be time be called on his F1 career this weekend?
There’ll be plenty happening off track this weekend.
Singapore has become a popular destination for teams to negotiate deals and announce new partnerships, and we’ve learned this week of a number of major announcements expected to be confirmed during the course of the Singapore Grand Prix weekend.
McLaren is expected to formalise its divorce from struggling Honda and confirm it is partnering with Renault for the next three years. We’ve also just learned that Renault also wants out of its deal with Red Bull meaning a rather ‘forced’ relationship with Honda could be on the cards from 2019 onwards, with its junior team Toro Rosso also expected to take Honda power next year.
On the driver front, Alonso seems set to stay with McLaren and Carlos Sainz looks to be on the move to Renault to partner Hulkenberg. With the top three teams staying as they are, this leaves at least one potentially free seat at Sauber, expected to be taken by Ferrari protege Charles Leclerc, and a free seat at Toro Rosso, with last year’s GP2 champion Pierre Gasly favourite to fill that gap.
Elsewhere, Williams is yet to confirm whether Felipe Massa will stay for 2018, but Robert Kubica now seems to be linked with the team after the news of Renault’s deal with Sainz.
One thing’s for sure, we’ve learned down the years to expect the unexpected in Formula 1. So while this all seems likely to be the way it pans out, there’s often a twist that few of us saw coming.
Watch this space.