It’s just 4 days for F1 to arrive in Singapore, one of the highlights of the calendar. Marina Bay is special in many ways: it is held at night, under the light of 1500 streetlights (was the first F1 GP to be raced in the dark), it’s an urban circuit, it is also the circuit with the highest number of corners all season and the drivers will have to race through it counterclockwise.
Crashgate that headlined the inaugural race
The circuit is quite new, it was announced on 2007 and appeared for the first time on the F1 calendar the subsequent year. The first F1 race there will always be remembered for non-sporting reasons as it was the “Crash Gate” that grabbed headlines in 2009. That race, which had a duration of 61 laps, was won by Fernando Alonso. He started 15th on the grid. Nico Rosberg was second in his Williams and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, claimed third position. Six years later, we still can see Hamilton is not happy about that third position, as he said after the last GP:
“I won there in 2009 which was a really special experience, plus I had a podium – which should really have been a win – at the first race in 2008. My luck hasn’t been great at this circuit since then but hopefully that will change next weekend.”
Felipe Massa took his Ferrari to pole position. Drivers' Championship leader Hamilton started second while Kimi Räikkönen qualified third. On lap number 14, Nelson Piquet, Jr. spun out and crashed, bringing out the safety car. At that time he blamed his hard tyres for the accident. The leading drivers all pitted when the pit lane was opened. All but Alonso, who had pitted before the safety car was deployed (on lap number 12). This allowed him to take the lead and, finally, he won the race. After Piquet Jr. left Renault in August 2009, he claimed that this crash had been deliberate, to give an unsporting advantage to Alonso. FIA opened an investigation in which Piquet stated he had been ordered by Renault’s team principal Flavio Briatore and engineer Pat Symonds to crash on purpose.
The track is 5.065 km long in a harbourside location similar in style to the Monaco Grand Prix. It has 23 corners and it’s known for being one of the most physical circuits on the calendar. Singapore’s climate make it even more difficult for the drivers given the hot and humid conditions. Lewis Hamilton commented that it was twice as hard to negotiate as the Monaco street circuit, and that it requires double the amount of energy over a single lap as compared to the Monaco circuit.
After the start straight it comes the Sheares corner to the left, a fast corner to the right and then we get to the corner number 3 where drivers break until 90km/h. Right after that corner there is the first DRS detection point, followed by a very fast corner and a short straight which gets to the corner number five to the right. Here comes the DRS activation point since there it starts a long straight. Drivers will accelerate from 135km/h to almost 300km/h and then brake until 110km/h at the time they negotiate corner number 7 called the Memorial. There starts sector number two, with a first short straight ending in a 90 degrees corner to the right, short straight again and yet another 90 degrees corner to the left. The exit from that corner number 9 is done at 170km/h and here is time to accelerate until 240km/h before arriving to the next corner, the Singapore Sling.
In 2010, several drivers expressed their concern about the high and harsh kerbs at the chicane at turn 10 of the street circuit. They were worried that hitting that kerbs could cause suspension damage or even worse. Drivers also said that the bumps could push them into the wall on the outside of the corner. Charlie Whiting agreed to lower the kerbs. That way, corner number 10 was changed to make it safer and more gradual by moving the kerbs. However, Lewis Hamilton said in an interview that this modification made the chicane more dangerous by making the entry to the corner smaller, calling it "the worst corner in F1". In 2013 the Singapore Sling was removed and replaced with a single-apex left turn, resulting in faster lap times. Corner entry speed is now about 40 km/h faster. To compensate that increase, an extra layer of barriers line the end of the corner run-off for safety reasons.
After the polemic corner comes a chicane, a little straight in which drivers get to 183km/h followed by corner number 13, a very slow one. Drivers have to reduce until second gear and 80km/h. They accelerate again as they go through the long straight that gives end to the second sector. Sector number three is a succession of 90 degree corners and short straights where a high downforce car will be needed. Just before corner number 22 there is the second DRS detection point. Drivers take this and corner number 23 at high speeds (150 to 200km/h) and then they can activate DRS at the same time the start straight comes again.
Drivers will race through the circuit during 61 laps, equating to a total distance of 308.8km. They can reach high speeds, like in Raffles Boulevard between corners 5 and 6, and the Esplanade Drive, the long straight between corners 13 and 14. The track passes under one of the stands of the circuit, situated between corners 18 and 19, creating a tunnel like in Monaco.
The constant succession of slow corners in second or third gear makes the engine to deliver full power for less than half of the lap. If for the engine this is the least tough course, it does not apply for the brakes, which have little rest between curve and curve.
The settings for this city circuit are similar to those for Monaco, with a lot of downforce and mechanical grip. This is very important to pull in out of the corners, so the suspensions tend to be soft. The tyre wear is low.
When asked whether he expected stronger form from Ferrari during the next race in Singapore, Raikkonen said: "It's hard to say as it's a different year and different car [for me]. We expected [Monza] to be difficult, but I think the next few circuits will suit us as they're not so fast. We have to go there and see how the car is, but I expect to be in a stronger position."
Sebastian Vettel is the driver in the current grid who has the most number of wins at the Marina Bay circuit, with three visits to the top step on the podium in 2011, 2012 and 2013. After him comes Fernando Alonso with two victories, in 2008 and 2011. Hamilton won the race in 2009. The lap record of the renewed circuit is held by Sebastian Vettel who made a lap in 1:48.574 last year. Before that, Kimi Räikkönen made a 1:45.599 with his F2008.
During declarations of next Singapore's GP, Christian Horner has recently said “Usually you shouldn’t say this but, I have the feeling that Vettel will win in Singapore”. It is true that this track suits the Red Bull package and that Sebastian has done it well in that track in the past. Will we see Vettel’s return in Singapore?
Race local times
FP1 Friday 18 18.00h
FP2 Friday 19 21.30h
FP3 Saturday 20 18.00h
Qualifying Saturday 20 21.00h
Race Sunday 21 20.00h