The European leg of the season is well and truly over and the F1 circus now moves to Singapore for the first of the seven flyaway races. The Marina Bay circuit, venue for the Singapore Grand Prix is completely different from the last two circuits 22 F1 drivers raced on, namely, Spa and Monza. This circuit is built on the tight streets of Marina Bay, the heart of the city and demands high downforce from cars and precision from drivers. The fact that the race is held at night adds a new dimension to the race.
Last year, Lewis Hamilton started the race from pole position and looked set for his second victory under the stars before a gearbox failure handed the race lead to Sebastian Vettel. The latter then went on to win the next three races and overturn the 42 point deficit he had to Fernando Alonso at the time of summer break. This year, the race too plays a pivotal role as F1 teams bring their final updates to their 2013 cars before giving full focus to 2014 machinery. Whether Vettel is going to clinch the championship comprehensively with some dominant wins in Asia or Fernando Alonso and rest of the pack can give German some challenge - we will get all the answers by end of this weekend.
Circuit Guide and Changes to track
The 5.065km Marina Bay Circuit is one of the only two pure street circuits on the calendar, alongside Monaco. The track consists of 23 corners and the total race distance is just less than 309km. High chances of Safety Car and slow average speed usually pushes the race towards the 2 hour mark. However, this year Singapore GP organisers have removed the infamous chicane at turn 10(Singapore Sling), after repeated criticisism from the very first race. According to data from teams' simulators, the new simple right-hander will decrease the lap times by almost a second.
“I remember the first time we raced at Singapore [in 2008]; it seemed incredible to think that we could hold a Formula One race at night. I must say, the thrill and novelty of racing through spot-lit streets is just as intense for me today as it was when we first raced there - it’s a unique spectacle, and one that I think is brilliant for F1. In fact, the Singapore Grand Prix is one of the wonders of modern sport." - Jenson Button
Challenge of Driving on a Street Circuit at Night
The high temperatures and never ending sequence of slow corners pushes brakes of an F1 car to the edge. The Circuit isn't easy of engines and gearbox either and that is evident from the number of mechanical failures we've had at Singapore during its five year history.
The drivers stay at European times to meet the demands of a night race. Further, the glare of the lights also adds up to challenge of a race, which is already tough for drivers because of high temperatures and humidity.
“It sounds unusual but because the race starts at 8pm we have to try and stay on European time as much as possible, to make sure we’re alert later into the night. I get up at about lunchtime and have breakfast at about 2pm because that’s 8am in Switzerland." - Sebastian Vettel
All team will be bringing their last updates to their 2013 machinery before giving full focus to 2014. Last year, Red Bull brought major updates at this race that helped them and Vettel secure a third consecutive title. While Vettel's lead is too massive this year to be overturned, we can expect some good battles between Mercedes and Ferrari for second place in the constructors championship. That will depend on updates teams bring this weekend for final leg of the season.
Red Bull - Red Bull traditionally have been the strong around the streets of Singapore and are likely to be on the top this year with their all rounder RB9. Sebastian Vettel has won here for the last two years and would be looking to extend his championship at the top of the table as he closes on a fourth consecutive title.
Ferrari - Like Red Bull, Ferrari have also been strong around Singapore. Fernando Alonso won here in his debut season with Ferrari in 2010, having already won the 'Crash-gate' affected 2008 race. It would be interesting to see where Ferrari's final updates take them and whether they can be as strong in this high downforce circuit as they were too weeks ago in their home ground Italy.
Mercedes - Mercedes have had two poor races in Belgium and Italy which have slipped them to third in the constructors championship. But Singapore is very different from those two circuits and if Mercedes can show the same pace they showed just before the summer break, they can be serious contenders for the number 1 spot on both Saturday and Sunday.
Lotus - Lotus tend to do better at high downforce circuits but with overtaking difficult on street circuits, they have to qualify their car at the sharper end of the grid. Last year, Kimi Raikkonen was able to climb to sixth place after starting the race down in12th. So while they had the pace of the front runners, they were just not able to fight with them owing to poor grid positions.
McLaren probably had the strongest car here last year and should have won the race without the gearbox failure. As far as this year's race is concerned, they will be hoping to score a few points and stay ahead of Force India in the constructors championship.
Force India meanwhile have been strong at this circuit for past two years and Paul di Resta was fourth in 2012 edition of the race. However, after their mid-season slump, they are unlikely to finish such high this year.
Sauber, Toro Rosso and Williams should also be in the mix and will hoping to add a few points to their respective tallies.
As we know from the Crash gate, Safety Car can play an important role in deciding the outcome of the Singapore Grand Prix. As always, timing of the Safety Car will play a crucial role. For example if Safety Car comes out somewhere between lap 17-20, the prime tyres starters, who wouldn't have a made a pit stop by then will essentially get a free pit stop.