Preview of the Singapore Grand Prix
After the carnage in Spa, and all the mechanical problems at Monza, the World Championship leaves Europe behind for the second major stint of flyaway races and Singapore – the first of seven stops that round out the season. Fernando Alonso heads the standings by 37 points, with Lewis Hamilton leading the group of four main rivals. Meanwhile, and despite their double retirement in Italy, Red Bull still lead the way among the teams and will be hoping for a stronger performance away from the power circuits.
So what should you expect this weekend?
Track and Conditions
Under the track lighting with the metropolis of Singapore wrapped around it, the Marina Bay circuit is one of the most spectacular settings on the calendar. The circuit is largely made up of slow speed corners, and drivers are only at full-throttle for 50 percent of the lap. It is characterized by bumps and cambers, and as the street sections differ from the smooth asphalt of the purpose-built race circuit sections, it provides a set-up conundrum.
The circuit runs anti-clockwise. The tight first turn, a left-hander, is immediately followed by a right-left kink. The best chance for overtaking can be found at the far end of Raffles Boulevard, ducking through an underpass at 320km/h.
A sequence of 90° bends and then a short straight follow, before the cars race past the colonial government buildings. The Anderson Bridge is very photogenic but also narrow and bumpy, preventing overtaking in this section.
The home stretch crosses the Esplanade Bridge and takes a sharp right before the final turn hoves into view – the drivers ignore the apex and power through, across a rumble strip, to start another lap.
The climate in Singapore at this time of year tends to be hot and humid. Thunderstorms are also a regular feature, hampering track evolution even if the race itself dodges them.
After two low-downforce circuits the second slowest circuit on the calendar call for maximum downforce to provide stability under braking and maximum traction under acceleration. Suspension-wise, mechanical grip is invaluable and with the need to ride the kerbs, set-up tends to the softer side. Grip levels are low, although the track tends not to be as dirty as Monaco, but will improve significantly through the weekend as the track evolves and the drivers put more rubber down.
The circuit is quite demanding on the brakes, not because of the severity of the braking zones (there are no particularly hard stops) but rather their regularity. With little respite, the brakes run hot, dictating larger cooling ducts than usual.
The stop-start nature of the layout is stressful on the engine in its own way but outright power is of little advantage. Instead, smooth power delivery will be of more importance. Closely-spaced gear ratios are needed to maximise acceleration and to optimise performance at low speeds.
Pirelli turns to the soft and supersoft compounds, a combination that necessitated a three-stop strategy from the front-runners last year although further back on the grid, several drivers were able to make progress by only stopping twice, helped by an above average time penalty associated with using the pit lane. This time around, we may see more two stoppers as this year’s tyres are slightly more durable but a lot will depend on the timing of any safety car periods. Saving new tyres during qualifying may also prove crucial.
The combination of a high rate of attrition (the fifth highest number of retirements over the past five years with both mechanical attrition and retirements through accidents well above average) and a tight track layout with little run-off has produced the third highest number of safety car deployments. While there has yet to have been a first-lap retirement, there have been an average of one and half safety car periods per race.
Formula One’s first ever night race in 2008 was spectacular, dramatic and, ultimately, one of the most controversial races in the history of the sport. With the two Championship rivals starting from the front row it was Felipe Massa who led away from Lewis Hamilton. Then, on lap 14, Renault’s Nelson Piquet Jr. spun and crashed out prompting the safety car to be deployed and the field to rush to the pits for fuel and fresh tyres. However, with team mate Kimi Raikkonen having to queue, Ferrari rushed Felipe Massa’s stop and released him with the fuel hose still attached. In the ensuing chaos, both Ferraris found themselves at the tail of the field. However, their misfortune was Fernando Alonso’s benefit as, having pitted shortly before the safety car, the Renault driver leapfrogged into a lead that he wasn’t to relinquish. Twelve months later though, it surfaced that there was much more than simply good fortune behind Renault’s victory…
Ones To Watch
Having won half of the four previous World Championship races held in Singapore, Fernando Alonso and Singapore seem to click, even if the 2008 triumph came under controversial circumstances. Meanwhile, Romain Grosjean returns after his one race ban looking to prove his doubters wrong.
Food for Thought
Who do you think will win at Marina Bay? Can McLaren continue their recent domination or will the tight twists and turns better suit one of their rivals?
Circuit Profile – Marina Bay Circuit
2011 Singapore Grand Prix – Victorious Vettel Closes in on Title
Photos: Mercedes AMG Petronas, Pirelli Tyres, Mercedes AMG Petronas, Pirelli Tyres