When the lights finally illuminate the track on Sunday, they will shine on the levelest playing field the 2017 F1 season will see. RealSport tells you what to watch out for.
1 Red Bull to the front
Marina Bay is a road course that rewards great braking and chassis balance with a smaller emphasis on outright engine power. Those characteristics should level Mercedes with the rest, boost Ferrari and, in particular, help Red Bull stand tall. This will be the weekend where nothing matters as much as driver ability on a showcase circuit. What Marina Bay may lack in relative history to Monaco, F1’s other showcase road course, it makes up for in grandeur and spectacle. It is also a better race; wider track, higher speeds, and more (but not a lot of) overtaking.
It’s no secret Red Bull have the best chassis on the grid and two of the best, maybe the two best, drivers currently in F1. If only their Renault engine could hold up its end of the bargain. As a team, they have constantly risen higher in the order than a car with an engine that questionable should be able to. But where success has come misfortune has followed. Reliability woes have crippled Max Verstappen’s season and held Daniel Ricciardo back from claiming as much as his driving prowess has regularly deserved.
After massive grid penalties last time out in Italy pushed the team down the starting order, this weekend should see clearer sailing on what should be a hypercompetitive track. With Verstappen’s horrid run of luck surely due to come to an end, and Ricciardo’s incredible form continuing, Red Bull have the perfect recipe to dish out headaches to the top two teams throughout the race.
2 Will Sebastian Vettel strike back in Singapore?
Vettel, a four-time winner at Marina Bay, comes to the weekend having fallen behind in the driver's championship for the first time this season. His former team Principal Christian Horner has said he becomes extremely focused under title pressure. As he puts it: “you knew if you were with a sniff of having a crack at the championship that he'd (Vettel) deliver from his side.”
Vettel now sits a scant three points adrift of Lewis Hamilton and will be keen to erase that deficit on a circuit he has found repeated success on. In the sister car, Kimi Raikkonen scored a surprise pole on a somewhat similar Monaco track earlier this year and, at times, has looked more like the 2007 Kimi than he has in previous seasons. If he can channel that version of himself, Ferrari stands to gain much.
With the team offering their most competitive car in years the potential has to bode well for the Scuderia. Singapore fits the mould of tracks the SF70H seems to relish; lower-speed, high downforce, hot and cornering-focused. Look for Vettel to hunt near the front all weekend long, with his teammate Kimi Raikkonen a little further back.
3 Will Marina Bay let Lewis Hamilton stretch the Mercedes’ legs?
Nearly a fortnight ago, Mercedes began an ominous pattern in practice sessions for the Italian Grand Prix. The team would go on to demolish the competition in Monza, their loudest championship proclamation of the season. Lewis Hamilton ran from pole untouched on Sunday to take a win and the drivers' championship lead for the first time. For the competition, it was a frightful sign that the W08 had finally been tamed.
After several early season complaints about the car's handling characteristics, that translated to relatively mediocre results in places like Monaco, there were none in Italy. We will find out this weekend though if handling issues are truly in the past. Mercedes have set a low bar with their words, saying they expect to struggle and have brought no upgrades to thwart that. But if the car is sorted they will need no upgrades, and it will have a significant impact on the championship going forward. Last year in Singapore, the team quashed the braking issues that dogged them in 2015 and, if their rivals hadn't been so close all season long, they could easily be considered favourites heading to Marina Bay. However, 2017 is the sincerest racing season of the hybrid era and at least two other teams come into the weekend eyeing a win.
While Valtteri Bottas has done a splendid job backing up Lewis Hamilton this year, all eyes will be on the latter. Hamilton, a multiple race winner in Singapore, has taken back-to-back high-speed wins and finally looks fully confident behind the wheel this year. Undoubtedly, he will come ready to slice what he can from lap times.
4 Who are you backing to win in Singapore this year?
While Mercedes may have the best current form, a steep demand from the circuit this weekend should provide the fans and pundits alike with nothing less than a thrilling effort from the top three teams. In many cases, a race at Marina Bay is exactly what the teams at Ferrari and Red Bull would ask for to get back on top. Look for the top four - Hamilton, Vettel, Ricciardo and Verstappen - to scrap to the maximum all weekend.
So, who are you backing for the win? The driver with four wins and a strong car? The current points leader? Or the team with the best chassis (and talent to match) on the circuit where it matters the most?
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