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F1 Preview: 2017 Singapore Grand Prix

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With its European adventures over for another year, Formula 1 begins the run of flyaway races along the home stretch to the end of the season with this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix.

Staged as F1’s first ever night race back in 2008, Singapore has established itself as one of the most popular and iconic grands prix on the sport’s calendar in the past decade, offering drivers and fans alike a number of unique experiences.

Not only is the track illuminated by thousands of floodlights, standing out against the night sky and busy backdrop of Singapore itself, but the night-time running requires the paddock to remain on European timezones – meaning bedtime is 6am and your day will start in the early afternoon.

The vibrant city offers plenty to keep the paddock busy, but naturally, the on-track action will be the biggest concern for most in Singapore, particularly championship rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.

Hamilton moved into the lead of the drivers’ standings for the first time this year two weeks ago at Monza, taking his second straight win to move three points clear of Vettel.

The crushing defeat of Ferrari at its home race was taken by many as a sign that Mercedes has pulled clear in the development race, yet with Singapore set to suit the Scuderia’s SF70H car, the momentum is expected to swing back again this weekend.

With just seven races to go, how pivotal will Singapore prove to be in the title battle?

Here are the key talking points heading into the race weekend at Marina Bay.

2017 Singapore Grand Prix – Talking Points

Vettel, Ferrari arrive as favorites

When looking ahead to the second half of the season following August’s summer break, the races at Spa, Monza and Singapore were deemed by most to be foregone conclusions: Mercedes would dominate the first two, with Ferrari bouncing back in Singapore.

Spa was closer than expected as Vettel pushed Hamilton all the way for victory, yet the Briton was able to deliver a masterclass at Monza to move ahead in the points standings, with Mercedes’ might at high-speed circuits telling.

Ferrari is now expected to strike back this weekend, with the SF70H car running well on the tighter tracks so far this season. Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were untouchable at Monaco and had the run on the field in Hungary too, with both races pointing to a good showing in Singapore.

For Vettel, it would be another important injection of life into his bid for a fifth world championship. Much as his victory in Hungary stopped Mercedes’ momentum short of the summer break, winning in Singapore would have a similar effect.

The remaining tracks on the calendar are harder to define as being entirely favorable to Mercedes or Ferrari, making this Vettel’s last real chance of an assured win this season.

Or so one would imagine…

Can Mercedes or Red Bull upstage Ferrari?

Mercedes’ development through the season so far has been undeniably impressive. From the quick car that was, in the team’s own words, a “bit of a diva” to understand and push to its very limit, Mercedes has reined in the W08 and got it under control.

Hungary was proof that Mercedes is not to be discounted when it comes to the tighter stuff on the calendar. Granted, Vettel’s steering issue certainly slowed the pace down, but both Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas were able to keep nicely in sight. They are not to be discounted in Singapore.

Neither for that matter is Red Bull. Again, despite a first-lap clash with teammate Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen was rapid for much of the race, battling back from a time penalty to nearly finish on the podium.

This is a track that reduces the importance of engine power, perhaps bringing Red Bull into the fray given the apparent quality of its RB13 chassis, supposedly hamstrung by the underpowered Renault engine on a typical day in the office.

On paper, Ferrari should pull clear, but with Red Bull and Mercedes lurking, we could be treated to a tasty three-way fight at the front of the pack this weekend.

Last chance for McLaren to score big?

The midfield fight is so close that races of attrition – something a track like Singapore is conducive to – can often prove decisive come the end of the season, making this weekend an important one for the gaggle of teams from P4 to P8 in the constructors’ championship.

Yet it is arguably even more important for McLaren and, in particular, Fernando Alonso. As the discussion surrounding its engine options for 2018 and future plans continues, it still has to deliver on-track in 2017 while it can.

The Honda power unit has certainly come forward in recent weeks, albeit not by a significant amount, but Singapore is a track that should let the MCL32 car come alive and really shine.

Alonso is a two-time winner in Singapore, and much as he did in Hungary, will be looking to squeeze every ounce of performance out of the McLaren in order to fight his way up the field.

Finishing any higher than ninth in the constructors’ this year may be a bit unrealistic for McLaren – yet this will be an important race to add to its points haul, perhaps being the last chance to score big in 2017.

The age-old question of rain

2008 may have been the year of F1’s first night race, but we are still yet to see F1’s first wet night race – and yet the forecast suggests it is due every year.

The high heat and humidity in Singapore means thunderstorms happen pretty regularly, with the forecasts before venturing to Asia onee again pointing to a wet qualifying and race, much as hey did last year, and the year before that, and so on.

With Singapore, it’s really a case of just being ready for anything – because when it rains, it rains heavily and quickly.

Should showers strike during qualifying (as it did at Monza) or the race, it would be an exciting added dimension to one of the most spectacular race weekends in F1. So make sure you keep an eye on the sky at Marina Bay.

Will the puzzle begin to come together?

One of the biggest question marks heading into this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix hangs over the complex web connecting the engine and driver markets for next season, with McLaren firmly at the center.

All of the signs are pointing to a divorce between McLaren and engine partner Honda for 2018 after three years of trials and tribulations, with the British marque instead teaming up with Renault from next season.

Renault will, in turn, stop supplying Toro Rosso, who will pick up the Honda supply left vacant by McLaren, while Carlos Sainz Jr. will be a makeweight in the deal, moving to Renault for 2018.

At the time of writing, none of this has been confirmed, but we should find out more as the weekend progesses. Time is ticking for all parties in planning for 2018 – and leaving it until the start of October would be getting very tight for next season.

2017 Singapore Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Marina Bay Street Circuit
Corners: 23
Lap Record: Daniel Ricciardo 1:47.187 (2016)
Tire Compounds: Ultra-Soft/Super-Soft/Soft
2016 Winner: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2016 Pole Position: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:42.584
2016 Fastest Lap: Daniel Ricciardo 1:47.187 (2016)
DRS Zone: T23 to T1, T5 to T7

2017 Singapore Grand Prix – TV/Stream Times

NASCAR America: Scott Speed’s quest for Red Bull GRC three-peat

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Red Bull Global Rallycross points leader Scott Speed is going for his third consecutive championship next month (Saturday, October 14, 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC from Los Angeles) for the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team.

Prior to that, he joined Thursday’s edition of NBCSN’s NASCAR America, checking in with his former Red Bull Racing teammate Brian Vickers, show host Carolyn Manno and analyst Steve Letarte.

Speed talked teammate dynamics – he and Tanner Foust have been the class of the Red Bull GRC field for several years – and what it takes to succeed in the diverse championship that features racing on both pavement and dirt.

“Tanner comes from more of a more rally background and I come from more of an open-wheel, road course background,” Speed explained. “You have to meet in the middle and often times that creates success. Our personalties are polar opposites and that’s a good thing.”

One other thing Speed addressed was Austin Cindric’s couple notable incidents in the last month or so. Going for his maiden NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win, Cindric hit Kaz Grala at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park to move for the lead and ultimately the win.

Cindric then made his GRC Supercars debut at the most recent weekend in Seattle and the two collided after a miscommunication in a preliminary race, prior to the Joker section of the course.

“He’s a young kid with not a lot of experience. He’s made a couple big mistakes. He came in like a wrecking ball,” Speed laughed.

“I was more mad because the car couldn’t restart at first. But it did, and we got going.”

Public clashes over future of Detroit Grand Prix

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DETROIT (AP) State officials are deciding whether to continue hosting the Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle, a state park and island that opponents say is negatively impacted by the annual event.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is considering whether to allow the race to continue after its current five-year contract expires after the 2018 race.

The department held a public meeting Wednesday at the Belle Isle Nature Center to gather feedback. Dozens of residents attended.

Opponents voiced concerns about the race’s environmental impact. Several conservation groups have requested a third-party environmental impact study on how the race affects island habitat.

But supporters say the race shines a spotlight on Detroit and stimulates the economy.

The Grand Prix has occurred on Belle Isle periodically since 1992 and annually since 2012.

FIA confirms Halo crash test details, International F3 plans and more

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Following the latest meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris, France, a number of updates concerning the championships under the governing body’s umbrella for 2018 had been confirmed.

The stand-out news was the confirmation of a Formula E race in Zurich for June 2018, marking motorsport’s return to Switzerland after being outlawed back in 1955.

A number of tweaks have also been made to the FIA Super Licence points allocation from next year, placing a greater onus on drivers to race in Formula 2 before stepping up to Formula 1.

Here’s a run-down of all the other news from the WMSC’s meeting in Paris.

FORMULA 1

Following the F1 Strategy Group’s approval of ‘Halo’ cockpit protection being introduced to F1 from 2018, the WMSC gave its approval to the required updates in the technical regulations to allow its implementation.

The various technical details can be found in the regulations by clicking here (under Article 17), but the key point is that teams will now be able to finalize their chassis designs for 2018 now they know the crash test details.

The WMSC also confirmed that Sentronics will be the exclusive supplier of fuel flow meters in F1 for 2018 and 2019.

There is also a clampdown on oil burn in F1 for 2018 following the controversy with Mercedes and Ferrari in 2017, as well as continued plans to ban the ‘shark fin’ from next year’s regulations.

One point we already knew but is nevertheless of interest is the reduction in power unit elements permitted to each driver per season. As of 2018, each driver will be limited to just three internal combustion engines, three MGU-Hs, three turbochargers, two control electronics and two MGU-Ks per season, down from four for each element in 2017.

No updates were made to the F1 calendar for 2018, but Bahrain and China are tipped to switch places, the latter becoming the third round of the season.

INTERNATIONAL FORMULA 3

The WMSC confirmed plans to form an International Formula 3 series in 2019 in a bid to complete the pyramid from Formula 4 to F1.

Both the FIA European F3 and GP3 Series co-exist as the third rung on the single-seater ladder at the moment, with the international championship tipped to replace the latter.

The WMSC called for expressions of interest for chassis and engine suppliers for an international series, as well as a promoter.

Loose regulations have also been formed that are similar to GP3’s current rules, with a 24-car grid desired over a nine-to-10 round season featuring single-make chassis, engines and tires.

The FIA is also pushing to create more regional F3 series in the future to bridge the gap between F4 and International F3.

FIA WORLD ENDURANCE CHAMPIONSHIP

Following confirmation of Silverstone’s return to the 2018/19 ‘super season’ calendar last week, the WMSC ratified the schedule for the next WEC campaign that will last 13 months.

The technical regulation amendments for 2018 were also approved as part of the WEC’s bid to attract more manufacturers to the LMP1 class following Porsche’s shock exit.

“The FIA Endurance Commission was also encouraged to pursue a number of exciting and innovative proposals that it is currently working on, with the aim of enticing new manufacturers to the Championship,” part of the WMSC’s release reads.

FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

The FIA confirmed its calendar for the 2018 WRC season, with the addition of a rally in Turkey being announced in place of Poland.

1. Rally Monte Carlo – January 28
2. Rally Sweden – February 18
3. Rally Mexico – March 11
4. Tour de Corse – April 8
5. Rally Argentina – April 29
6. Rally de Portugal – May 20
7. Rally Italia – June 10
8. Rally Finland – July 29
9. Rally Germany – August 19
10. Rally Turkey – September 16
11. Rally Great Britain – October 7
12. Rally Spain – October 28
13. Rally Australia – November 18

To see the full release from the WMSC, click here.

FIA tweaks Super Licence points allocation for 2018

FIA Formula 2
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The FIA has tweaked its points allocation for the Super Licence required to race in Formula 1 for 2018, placing a greater onus on Formula 2 as being the final step on the single-seater ladder.

In a bid to tighten up on the route drivers took to reach F1, the FIA introduced a new points system for the Super Licence from 2016.

Drivers require a score of 40 points in a three-year period to be granted an FIA Super Licence, with different scores being awarded for success across a variety of categories.

Previously, drivers scored the full 40 points required for a top-two finish in GP2 (now F2) or winning the title in IndyCar, FIA Formula 3, Formula E or the FIA World Endurance Championship’s LMP1 class.

As of 2018, 40 points will only be awarded for a top-three finish in F2 or winning the IndyCar drivers’ title, with the other series facing points reductions.

One of the most devalued championships is Formula V8 3.5, formerly seen as being equivalent to GP2, with a title win previously worth 35 points now worth just 20.

Here are the points breakdowns for the most valuable championships, running from P1 in the final standings to P10.

FIA Super Licence Points Allocations

Formula 2: 40-40-40-30-20-10-8-6-4-3
IndyCar: 40-30-20-10-8-6-4-3-2-1
FIA F3: 30-25-20-10-8-6-4-3-2-1
Formula E: 30-25-20-10-8-6-4-3-2-1
WEC LMP1: 30-24-20-16-12-10-8-6-4-2
GP3: 25-20-15-10-7-5-3-2-1-0
Formula V8 3.5: 20-15-10-8-6-4-3-2-1-0
Super Formula: 20-15-10-8-6-4-3-2-1-0

You can see the full breakdown by clicking here.