What to watch for: Singapore GP (NBCSN and Live Extra from 7:30am ET)

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Sebastian Vettel tore up the formbook in qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday night as he stormed to their first pole position since joining Ferrari at the beginning of the 2015 season.

This season has been all about one team: Mercedes. The dominance that the German marque enjoyed in 2014 has extended into the current season, and although Vettel has swooped to two victories, few expected him to take pole as convincingly as he did at Marina Bay.

Even fewer could have predicted Mercedes struggling so much in qualifying, for Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg could only finish fifth and sixth in Q3, leaving them on the third row of the grid for today’s race.

It was left to Ferrari and Red Bull in the fight for top honors, and although Daniel Ricciardo did put up a fight and score his first front row start in 18 months, no-one could stop Vettel. The margin of half a second prompted the re-emergence of his famous ‘finger’ celebration, harking back to his heyday in 2013 when such results were the norm.

Qualifying lived up to all of the expectations that we had, and has created a fascinating state of play ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday (live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7:30am ET).

2015 Singapore Grand Prix – What To Watch For

2013-SPEC SEB IS BACK IN TOWN

Sebastian Vettel’s victory in the 2013 Singapore Grand Prix was arguably one of his best for Red Bull. After a safety car period wiped away his advantage, the German driver pulled away from the field at two seconds per lap to give himself a crushing victory. It was Vettel at the very peak of his powers.

On Saturday in Singapore, we saw that same Vettel return (if he has ever left, that is). He has proved many of his critics wrong with Ferrari in 2015, and the manner of his pole position arguably makes it his biggest success to date. Converting it into a third victory would be a considerable achievement, and judging by his pace, it would take a brave man to bet against him.

RED BULL LURKS AND LINGERS

Don’t discount Red Bull just yet though. Daniel Ricciardo and Daniel Kvyat qualified second and fourth respectively on Saturday, split by Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari car. The pace shown by both drivers in practice over the long runs on Friday is certainly encouraging, suggest we’re in for a close fight for the win on Sunday.

Ricciardo spoke on Saturday about his new-found comfort with the RB11 car since the Hungarian Grand Prix in July, and with the nature of the Marina Bay Street Circuit masking the deficiencies of the Renault power unit, Red Bull could, much like Vettel, throw it back to 2013 with a win in Singapore.

Ferrari remains the favorite, but it’s far from being a foregone conclusion.

DAMAGE LIMITATION THE GOAL FOR MERCEDES

“Damage limitation” and “Mercedes” don’t ordinarily mix in F1 nowadays. And yet on Sunday in Singapore, it appears to be about all that the German marque can truly hope for. Both Hamilton and Rosberg struggled to find any kind of pace in qualifying, finishing 1.4 seconds behind Vettel’s pace.

To make matters worse, no-one at Mercedes seemed capable of putting their finger on the problem. Was it the tires? Was it the setup? Whatever it was, it’s unlikely to have changed much for the race on Sunday.

A good start could take both Hamilton and Rosberg into the scrap for the podium, but barring a drastic change in fortunes, the points swing in the championship will be just a handful of points. For Rosberg, it’s probably a good thing – falling 60 points behind Hamilton would leave his already-blighted title bid surely in tatters.

MIDFIELD RUMBLINGS

The close battle in the midfield is only set to rage on in Singapore on Sunday as the race to follow home Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes (the likely top six finishers) looks hard to predict.

Williams and Toro Rosso appeared to enjoy the edge on their midfield rivals in qualifying on Saturday, but with Force India showing good signs of pace throughout the weekend, Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg could yet come into play once the lights go out on Sunday.

The team to keep an eye on will be McLaren as Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button go in search of their third points finishes of the 2015 season. Just as we’re seeing with Red Bull, McLaren’s power unit problems are less damaging in Singapore, giving the team hope of a top ten finish.

ROSSI FLIES THE FLAG

2,982 days since the last American driver started a grand prix, Alexander Rossi will bring the drought to an end when he realizes a life-long dream and lines up on the grid on Sunday. Although his maiden qualifying outing with Manor was largely disappointing (he finished last), Rossi has made a big impression given his lack of recent F1 experience.

Rossi will be hoping to run teammate Will Stevens close in the race, and their intra-team scrap will offer a good insight into just how he compares to a full-time driver.

Regardless of his result, the American flag will be flying high once again in Singapore on Sunday.

STARTING GRID FOR THE 2015 SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX

1. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
2. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
3. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
4. Daniil Kvyat Red Bull
5. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
6. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
7. Valtteri Bottas Williams
8. Max Verstappen Toro Rosso
9. Felipe Massa Williams
10. Romain Grosjean Lotus
11. Nico Hulkenberg Force India
12. Fernando Alonso McLaren
13. Sergio Perez Force India
14. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
15. Jenson Button McLaren
16. Felipe Nasr Sauber
17. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
18. Pastor Maldonado Lotus
19. Will Stevens Manor
20. Alexander Rossi Manor

The Singapore Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7:30am ET on Sunday.

Tom Blomqvist keeps eye on IndyCar during impressive rise: ‘ I would love to give it a go’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In between two of his latest superstar-driver-in-waiting performances, Tom Blomqvist walked through the Daytona International Speedway garage in anonymity.

“Nobody knows who the (expletive) I am,” he said to a team member with a laugh (and without a trace of being miffed), evincing the cheeky humor of someone born in England, raised in New Zealand and also of Swedish descent.

The lack of recognition in the garage might have been because he was clad in a relatively nondescript shirt, hat and sunglasses instead of a colorful firesuit covered by sponsor logos. But he also was on the way to a Friday race eve media availability where his entrance was greeted by only one reporter (after a few minutes).

During a news conference a day earlier, he sat patiently on the dais while his Indy 500-winning teammates and car owner fielded nearly all the questions – even though Blomqvist had turned maybe the most impressive lap of the month to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position in the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category.

The Meyer Shank Racing driver still might lack the attention commensurate with his already world-class CV (which expanded Sunday with his second consecutive Rolex 24  victory for MSR), but Blomqvist, 29, clearly isn’t bothered by it.

He carries the quiet confidence of knowing his immense talent will ensure results that will make him impossible to ignore.

“To a degree, I guess, it’s definitely ramped up a lot for me,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports. “In America, I’m starting to get a lot more (attention). In the last year, I’ve quite often got a lot of maybe what you’d call the glory moments. It’s been fun. And within the paddock, there’s a lot of respect for me anyway. It’s been good.”

There have been several moments of acclaim since he joined MSR barely a year ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his first start for the team at last year’s Rolex 24, Blomqvist turned in a Herculean performance to position the No. 60 Acura for the victory (giving way to Helio Castroneves because he was too “cooked” to complete the last 74 minutes).

He was even better this year at Daytona.

He ripped off a monster “one and done” pole-winning lap to beat the clock in qualifying on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. During the race, Blomqvist was as dominant in his first stint as his last in the ARX-06 while taking the checkered flag. He set the mark for the fastest time on Lap 6 that no one topped over the final 755 laps.

The 10 fastest laps in the race belonged to Blomqvist, carrying over his speed from the 2022 when he won the Petit Le Mans season finale to clinch the premier prototype championship at Michelin Road Atlanta.

A year earlier at the same track, he had burst onto the radar of car owner Mike Shank, who was intrigued by Blomqvist’s results as a BMW factory driver in the Formula E and DTM series. In 2014, Blomqvist also finished between second in F3, between champion Esteban Ocon (now with Alpine’s F1 team) and Max Verstappen (who has won the past two Formula One championships).

“He did a lot of high-level stuff, and then kind of fell out of favor, or I don’t know what happened, but he was a free agent,” Shank said. “I started looking at his numbers, and I’m like, ‘We should test this guy. So I take him to Road Atlanta in the fall of ’21, and he got in the car and just slayed it.”

Within minutes, he had called co-owner Jim Meyer.

“I’ve got our guy,” Shank said. “This is our guy. There’s no question about it.

Honda Performance Development president David Salters hugs Tom Blomqvist after the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

“Now what’s happened, though, and I think if you look back at the Rolex here last year (and) what he did, he’s a gold nugget. He reminds me a little bit when (Robert) Wickens came into IndyCar out of DTM (as a rookie in 2018).

“He truly believes he’s the fastest guy out there, and he proved it (at the Rolex 24).”

Said David Salters, president for Honda Performance Development: “We love Tom. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? Immensely talented, super smart, and on it.

The great thing about our teams, the strength in depth is tremendous. But if you look through the sports car racing now, that’s the standard you have to have. Tom, brilliant, Filipe (Albuquerque), brilliant. Ricky (Taylor). You can go through that list. They’re all superstars. Tom is awesome. His lap in qualifying quite frankly was unbelievable.”


Having conquered one of the world’s greatest endurance races twice with Acura, Blomqvist could be ticketed for the world’s biggest race next – the Indy 500 — with HPD’s primary brand.

He tested a Dallara-Honda for MSR last October at Sebring International Raceway, and while he plans to focus solely on IMSA this season, he remains very intrigued by IndyCar.

And with Castroneves, 47, beginning a one-year deal with MSR’s IndyCar team, there could be an obvious opening in 2024.

“Obviously, it’s not in the cards this year,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports the day before the Rolex. “Yeah, I would love to give it a go. To be honest, I think that would be an amazing step for me in my career. I enjoy the sports car stuff so much. It’s been really good to me lately. I really enjoyed the style of racing.

“But I feel like IndyCar would be a step up for me and my career. It would be fantastic if I could get that opportunity. But yeah, I guess I have to keep pushing Mike or something to give me a shot. But obviously for now, the focus is here in the sports car stuff. It’s not really down to me at the end of the day. And I’ve got to do my job and then the people who pay the bills and make the decisions obviously have to decide if that’s something worth pursuing.

“But yeah, I’d love to give it a go, and I definitely would be up for it.”

Tom Blomqvist after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole on the final qualifying lap (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

A transition from IMSA to IndyCar naturally would be easier than switching teams, but it also would be comfortable because Blomqvist already seems such a good fit at MSR.

It might have seemed an unusual pairing given his European-heavy background, but Blomqvist likes the Midwestern culture that’s been built at MSR. Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the team’s shop has “no egos, and that just enables each and every one of to reach our potential.

“Obviously, with Honda, we obviously have some great resources, but we’re up against Porsche, BMW and some big heavy hitters in the motorsports world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got a huge team compared to them, but we’ve obviously got a very capable team, and I think that’s what has been so impressive and really, really nice to see about the work that’s been done. No stone has been left unturned.”


Blomqvist still is living in Europe and planning to commute for the nine-race GTP schedule (which has a nearly two-month break after the Rolex 24 until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring). But though he’s “got good friends in America, so I do have places to stay,” he seems open to being based more permanently near MSR in America.

“Let’s see what the future brings, and if that means me spending more time over here,” he said. “It’s a fantastic team. It’s a different environment to what I’m used to. It’s obviously now a hugely successful team, but it is a small team. It does feel like a very small family-operated team, which it is.

“I think Mike’s really just built this thing. It hasn’t happened overnight. Mike’s a great guy and put a lot of trust and faith in me, and I played a relatively good part in some of the success last year. I was able to reward him and give him my all every time I’m on track, and he respects that. But we are still a small team. In the grand scheme of things, we still are a really, really small team.”

Blomqvist said the BMW factory program would have two or three times the staffing of MSR – just on one of its two GTP cars.

“But it’s not the number of people that makes a difference, it’s the quality of people, and obviously Mike and HPD are a fantastic operation to go racing,” Blomqvist said. “We’re racers at heart.

“I’ve been part of some big outfits, and the European way of working is very, very different to how people go about racing in America. I’d say it’s more seat of your pants. A lot of emotion and kind of rides on that competitive spirt, competitive nature and on their personalities. It’s a lot more pure. It feels very pure. You want to win, so we go out and don’t cut corners on trying to win.”

Though it’s aligned with Liberty Media and has big-budget backing and support from Honda Performance Development, MSR also is much less corporate than most GTP teams.

A longtime and respected team owner who has built a sponsor portfolio, Shank also describes his maniacal dedication to success as “messed up,” and he’s known for dropping vulgarities into postrace interview with his blunt and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank congratulates Tom Blomqvist on the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

With a more laid-back but sometimes just as biting demeanor, Blomqvist has become the team’s unquestioned leader behind the wheel

“I definitely feel a lot more immersed,” he said. “Within the team, I was a bit more of an unknown quantity the start of last year. Obviously after last season, the team trusts me a lot. And that gives me a lot of pleasure, pride and confidence. In this sport, confidence is a huge aspect of drivers’ psychology in a way. We’re in extremely high-pressure moments where my job is to perform under the pressure of these organizations and the brand as well.

“It’s just a good, healthy team to be a part of. It’s a high-pressure environment, but the team obviously have put a lot of faith in me, and I’ve been able to deliver for them on occasions.”

Rolex 24 starting lineup
Tom Blomqvist celebrates after winning the pole in the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).