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Wolff: Singapore ‘difficult to master’ for Mercedes

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Although Mercedes AMG Petronas has won two of the three Singapore Grands Prix since the current engine formula was introduced prior to 2014, it’s traditionally been a tough circuit pace-wise for the team by comparison to some of its rivals.

As such, if either Lewis Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas were to win this weekend at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, it’d be a decisive win in the overall championship picture, with Scuderia Ferrari the expected favorites and Red Bull Racing also expected to content on a track where outright horsepower isn’t as vital as it has been at the last two power circuits, Spa and Monza.

Mercedes motorsport chief Toto Wolff has said as much going into the weekend, noting how Mercedes’ challenging 2015 Singapore Grand Prix weekend helped fuel a comeback last year when Nico Rosberg won.

“In 2015, Singapore provided us with one of the most painful experiences in recent seasons, so we rolled up the sleeves, learned from it and managed to bounce back with a great win last year,” Wolff said in the team’s pre-race advance.

“But notwithstanding that success, this is a circuit we have found difficult to master with its combination of short, sharp corners, relatively short straights and bumpy surface. And we head to Asia this time round with the expectation that we have a big challenge ahead of us.”

Wolff suggested both Ferrari and Red Bull should have the measure of Mercedes on pace this weekend. Sebastian Vettel has led Kimi Raikkonen for Ferrari 1-2 finishes at both Monaco and Hungary, tracks closest to Singapore on the calendar. Daniel Ricciardo was third at Monaco while Bottas has Mercedes’ lone podium at those two tracks this year, regaining the position from Hamilton on the last lap at Hungary.

Points-wise, Vettel and Raikkonen have 50 and 36 points in those two races – Ferrari having achieved a maximum 86 – while Bottas and Hamilton have just 27 and 18, respectively.

“So far this year, we have seen the pendulum swing according to circuit type,” Wolff said. “On the surface, Singapore is the kind of circuit that should favor both Ferrari and Red Bull. Both have shown strong performance on low-speed circuits demanding maximum downforce, and we have found life more difficult at those places in 2017.

“Sometimes, characteristics like this are simply in the DNA of a car. Nevertheless we learned a lot from our struggles in Monaco, raised our level of performance significantly in Hungary and we have made good progress in understanding what we need to do in order to get the most from the chassis.”

The nature of it being a night race, with teams operating on late hours but still on European times, plus the length of the race only increase the degree of difficulty.

“It’s a demanding weekend for the teams: the ambient conditions make life in the garage tough, it’s physically demanding for the drivers and challenging for the cars in terms of managing brake and tire temperatures. Safety Car periods are almost guaranteed, so there are lots of variables to consider on strategy,” he said.

“It’s a weekend when every part of the team needs to be at its best if you wish to score a strong finish.”

Singapore Grand Prix times for this weekend are linked here.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.