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

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing

To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.

Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”