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
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