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

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


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).