Getty Images

What to watch for: Singapore Grand Prix (NBCSN, NBC Sports app from 7am ET)

Leave a comment

Sebastian Vettel took a huge step towards overturning Formula 1 rival Lewis Hamilton’s lead in the drivers’ championship by taking an emphatic pole position on Saturday night in Singapore.

With arguably one of the finest qualifying displays of his illustrious F1 career, Vettel eked every last tenth of a second out of his Ferrari en route to his 49th pole position, and his fourth in Singapore.

Hamilton was left to settle for fifth as Mercedes lacked the pace to fight with Red Bull or Ferrari around the streets of Marina Bay, running as the third-fastest team.

Hamilton’s three-point advantage in the drivers’ championship looks precarious, but as Singapore has taught us time and time again, this race is rarely a straightforward one.

You can watch the Singapore Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

Here’s what to watch for in today’s race.

2017 Singapore Grand Prix – What to watch for

Vettel ready to extend excellent Singapore record

Sebastian Vettel has always been a force around the streets of Singapore, but could make it his most successful track in F1 with a fifth win on Sunday from pole position.

Vettel didn’t get in a good groove until the very end of qualifying, having trailed the Red Bull drivers in every single session up to Q3, but was able to deliver a knock-out blow when it mattered.

Vettel’s big challenge now will be to keep the charging Red Bulls at bay. Questions may still linger about Ferrari’s race pace, but with overtaking being so difficult in Singapore, with a good start, victory could be his for the taking.

Red Bull ready to win on merit?

Daniel Ricciardo has been in a defiant mood in Singapore. After topping both FP1 and FP2 on Friday, he boldly set his sights on a “dominant” weekend, and then despite falling short in qualifying, ending up P3, the Australian said: “I’m still confident we will get victory.”

Red Bull started the year well off the pace compared to Ferrari and Mercedes, and while the nature of the Singapore circuit may play to the strengths of the RB13 car, to even be within a shout of winning a race on merit – Baku was largely down to good fortune – is an impressive feat.

With both Ricciardo and Max Verstappen at the sharp end of the field, Red Bull could play it smart and split its strategies to try and force Ferrari and Vettel into a mistake.

Mercedes facing race of damage limitation

Not since the Singapore Grand Prix two years ago has Mercedes looked as weak as it does this weekend, with its struggles to dial in its W08 cars to the street course putting it on course for a race of damage limitation.

Lewis Hamilton will start down in fifth today, meaning his three-point lead at the top of the drivers’ championship is in serious doubt, particularly with Vettel on pole.

While incidents could occur and vault Mercedes up the order, as things stand, it’s not looking all that good for the German marque.

Hulkenberg ready to break an unwanted record

The tight fight in F1’s midfield looks set to continue in Singapore, with the form-book being flipped from Monza as Renault and McLaren emerge as the leading teams to be ‘best of the rest’ behind the big three.

For Nico Hulkenberg, today’s race may see him become an F1 record holder – but not for good reasons. On his 129th start, he is poised to become the driver with the most race starts in F1 history not to score a podium, breaking Adrian Sutil’s record.

Renault does look in good shape this weekend, so could benefit should a crazy race ensue, but McLaren is also flexing its muscle at a track where its Honda engine woes are not so damning.

Strategy hard to play, but could rain come into force?

The Singapore Grand Prix is one of the most unpredictable on the calendar when it comes to incidents and safety cars, making any kind of firm strategy hard to define pre-race.

Many of the backmarkers may opt to come in at the end of the first lap in anticipation of an early safety car, while the front-runners will know that bridging the gap between one and two stops is a risky thing to do.

Keep an eye on how Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes play things at the front, and what the midfielders will do to try and capitalize on any craziness – including rain, which is hammering down at the time of writing in Singapore.

2017 Singapore Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
2. Max Verstappen Red Bull
3. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
4. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
5. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
6. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes
7. Nico Hulkenberg Renault
8. Fernando Alonso McLaren
9. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren
10. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
11. Jolyon Palmer Renault
12. Sergio Perez Force India
13. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
14. Esteban Ocon Force India
15. Romain Grosjean Haas
16. Kevin Magnussen Haas
17. Felipe Massa Williams
18. Lance Stroll Williams
19. Pascal Wehrlein Sauber
20. Marcus Ericsson Sauber*

* Five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change.

NHRA: Dodge/Mopar to unveil new Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car today in Denver

Photos/video courtesy Dodge/Mopar
Leave a comment

If you’re a fan of NHRA Funny Car racing and Dodge/Mopar, you may notice something different at this weekend’s Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in suburban Denver, Colorado.

Two-time (2011 and 2014) NHRA Funny Car champ Matt Hagan – who has won the last two NHRA national events in the last four weeks – will be piloting a newly-designed 2019 Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, a 10,000-horsepower Funny Car that makes its debut today at Dodge/Mopar’s premier NHRA national event.

The new Charger SRT Hellcat succeeds the former Mopar Dodge Charger R/T, which had been in use since 2015.

“We improved on the body design,” Hagan said of the new Charger Hellcat. “It was already a great design, a great body. But now, we’re going to have a little more downforce, a little more traction on these racetracks and it will be a huge performance advantage.”

The new Hellcat includes a number of innovations, including a new front splitter to increase downforce. Just like its predecessor, the R/T, the Hellcat will go head-to-head with Chevrolet’s Camaro in the NHRA Funny Car ranks.

“We will be able to press harder with more downforce on the nose, which translates into huge amounts of downforce on the run,” Hagan said.

According to a media release, the new Hellcat features major design changes in three key areas: the front end, bodysides and burst panel placement:

* “At the front, the shape of the nose has been tweaked and a new splitter (photo), built of carbon fiber and Kevlar like the rest of the Funny Car body, has been added. The splitter substantially mimics the look and shape of the production vehicle’s splitter while generating greater downforce to help plant the Funny Car to the track.

* “Bodyside scallops have been redesigned to more closely identify with the production Hellcat while also enhancing on-track function and performance. The deeper character lines provide greater visual ties to the street version of the Hellcat, while also helping to mitigate the “body burn” common on all Funny Cars due to the close positioning of the exhaust headers.

* “The location of the burst panel on the hood has also been reworked. The panel is now centered over the top of the engine to more efficiently release energy and pressure in the event of engine issues, a common occurrence in race cars that are pushed to the razor’s edge of performance.”

Since the R/T was first introduced into the Don Schumacher Racing corps, it has gone on to 50 wins, 42 runner-up finishes and 40 No. 1 qualifiers in NHRA national events and one NHRA Funny Car World Championship (Ron Capps, 2016).

The new Charger SRT Hellcat, which can exceed 330-plus mph and covers 1,000 feet in under four seconds, is the drag strip version of the supercharged, 707-horsepower production Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, the quickest, fastest and most powerful sedan in the world.

While Hagan will drive the first Hellcat, his other three Dodge-powered DSR teammates – Capps, Jack Beckman and Tommy Johnson Jr. – will soon take delivery of their own versions of the car over the remaining 11 races of the 2018 season.

One day after winning two weeks ago at Norwalk, Ohio, Hagan and crew chief Dickie Venables put the new Hellcat through its paces with several test runs. The results were so strong that it was decided to debut the car at Denver and run all qualifying and elimination rounds with it.

“We made four good, solid runs in testing at Norwalk,” said Hagan. “We put the body through a lot of different things and were really, really pleased with it.

“I really think it’s going to translate over to performance on the race track, and hopefully more win lights in the future.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski