F1 Preview: 2018 Singapore Grand Prix

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The first of seven fly-away races to end the 2018 Formula 1 season awaits in this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix.

Singapore also represents one of the most glitzy events of the calendar. With parties and concerts galore surrounding the weekend, the Singapore Grand Prix is highly reminiscent of the Monaco Grand Prix, at least in terms of its glamor.

And the race is a spectacle in and of itself. The first F1 race to run at night under flood lighting, and with the stunning backdrop of Singapore to boot, it immediately took its place as one of the most unique races of the year.

In fact, the event is so unique that it sees a peculiar scenario in which the teams, in order to maintain their usual European timezone sleeping habits, are often in bed and asleep around 6:00 a.m. local time and begin their day in the early afternoon.

Of course, all of the glitz, glamor, and pageantry of Singapore ultimately comes second to the race itself, especially given its place late in the season.

The championship battle is nearing critical mass for title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. Hamilton enters Signapore leading Vettel by 30 points after winning the Italian Grand Prix, a victory that must have felt like a punch in the gut to Vettel and the Ferrari team.

Vettel and co. must rebound in Singapore in order to take back the momentum from Hamilton and Mercedes.

Talking points ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix are below.

Vettel Looks for Vengeance After 2017 Singapore Nightmare

SINGAPORE – SEPTEMBER 17: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF70H and Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF70H collide at the start during the Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 17, 2017 in Singapore. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Sebastian Vettel started on the pole last year in Singapore, only to suffer terminal damage following a Lap 1 collision involving Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen. Vettel and Raikkonen appeared to squeeze Verstappen off the start, and the three of them all dropped out on the spot – Vettel was able to briefly continue after the contact, but spun in his own radiator fluid and hit the wall with the front wing before the Ferrari team ordered him to stop the car to prevent further damage.

That wreck kicked the downfall of Vettel’s 2017 title chances into high gear. He finished fourth in the Malaysian Grand Prix after starting at the back, and then DNF’ed again in the Japanese Grand Prix, essentially ending his championship hopes.

This year, he enters Signapore again reeling, this time after a problematic Italian Grand Prix – Vettel spun on the opening lap after contact with Lewis Hamilton and could only climb as high as fourth. As a result, he now sits 30 points behind Hamilton.

The good news for Vettel is that the Singapore track is something of a weak spot for Mercedes. For example, in qualifying last year, Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas qualified on the third row, behind the two Ferraris of Vettel and Raikkonen and the two Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.

Indeed, Ferrari may enter Singapore with a pace advantage. And if Red Bull can be strong this weekend as well, it may create the needed buffer between Ferrari and Mercedes to allow Vettel to eat into a big chunk of Hamilton’s lead.

Red Bull’s Last Chance for a Win on Merit?

SPA, BELGIUM – AUGUST 26: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 26, 2018 in Spa, Belgium. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Singapore may be Red Bull’s last chance to challenge for a win on outright pace. On the streets of Monaco in May, they looked all but unbeatable, with Ricciardo soaring to pole and the race win. However, they failed to repeat this form at the Hungaroring, which is similar in nature to Monaco, in July – Ricciardo finished fourth, while Verstappen retired.

Signapore has historically been a strong circuit for Red Bull – Vettel won their three times for them between 2010 and 2013, and they’ve had at least one car on the podium every year since 2010.

Third-place in the constructor’s championship has all but been consolidated for Red Bull – they’re 162 points clear of Renault, but are 142 points behind Ferrari. So, they’re sitting in no man’s land of sorts, and they usually don’t have quite enough pace to challenge for wins without a little help.

However, Singapore might be their last chance to get one more win on merit.

Misc.

  • Romain Grosjean’s disqualification from the Italian Grand Prix boosted Sergey Sirotkin into tenth place, meaning every driver has now scored a point in the 2018 Formula 1 season. Sirotkin will look for a second consecutive points finish, while Grosjean will look to rebound from the DQ.
  • Racing Point Force India has two consecutive double points finishes since their restructuring – Sergio Perez has finishes of fifth and seventh, while Esteban Ocon has back-to-back sixth-place efforts. They’ll look for a third straight double points outing in Singapore.
  • Ten points separate Renault and Haas in the constructor’s championship. They may not be contenders to take the top spot in the title race, but their rivalry is no less combative. In fact, it was Renault’s protest after the Italian Grand Prix that saw Grosjean disqualified. There is no love lost between these two teams, so things could get dicey if they end up near each other on track this weekend.

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Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
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Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.