Ah yes Singapore. It may not be a classic circuit yet, but it’s definitely one of the highlights on the Formula 1 calendar. Home of the original night race and an event which punishes the drivers.
Three-time F1 world champion Nelson Piquet said driving around Monaco is like riding a bike around your living room. You can describe Singapore in the same way, just with the added heat which drains the drivers’ energy.
Overtaking is very difficult but the drivers can really make the difference. Max Verstappen is yet to win in Singapore and if 2023 is anything to go by, that will surely change.
New track layout
A big change to the Marina Bay Street Circuit is the removal of four corners in the final sector due to the construction of NS Square.
Gone is the right-left of Turns 16 and and 17, plus the left-right as the track goes under the grandstand at Turns 18 and 19. Instead, after the 90 degree right-hander of Turn 14, the track will go straight on to the old Turn 20 and 21 chicane.
This will make lap times approximately eight seconds quicker and the rear tyres will be punished less too. It may create better racing as well because the cars can close up slightly on the straight, rather than being spread out through the corners.
Singapore traditionally gets very close, or over, the two-hour race time limit. However, the faster track layout probably means this won’t be the case in 2023, even with one extra lap to counterbalance the shorter lap distance.
“I think this is definitely the toughest one of the year,” said George Russell. “I think a big factor is because you’re constantly turning.
“It’ll be made easier this year with the layout change. But also, being on a street circuit, you get no airflow from doing the highest speeds like you would do in Spa or Monza: you get a lot of cool airflow when you’re doing 300km/h-plus in the straight.
“So, that’s another factor. But it’s enjoyable. It’s enjoyable to have such a challenge, and you never want things to be straightforward, week-in, week-out.”
Verstappen’s toughest challenge in the run-in
Verstappen is well on his way to a third straight world title and goes into Singapore on the back of making history at Monza with a 10th consecutive F1 win.
Prior to 2023, Verstappen had never won the Bahrain, Australian and British GP. He’s rectified that this year and will look to do the same this weekend in Singapore.
But, Red Bull have been more vulnerable at high downforce tracks such as Monaco, Hungary and the Netherlands, especially over one lap.
Track position is vital around Singapore since it’s so difficult to overtake, so a special performance from someone could stop Verstappen. Of course, the 25-year-old could just smash the field himself, given he’s driving at an incredibly high level.
“I think we just are not as competitive as at other tracks,” said Verstappen. “I think the street circuits are a little bit tougher for our car. I still think that we can do a good job but it will be very tight.”
He added: “When people ask you what is your driving style, of course, maybe naturally you have a driving style, like what you like more than others, but it’s also about adapting.
“If you keep forcing your way of driving in a car which doesn’t like that it’s not going to work so you have to adapt. And adaptability, I think, is key in Formula 1 all the time, every single race weekend, every single session can be different and that’s what I try to do.”
Mercedes to challenge Red Bull?
Mercedes should be back in the game this weekend after limiting the damage at Monza. Lewis Hamilton took a stunning pole position at the Hungaroring and produced an iconic lap at Singapore in 2018.
Some of that magic will be needed to beat Red Bull and the Mercedes has mechanically been strong in the slow speed stuff this year.
“Last year, we had a really fast car and unfortunately we didn’t make the most of it during the weekend,” said Russell.
“But I think it’s so close at the moment between ourselves Ferrari and McLaren, Aston Martin are fluctuating in performance.
“Hopefully, we can close the gap slightly on Red Bull here, on the high downforce circuit. So I think it is that battle for P2 on the road. But you’re going to have to nail every single detail because it’s going to be by the smallest of margins.”
What about Ferrari and Aston Martin?
Charles Leclerc is looking for a hat-trick of Singapore poles and is a one lap demon on street circuits, as he showed in Baku earlier this year.
The traction of the Ferrari out of slow corners should pay dividends but the Ferrari has such a narrow operating window, which could be a problem in the hot and humid Marina Bay Circuit.
“It’s quite difficult to go from one weekend in Monza, where we are fighting for third position and we are clearly the second strongest team on track, to a weekend like this where we need to reset a little bit,” said Leclerc.
“We will be closer at least with Mercedes, McLaren, also Aston Martin. We just need to reset a little bit more.”
Fernando Alonso pushed Red Bull the closest in Monaco earlier this year and are set to have upgrades on the car in Singapore.
A clean weekend for Alonso, who is six points ahead of Hamilton in the battle for third in the drivers’ championship, will be the key to returning to the podium again.
“We need to see the chequered flag first, it’s a very demanding race,” said Alonso. “Everything runs a little bit hotter than normal.
“The walls are very close, as all the street circuits. And you need to have that confidence in the car that you need to have as well in Monaco and Baku. So, let’s see if we can build that confidence from the free practice and get a good race.”
McLaren the dark horses
And finally we have McLaren – the team with the biggest upgrades for the Singapore GP. Similarly to Mercedes, Monza simply didn’t suit the strengths of their car but they should be back towards the pointy end of the grid.
Considering how much their previous upgrades have vaulted them up the grid, plus a confident Lando Norris on form, McLaren will be serious challengers in qualifying.
In Hungary, Norris could have been on pole but didn’t put a clean lap together in Q3 and was only less than a tenth off pace-setter Hamilton.
Norris will have the upgrades this weekend, while Oscar Piastri will need to wait a week until the Japanese GP. For McLaren, it’s just a question of whether they lose too much time in the really slow corners that are third gear or lower – their biggest weakness.
“If I can get a bit more of what I believe the car needs to take that next step, a bit of it will be what we hope we will have this weekend, a bit of it will be what I want from a driving style point of view,” said Norris.
“That’s when I’m confident we can we can take the fight to the majority of all the teams, including Red Bull. We know that and we know we have a lot of a lot of things coming. So it’s not like we’re in a rush.
“We’re trying as quickly as we can to develop the car, but there are also places we know we’re just not where we need to be.”