It’s so good for Formula 1 to have a Singapore Grand Prix again after three years away due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Max Verstappen could become world champion this weekend if he wins his 12th race of 2022, Charles Leclerc has a shocker and Sergio Perez isn’t on the podium.
Let’s put that to one side for now though because this weekend could be a thriller from start to finish with Mercedes and Ferrari looking to end Red Bull‘s remarkable run of five victories.
One of the highlights of the year
The Marina Bay Street Circuit is a proper street track with lots of slow speed corners that test the mechanical grip of the cars and the walls looming, waiting for a mistake from the drivers.
It’s all about qualifying and tyres, similar to Monaco in that respect, except overtaking is a little bit easier – although still very tricky of course.
You have to build yourself in the weekend, taking a little bit more speed into each corner with every lap and getting closer to the walls on entrance and exit.
With this comes risk and a crash in practice can ruin your weekend as track time is vital and confidence at Singapore is vital.
Expect to see the drivers crawling around on their out laps in qualifying so they have enough tyre life left for the final sector on their flying lap.
Tyre wear is very high as the rears get punished due to the numerous traction zones and the hot track surface.
The corners come so quickly one after another too so there is no rest bite for the tyres and the drivers.
It’s no wonder all the drivers say the Singapore GP is the one race where all of their training and fitness regimes pay off.
“It’s like a mild, humid sauna,” Alfa Romeo‘s Valtteri Bottas told the press. “That’s how it does feel in the car and obviously we’re wearing the fireproofs with the underlayer, which are not the most breathable things.
“Also the airflow in the car is actually in the cockpit, is not really much, if any, so for sure that temperature already and how much you lose fluids, that’s a big thing.
“But on top of that, the track is like intense, you know, there’s not much time to rest and somebody mentioned before, it’s bumpy as well and that drains your body even more.
“So just the whole race distance, which is up to two hours, towards the end you definitely feel fatigued. It’s hard work. That’s the best I can describe it.”
Although Ferrari haven’t won since the Austrian GP in July, there is still plenty of pace in the car, especially over one lap which is what Singapore is mostly about.
Leclerc took pole position last time out at Monza, which he did at the last Singapore GP in 2019 with a magnificent lap.
One of the strengths of the Ferrari is its ability to ride the kerbs which should come to good use around the 5.063km Marina Bay track as the drivers can shorten the angle of the chicanes and have the confidence to get on the power mid-corner.
The electrical recovery system of the Ferrari power unit really punches the car out of the corners too, so the acceleration out of the slow speed turns will also be stronger than Red Bull and Mercedes.
“I think a track like this should suit our car,” Leclerc told Sky Sports. “But Red Bull has done a big step forward since the summer break. So I think it’s going to be difficult against them.
“Our focus is mostly on the race. Qualifying we have been strong, even after the summer break apart from Spa which was a one-off.
“But in the races we seem to struggle a bit more compared to them so let’s see if we manage to regain a bit of performance this weekend.”
Mercedes back in the game
It’s looking more and more unlikely that Mercedes will win a race in 2022 and traditionally Singapore has been one of their weaker tracks.
But, a lot has changed and the cornering speed of the W13 will definitely see an improvement in performance from Monza.
The long wheelbase and the bumps, even with some resurfaced parts of the track, will be a big question mark for Mercedes and they don’t quite have the same understanding with the tyres too compared to Red Bull.
Lewis Hamilton says he has “no expectations at all” and is unsure about how the car will fare against the bumps.
“We hope that the car works better here,” said Hamilton. “But as I said, it really depends how bumpy it is and the bumps often set the car off and upset the car in a lot of instances.
“We’ve learnt a huge amount about the car, which is natural for everyone, but it’s definitely a huge help knowing where the working window is, what the working range is.
“We’re able to predict pretty much where we’re going, whether it will work in one place compared to another and also the limitations of the car.
“We know where those limitations are and we just have to try and work around them. I think we’re in a much better place I think, than we’ve ever been. So I hope that we’re not far away.”
Hamilton had one of his best ever pole positions laps in F1 at Singapore in 2018 when he wasn’t expected to even be on the front row, yet produced a stunning Q3 effort and went on to take the win which was a big moment in his title fight with Sebastian Vettel.
Russell is one of several drivers who have raced just once at Singapore, or no times in the case of Nicholas Latifi, Mick Schumacher, Yuki Tsunoda and Zhou Guanyu, and doesn’t have fond memories of his only outing when he retired following a collision with Romain Grosjean.
Alpine vs McLaren
Alpine are bringing major upgrades to their car at the next two events but the characteristics of the Singapore track are not likely to suit them.
Fernando Alonso is on form and will be looking for a shock podium if there’s rain around and if Alpine‘s updates work.
McLaren have also got visible developments on their car with new Red Bull-esque sidepods which could see Lando Norris in and amongst the top fuve.
Alpine lead McLaren by 18 points in the constructors’ championship so these final big upgrades will set the tone for the final part of the season.
Elsewhere, Haas should be much better than their recent poor showings which will give Mick Schumacher and Kevin Magnussen a chance to score points, whilst we can never rule out five-time Singapore GP winner Vettel for something special.
“I have many fantastic memories of racing at Singapore,” said Vettel. “I have always loved the challenge that the track provides.
“It is a proper street circuit, totally relentless, with corner after corner, and some incredibly fast sections.
“Getting on top of that challenge is incredibly satisfying, especially in qualifying. We should perform better here this weekend due to our car’s strengths in slower speed corners.”
Will Verstappen wrap up the title?
Of course, the main topic will by on Verstappen who has his first opportunity to win this year’s world championship.
He also has a few records on the cards including the most wins in a season, most podiums and most consecutive victories.
The first of those is very possible as he needs three more wins to break the joint record of 13 held by Vettel and Schumacher.
His own podium record of 18, which he set last year, will require him to finish in the top three at every race for him to go one better.
And finally the Dutchman’s consecutive wins will need to see him finish in first place at the next five Grand Prix which would be an incredible feat.
How can he win the championship? He must win and then hope one of the the following happens.
Verstappen will be champion if he wins with the fastest lap, thus taking an extra point and:
- Leclerc finishes ninth or lower
- Perez finishes fifth or lower
Verstappen will be champion if he wins but does NOT take the fastest lap and:
- Leclerc finishes 10th lower
- Perez finishes fourth or lower, or fifth or lower if he sets the fastest lap
Ferrari might have the edge in qualifying, but as long as Verstappen is in the top three after Lap 1, don’t rule him out.
Strategy will be important as the undercut is very powerful and pitting at the right time, to not come out in traffic, can make or break a race as we saw in 2019 when Hamilton dropped from second to fourth in the pit stop phase.
Ferrari will be unsure about their tyre wear so could be vulnerable towards the end of stints and hopefully the new 2022 cars will allow the drivers to follow more easily so we can get some more wheel to wheel action.
There has been a safety car at every Singapore GP so the timing of that is another factor for the teams to ponder with.
Lastly, a world champion has won every race in Singapore since the inaugural event in 2008.
Read into that what you will. Verstappen or Hamilton then? Verstappen vs Hamilton with some Ferrari thrown in there would be beautiful on the streets of Singapore.