After the two fast and smooth circuits of Spa-Francorchamps and Monza, Formula One heads to the opposite extreme with the high downforce and bumpy characteristics of Singapore. After this, though, the rest of the season's circuits should settle somewhere in the middle.
So far the season has shown that McLaren is good at circuits requiring ultimate top-end speed but doesn't like bumps; Red Bull is good on high downforce tracks and also excels in long medium- and high-speed corners but cannot cope so well when pure grunt is required; and Ferrari is perhaps a fast-improving all-rounder with its main advantage being in braking stability. So the big interest this weekend will be how well the top teams have developed to balance out their strengths and weaknesses.
In terms of technical demands, the Singapore track is closest to Monaco and Hungary, with 23 mostly slow-to-medium corners, lots of braking, very few high speed sections, plenty of gear changes, some tough kerbs and lots of bumps.
If the aforementioned trends are to be followed, then it looks like Red Bull will come out on top at the floodlit street circuit - as was shown to be the case in Monaco and Hungary.
They dominated in Monaco, with the fastest Red Bull qualifying 0.457s ahead of the fastest Ferrari and the team claiming a 1-2 victory with a fastest lap 0.311s quicker than Ferrari. There, McLaren's best was fifth in qualifying, 0.606s off the pace, and fifth in the race with a fastest race lap 1.027s slower than the fastest Red Bull.
In Hungary, time had moved on and much development had taken place but it was all to Red Bull's advantage. In qualifying, Sebastian Vettel was a massive 1.214s faster than the fastest Ferrari and, although he lost out on probable victory due to a penalty, his team-mate Mark Webber won at a dominant pace and Vettel still made a point with his fastest race lap some 0.833s faster than Ferrari. McLaren had a disaster with a top qualifying position of fifth that was 1.726s slower than pole, a best finish of eighth and a fastest lap that was 1.843s off the pace.
Much of that increased advantage for Red Bull, however, was rumoured to be down to the alleged innovative flexing wing and floor system, which since then has been subjected to increased tests. Although seeming to make little difference to Red Bull's performance in Monza, these are more likely to have an effect on higher downforce tracks if there really was anything going on.
McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh has openly suggested the flexi tests will help level the field this time around but, despite claiming this and also saying his team has new developments designed to help them on these kinds of circuits, there is still a long way to go if they are to get back in the game on a track like this.
Ferrari, meanwhile, have also been strongly focusing on catching up on the mid-to-high downforce tracks and their commitment to throw everything at the title race was shown at Monza, where they had a bespoke F-duct set-up specifically for that circuit. They had plans to stop developments after Monza if that had failed, but it worked so they have committed to a push for the title and are likely to come up with something unique again this weekend.
Something has to show, then, and if Red Bull is dominant again the title could be theirs for the taking. But even if they do win here, if their advantage over Ferrari is diminished then on the more balanced circuits remaining there may just be a chance for the Italian team to really get into the title fight.
- Red Bull