Formula One turns its back on Europe to begin the season-ending run-in with seven long-haul races, taking in Japan, Korea, India, Abu Dhabi, USA and Brazil but commencing in the hugely popular Singapore.
A fixture on the calendar since 2008, that event was the first Formula One race to be held at night and, much like the thousands of lights positioned to illuminate the track, the race dazzled the drivers, teams, fans and TV viewers alike with a breathtaking spectacle which has since become one of the season’s true highlights.
Racing at night brings a benefit to the European TV audience, as the track action takes place at what would be termed ‘normal’ times, but it’s anything but normal for the travelling F1 circus as they remain on European time throughout the Singapore Grand Prix weekend, meaning some very odd hours – going to bed at 5am, rising around lunchtime and starting work at 2pm!
Tyre wear: 8/10
Three stops were the order of the day in 2011 and it can be expected to be similar again this year. With the supersoft and soft tyres available to provide as much grip as possible on the Singapore streets, high tyre wear is expected due to the high loads put through each tyre, as well as the high ambient temperature in which the race will take place.
Almost at the top of the scale but not quite as demanding as Monaco, although very high wing angles will be evident throughout the weekend. There is no real benefit to trying lower settings – you’ll lose so much time in the slower sections that any advantage on the few fast straights will be nullified.
Average speed: 3/10
Twisty and turny with a sequence of 90-degree turns towards the end of the lap, almost all of which are taken below 70mph.
Track difficulty: 8/10
Singapore’s layout is a relentless assault on the senses, with light, heat and sound battering the driver’s nervous systems throughout, so trying to master a 23-turn layout is a real challenge. There is more run-off area overall than somewhere like Monaco, but the close proximity of barriers and walls around this circuit means that mistakes will be punished more severely.
Turn 7 is the prime overtaking spot and is likely to see the most action – it’s where the sole DRS zone ran to last year and saw the bulk of 2011’s passing moves, both successful and unsuccessful. The last sector can be a bit follow-the-leader but opportunities do exist to pass elsewhere on the circuit.
Singapore would be a special race without the added gloss of racing at night, but the addition of the darkness contrasting against 24 brightly-coloured F1 cars hammering through the streets just gives the race a whole new feel. Singapore itself is an amazingly vibrant city and is hugely popular with the travelling teams, with some even dubbing as a pretender to Monaco’s ‘jewel in the crown’ status.
With 23 turns, Singapore is second only to Valencia in the cornering stakes but this race is punishing because of the heat and humidity in which it takes place. Racing on city streets brings its own challenges, including having to run very high ride height to avoid bottoming out over the circuit’s uneven camber. Suspension travel is also at a maximum to reduce the impact of bumps. Marina Bay is a high downforce track with several tight turns and cornering speeds as low as 60 – 70mph. The high number of braking events, coupled with high ambient temperatures, means that brakes tend to run hot here but don’t usually suffer too much with wear issues, although Mark Webber suffered a spectacular failure in 2009, pitching him out of the race at Turn 1. Braking stability and traction are the major issues to be overcome, made more tricky by the very high fuel effect – the amount by which your laptime decreases as fuel burns off – and the high starting fuel load.
Three wins on the bounce for Sebastian Vettel put him in touching distance of his second consecutive Driver’s World Championship, the Red Bull driver leading from start to finish and never once relinquished the lead. Jenson Button was Vettel’s main challenger throughout but the McLaren driver had to settle for second on a day when Vettel was untouchable. Lewis Hamilton made contact with Felipe Massa for the second race in a row, forcing both cars back into the pits for repairs – the McLaren for a new nose and a puncture for Massa’s Ferrari – which dropped them both out of the points. Hamilton would recover to finish fifth whilst Massa scraped into the points, finishing ninth after passing Sauber’s Sergio Perez on the last lap. The battle for the final podium place was fought out between Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber – an early stop for Alonso dropped him down the order but he recovered well to run third, ahead of Webber but lost the position to the Aussie after a bold overtaking manoeuvre into the ‘Singapore Sling’ chicane. Webber lost out to Alonso at the final pitstop phase but regained the place when Alonso made his own stop just two laps later.
Venue Marina Bay Street Circuit
Lap record 1m 45.599s – Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari (2008)
2011 Winner Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull
GP History (only races held as part of the Formula One World Championship are included): Marina Bay 2008-present
Stats courtesy Mercedes Petronas