Welcome to F1’s original night race. First held in 2008, the Singapore Grand Prix, held at the Marina Bay street circuit, is in reality a unique test of a driver’s resilience and durability. 51 laps takes nearly two hours to complete, marking Singapore as one of the longest races. The track can be bumpy, making it uncomfortable for the racers. The temperature and humidity, even at night, create some of the most challenging conditions for an F1 driver, and thus Singapore is as much about enduring the conditions as about racing others.
Of course, for me the heat wouldn’t be a problem. In fact I’d have welcomed it, but alas, I would do battle with the track in my cold English house, and I wouldn’t get to feel the warmth. What I did have to contend with was the promise of rain. Part of practice brought me onto inters, and with the race itself promising to be wet, I chose a high downforce, wet weather setup. This might that in the portions of practice where it was dry the car felt glued to the road, which in turn helped with the various sharply-angled corners and twisty segments. Ultimately there were two corners that gave me a little grief during proceedings – turn 3 and turn 13.
Turn 3 wasn’t always a problem and resisting the instinct to lift sometimes produced my quickest laps. Turn 13 is a very tight left-hander that comes at you quickly, and somewhat blindly too – there is a bridge to disrupt your vision – making it easy to swing wide here. Aside from that the course felt quite enjoyable and I did indeed enjoy it, despite only managing to qualify in 10th. 10th became 8th (presumably due to penalties elsewhere), but the race would start on full wets, such was the incredible tropical downpour. 8th briefly became 14th before a five into the first corner put me back into 9th, and from there I carefully and cautiously followed Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel around the very wet track, and bided my time.
Changing conditions would definitely affect this race, and not just for me (more on that later). The rain eased and inters went on, without affecting my race too much. The rain then stopped, and in the humid conditions the circuit dried very quickly. Virtually everyone pitted for hard tyres – everyone except me. I opted for mediums. The hard tyres would go to the end (at least in theory). My mediums wouldn’t, but I was a lot faster than Vettel, who I caught and passed quite easily, and a few laps later Ricciardo suffered the same fate. From there I had to build a gap ahead of my final stop. The team wanted me to stop with 18 laps remaining for soft tyres. This was within their theoretical lifespan but I didn’t want to risk losing too much performance late on, so I went a couple of extra laps before stopping, and dropped back behind Ricciardo. On fresh softs I charged after him and I’d soon dispatched the McLaren once again to move back into 7th. Down the road was Max Verstappen, but I needed one of two things to happen to catch him: a safety car or him to stop. Nonetheless, a retirement brought me 6th place, and with the fastest lap, I had nine more points.
At the front, things got interesting. Hamilton qualified on pole but Bottas beat him off the line, and gained time on his teammate at the first stops, as Hamilton was obliged to spend one extra lap on the full wets. At the second set of stops Mercedes double-stacked and Hamilton lost out as other cars prevented him from leaving his pit box. In fact, Hamilton dropped to 4th, behind the Red Bull of Sergio Perez and the McLaren of Lando Norris. He chased and chased but it looked like Bottas would steal another advantage in the title race. Only, Bottas would retire. That’s right, for the second race in a row Bottas was out. I don’t know why, but it meant if Hamilton could get by Norris and Perez, he’d close right up in the standings.
Only he couldn’t. Perez took the win, Norris claimed 2nd and Hamilton had to accept 3rd. The gap had shrunk to 20 points, and the pendulum seemed to have swung sharply.