Welcome to F1’s premiere night race, and one of those rare sights – a counter-clockwise race. It is also one of the most gruelling tests of a driver’s stamina and endurance, for this bumpy track is surrounded by walls that will punish the slightest mistake, whilst the drivers must race for nearly two hours in hot, humid conditions that will leave them literally sweating off the pounds. This is Singapore.
Such is the nature of the venue that there has been a safety car at every single F1 race held here, and with the 2017 cars allowing for faster cornering it will not be a surprise to anyone if we get another safety car on Sunday. This long lap has several areas that could yield accidents, including the twisty turns at the start of the lap and the end of the DRS section that is Raffles Boulevard. The infamous ‘Singapore Sling’ that is now turn 10 has been neutered in recent years but turn 13 is a very tight left-hander and the sequence through turns 16-21 comes up pretty fast on the drivers.
The generally accepted idea is that Ferrari will have an edge on Mercedes here, with Ferrari’s car being better adapted to the slower, high-downforce circuits. It remains to be seen if that theory pans out, though it has been true of previous races, whilst Red Bull will being eying up a chance to get right into the mix here. Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen could well be wildcards in proceedings on Sunday, especially if they qualify strongly.
Another team with hopes of getting a decent points haul will be McLaren, who have announced they’ll be splitting from Honda at the end of the year. The plan for 2018 is to run Renault engines, which in theory is only a marginal improvement on where they are now, but it will be a step in the right direction. For now, the slow corners of Singapore will suit their overall design better than any remaining track.
From a championship perspective the equation is very simple – if Sebastian Vettel picks up a win he will go back into the lead of the title race, no matter where Lewis Hamilton finishes. Given that Vettel has more wins here than anyone else, he has every reason to be confident of his chances. For Hamilton Sunday might be all about damage limitation. We shall see.