Most Formula 1 teams long ago came to the conclusion that they would not be competing for the championship this year, or even for wins and in most cases even for podiums. But racers are optimists at heart and there is always something to look forward to; for the majority this weekend is that opportunity.
But not everyone who has been targeting a season’s best result in Singapore can get it, so there will be some major disappointment come Sunday night and for some the season will effectively be over.
Such has been the domination of Mercedes in 2015 that only two race wins have got away from them – to Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari. After 12 rounds, Mercedes has scored 452 points out of a maximum of 516, which is 87% of the maximum available points, with seven 1-2 finishes, while pole for either Mercedes driver at Marina Bay will extend the team’s unbroken pole streak to 24 races, equalling the record of Williams during the 1992/93 active suspension era.
The signs in Monza were that the new Mercedes power unit is a big step up from the old one, perhaps half a second in pure performance, so there is no let up from the Stuttgart marque.
Consequently, there has been a lot of talk from teams blown away by this domination about Singapore representing a “great chance for a result”, as the power deficit is minimised there.
At the same time teams like Williams and Lotus may struggle a bit more than they have lately due to the track characteristics, creating some opportunities to get among the serious points positions.
Red Bull, Toro Rosso and McLaren in particular are all hoping to come away with something to show from the two hour marathon around the streets of Singapore.
They all took care to get any potential engine penalties out of the way in Monza, where the damage is minimised, so as not to have to take any pain in Singapore, where it would be impossible to recover.
Alonso has accumulated an impressive 90 places worth of grid penalties this season due to changing Honda engines.
Provided none of the drivers from these teams get more penalties from replacing parts of power units, then this is how we see their prospects.
Yet to reach Q3 with either driver this season, McLaren will want to build on Fernando Alonso’s 5th place finish in Hungary, the last track on which their yawning deficit in deployment of the energy recovery system counted for little. McLaren will also be buoyed by the starts its drivers have made since the rules changed last month; Alonso and Button have both gained nine places in the two races since then.
Both drivers have done well in Singapore with Alonso a two times winner among five podium finishes there and Button twice second.
On the downside, Monza was a milestone McLaren hoped it would never cross, which was its 50th Grand Prix since its last win. No wonder the team has set its sights on Singapore as the last real chance this season – reliability permitting – to salvage some respectability from a miserable campaign.
If you put an F1 fan on the spot and ask how Toro Rosso is doing this season, chances are he will tell you that it’s going well. Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz have been competitive in a wonderful chassis, with Sainz getting some impressive qualifying results with five Top 10 grid slots and a best of 5th, and Verstappen pulling off some overtaking masterpieces.
But a glance at the championship standings tells another story; the strong performances have not been backed up with results and reliability issues have clouded the campaign. Toro Rosso has just 35 points, 12 of which came with Verstappen’s breakthrough 4th place in Hungary. They lie a distant 7th in the constructors’ championship standing, which is no kind of return from what has been one of their best chassis for years.
Between them the drivers have retired seven times in 12 Grands Prix and Sainz’s last points came in Monaco.
The performance of the Renault power unit, particularly on race days, has been the handicap and especially on the power circuits F1 has visited lately. So Singapore is targeted as a track where both men should get solid top ten points scoring results from the nimble Toro Rosso chassis. The fact that the team tried out three different front wings in Monza, shows that the team are making a great effort, but also that they are getting desperate.
The other team with an underpowered engine, Red Bull scored a double podium in Hungary – the last time power didn’t count – and they will be looking to repeat in Singapore. Daniil Kvyat’s growing maturity has been one of the stories of the season; he and Daniel Ricciardo are capable of qualifying up the front and staying there this weekend against the Ferraris, just behind the Mercedes.
Red Bull has won Singapore three times, in the era when its Renault powered car with the exhaust blown diffuser was the ultimate weapon for the lower speed corners. Since Silverstone this year the chassis has improved a great deal and is giving little away now to the front runners, so there will be significant pressure to race at the front this weekend.
Behind the scenes the messy divorce from Renault continues, which is clearly a distraction and a drain on energy.
JA on F1 verdict: Podium finish for one of the Red Bull drivers; Top six finish for a Toro Rosso; Top eight for a McLaren.
What do you think? Leave your predictions below in the Comments section