Will this weekend see a team other than Mercedes win a Grand Prix?
Mercedes has had it pretty much its own way this season, apart from a blip in Spain, where the drivers hit each other on the opening lap. This weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix offers a chance for their rivals to take a win, with Red Bull and Ferrari looking to exploit any weakness in the Mercedes weekend.
Red Bull’s car should be ideally suited to the 5km Marina Bay circuit, while Ferrari won the race last year with Sebastian Vettel and benefits from an updated engine from the last race in Monza. Vettel is also a Singapore specialist with four wins and three poles. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo finished second last season at the F1 Night race and after his stunning performance in Monaco with pole and what should have been a race win, but for a botched strategy and pit stop, he starts as many people’s favourite for the event. But the execution will have to be perfect.
The race is all about strategy and there is always an element of chance, especially due to the inevitable Safety Car. Every one of the eight Singapore Grands Prix to date has featured a Safety Car for at least four laps. With Pirelli having brought the UltraSoft tyre to Singapore, along with the Supersoft and Soft, the softest tyres in the Pirelli range which cannot do the 308km marathon in one stop and add in one of the slowest pit stops of the season and you can see why the Singapore Grand Prix is always a strategy challenge.
The trick will be to get to the finish on two stops with the faster UltraSoft-Supersoft-Supersoft combination, but the latter has proved a poor race tyre on a number of occasions this season and it will be finely balanced. Another route is to try to one stop with the Soft tyres, which will be slower but the teams know them very well now.
The start is particularly crucial at Singapore as it’s very hard to overtake on this circuit and the field spreads out a lot over the opening laps, so gaining places on the run down to Turn 1 is vital.
The undercut is a very useful tactic here to gain places; you pit before the cars ahead of you, use the performance of the new tyres versus old and then gain places when they pit. We have seen drivers get podiums based on this tactic.
We’ve also seen a counter strategy work a few times in the past, especially for Force India, where they start on the harder tyre and switch to the softer one on later on. The danger with this strategy is being drawn into stopping too early by a Safety Car or an undercut attempt. Then you run out of tyre performance in the closing laps and are vulnerable to attack from the two stopping cars.
Overtaking is a problem at this track with the DRS zone between Turns 5 and 7 the only place to make a pass. Last year only 14 overtakes happened in almost two hours of racing.
The Singapore Grand Prix in numbers
The Singapore Grand Prix is the longest race of the year in terms of time. The fastest race of the eight held since the inaugural event in 2008 came a year later when Lewis Hamilton won for McLaren in 1h56m06s, at an average speed of 99.323mph.
The 2012 Singapore event was the first F1 race to be held to the two-hour time limit in dry weather since the 1991 US GP, which was won by Ayrton Senna. The two-hour limit also meant the 2014 Singapore race was shortened by one lap and last year’s event hit that mark on the final scheduled lap.
That race was won by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, and it remains the most recent F1 victory for both the four times world champion and for the Scuderia.
Last year, Vettel also started from pole at the Marina Bay track, which is one of only two poles out of 52 Grands Prix in the V6 turbo hybrid era, not claimed by a Mercedes-powered car, the other came courtesy of Daniel Ricciardo at the Monaco Grand Prix earlier this season.
Since the 2010 Singapore Grand Prix, only Vettel and Hamilton have either won or taken pole on the Marina Bay track since Alonso won in 2010, with the two drivers alternating at the head of the grid in the subsequent five events.
There are a number of significant F1 milestones that can be reached this weekend. If a Mercedes powered car claims pole position, it will give the German manufacturer its 150th pole position as an F1 engine supplier, which is third on the all-time list.
A Mercedes works team pole would mean Hamilton and Rosberg would set a new record of 58 F1 poles by teammates, which would surpass the current record set by Vettel and Mark Webber for Red Bull.
Hamilton can also reach his 100th front row start in F1, and he would join Michael Schumacher (116) as the only drivers in the history of the sport to achieve that milestone. At Ferrari, Raikkonen heads to Singapore looking for the 200th top-10 start of his career.
Rosberg will make his 200th Grand Prix start this weekend, which will make him the second German to reach that marker, the other being Schumacher, who made 306 during his F1 career.
At Sauber, Marcus Ericsson will also makes his 50th Grand Prix start this weekend, and he will become the fourth Swedish driver to do so after Jo Bonnier (104 starts), Ronnie Peterson (123) and Stefan Johansson (79).
Last time out at Monza, Fernando Alonso set the fastest lap, which was the first one the Spaniard had achieved since the 2013 race in Abu Dhabi. It was also the first fastest lap for McLaren since the Malaysian race in 2013, which came via Sergio Perez, and the first for Honda since Senna set the fastest lap at Portugal in 1992.