Mercedes and Ferrari’s recent dominance will be tested by Red Bull duo Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen at this weekend’s highly anticipated Singapore Grand Prix.
Either a Mercedes or Ferrari has won all but one of 13 races this season, with Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) and Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) locked in a tense battle for the World Championship lead.
Hamilton has won the past two races to take the ascendency from Vettel, but Ricciardo, who has finished on the podium in Singapore for the past three years, is confident Red Bull can pose a threat at the Marina Bay Street Circuit.
“This is one of our best chances for a win in the second half of the season,” said the Australian, who won in Azerbaijan this year and is currently fourth in the Championship.
While Ricciardo is hopeful, the focus will be on the two main title rivals in a race where Vettel has won four times and Ferrari has often revelled in the stifling conditions.
Hamilton, whose Italian Grand Prix victory at Monza lifted him to the top of the standings for the first time this year, knows Ferrari’s car has shone on tight street tracks in hot weather.
He expects a tough weekend, but the 32-year-old Briton believes he and teammate Valtteri Bottas, newly re-signed to stay with Mercedes next year, can mount serious resistance.
“I definitely feel like I have found more heart and passion within myself in the last three or four races,” he said.
“While I feel like I always drive with my heart – my heart is really the engine, the power and the force behind what I do – my mind is like the rudder and I feel like it has been steering me in the right direction.”
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff conceded Hamilton, who reeled off a stunning record 69th pole position at Monza, faces a difficult weekend – even though the winner in Italy went on to triumph in Singapore in five of the past seven seasons.
“This year, we have seen the pendulum swing according to circuit type,” said Wolff.
“On the surface, Singapore is the kind of circuit that should favour both Ferrari and Red Bull.
“But we have made good progress in understanding what we need to do, in order to get the most from the chassis.
“It's a weekend when every part of the team needs to be at its best if you want a strong finish. We will aim to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.”
Ricciardo this week made clear he expects Red Bull to mount a serious title bid next year if it wishes to retain him in 2019 when his current contract ends.
“I’ve been here for quite a few years now and I think next year we need to make a bigger step than we did this year, to really convince me that I can win with them,” he said.
“I want an opportunity to be able to win week in and week out, while I believe I am still at the top.”
But Ricciardo added he was in no rush to leave the Red Bull family.
“I want to be somewhere where I can have a good chance of success and to win, but it is an environment I want to enjoy as well,” he said.
“A big part of my success is that I have fun doing this sport. I feel like not everyone is having as much fun as they should, so that is important for me.”
While Ricciardo reflected on what his future may hold, Bottas secured his by re-signing with Mercedes for 2019 – an action that means all three top teams will continue with the same line-ups next year.
“When the team hired me for 2017, they took a leap of faith by putting their trust in my skills,” said the Finn. “This new contract for 2018 shows that I've earned that trust.
“I'm happy to have celebrated my first race wins in a Silver Arrow. However, there’s always room for improvement and I still have not shown my full potential.”