Despite the dismal return from his season so far, Fernando Alonso can still summon up some enthusiasm – especially for a place like Singapore, where he has won twice. That’s Alonso we quote in our headline, and his opinion is shared by just about everyone in the F1 fraternity.
In its seven-year history to date, only World Champions have won the Singapore Grand Prix: Alonso twice, in 2008 and 2010, Sebastian Vettel in 2011-12-13, and current standings leader Lewis Hamilton, in 2009 and again last year.
For the cars, it’s about T&B: that’s traction and braking.
Traction, to get out of the 23 corners efficiently and fast; braking, to get into the 23 corners safely. Turns 1, 7 and 14 are the places where the brakes are stressed most heavily, but the stop-go nature of the mazy street lay-out and the ambient temperature make life consistently hard in that department.
For the drivers, it’s about P&C: that’s precision and confidence.
Precision, because the corners loom up quickly, the walls loom up even more quickly and the right lines can lead to major gains in time. Confidence, because of all of the above.
‘Confidence is king when you’re on a street circuit,’ says Lotus Mercedes driver Romain Grosjean, who may not be entirely confident that his team will make it through the season. Lotus high-ups insist all will be well, while behind the scenes moves are well advanced for Renault to take a major stake in the team and return as constructors in their own right.
The teams all need to be confident that they have a handle on the modifications made to the 5.065-kilometre layout since last year. They affect the sinuous sequence from Turns 11 to 13, the left-right-left-right run across Anderson Bridge.
The first part, Turn 11, has been realigned, straightening the run towards the bridge and slightly slowing the cars down; Turn 12 now funnels them on to the left lane of the bridge itself; and Turn 13 has been widened by about a metre, which may help overtaking moves at that point.
With weight loss of around three kilos per driver thanks to the high humidity, Singapore’s is one of the most physically demanding events on the calendar. ‘The toughest race of the year,’ says Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg categorically, and none of his 19 colleagues would disagree.
One among them, however, describes Singapore as ‘my favourite kind of track to drive’. Worryingly for the others, it’s Lewis Hamilton himself. And if anyone should be confident, it’s the man with seven wins to his name already this season.
‘I’m riding high right now,’ says the Mercedes star, who this weekend has the chance to match two of Ayrton Senna’s records. If he takes pole, that will be eight in a row – the all-time record set by the great Brazilian in the last three races of 1988 and the first five of 1989.
Hamilton’s two victories in Singapore have both come from pole, giving him an added incentive as he bids to widen the 53-point gap between himself and teammate Nico Rosberg. And if he wins, he will also match Senna’s career record of 41 F1 victories – which would put Lewis well on the way to equalling Ayrton’s three world titles as well.
His German rival promises no let-up in what looks increasingly like his vain pursuit of Hamilton. ‘There’s nothing to lose,’ Rosberg insists. ‘It’s maximum attack.’ Referring to his troubled time in Monza last time out, he adds: ‘I’m hoping for a clean weekend and a chance to unleash this silver beast under the lights.’