Venue: Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore
Circuit Length: 5.066 kilometres
Lap Record: 1:47.976 = 169.137 km/h • Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) • 2010
This will only be Singapore’s sixth F1 event, but the track length will change for the third time. Its original layout measured 5.067 kilometres, which was lengthened by track modifications to 5.073 in 2010, which is why Alonso’s should be the ‘real’ lap record and not Kimi Raïkkönen’s 1:45.599 – also for Ferrari – in the first year in 2008. Now the infamous Turn 10, which was actually numbered 10a/b/c to take account of the left-right-left kink, has been changed and is just one left-hander.
Q1: What is the popular nickname for Turn 10?
“One of the wonders of modern sport” is how McLaren’s Jenson Button describes Singapore’s Grand Prix, and that wonderment is largely due to its unique night start and the brilliance of the 1500 lights around the circuit. “Hot, bumpy and night!” is our own Mark Webber’s summation, and those bumps combine with Singapore’s 23 turns – half of them crammed into the final 1.5 km – to make this one of the most exacting events of the year. Factor in a heavier-than-usual fuel load, the problem of cooling brakes, and humidity that saps energy and concentration and you have a very challenging event.
The first of seven
Seven fly-aways in 10 weeks, that is, to finish off another long and challenging World Championship year. It’s the sixth Singapore race, and in the previous five only World Champions have had what it takes to win at Marina Bay: Fernando Alonso in 2008 and 2010, Lewis Hamilton in 2009 and Sebastian Vettel in the last two seasons. “It’s a very long race; the full two hours so the race just seems to go on forever,” says Vettel, who heads for the Lion City with a cool 53 points in hand over nearest title challenger Fernando Alonso. “The circuit itself is a killer because there are so many bumps, there’s no room for mistakes.”
Alonso arrives in Singapore at the end of the week in which it was confirmed that he will have a new Ferrari sidekick next year. This is Felipe Massa’s first race since learning that his services are no longer required by the team for whom he so nearly won the world title in 2008. The Brazilian hasn’t won since that same year and the Scuderia has opted to re-hire its 2007 World Champion Kimi Raïkkönen in a bid to bridge the yawning gap in points scored by its two drivers. Massa apparently took the news with great self-control and earned a fulsome tribute from Ferrari’s Stefano Domenicali: “The lesson in sporting dignity he gave the world that day  on the Interlagos podium and also the maturity he displayed while talking to me last night will always stay with me,” said the Ferrari team boss. “I am proud to have worked with him in our team for so many years and I’m sure he will know how to do some great things outside the Maranello environment.”
Massa has been diplomatically warning his team of fiery times ahead with two characters like Kimi and Fernando in harness, but he also offers a good insight into the Singapore challenge. “Everything counts here,” the Brazilian says succinctly. “If you make the slightest mistake at a corner, then you pay a high price. You have to take care at every corner and it’s a long track – one lap here is like two at Monaco, so precision and consistency are important, especially in qualifying when you have to put everything together perfectly. In fact, I’d say it’s harder to win at Singapore than Monaco. The track is longer and more complicated, a lap is around 1m 48s while Monaco is much shorter.”
Alonso’s 2014 teammate doesn’t have the best of Singapore records, by his own admission, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t look forward to it: “I really like going to Singapore,” says Raïkkönen. “It’s a great place to be, I love the local food, and I don’t mind the unusual times we run in the car as it means I don’t have to get up so early! I have some unfinished business after my three Grands Prix there so far, as I enjoy the circuit but have not yet had a podium. That doesn’t mean I’m not quick there as I’ve been told I still hold the lap record from 2008.”
Three of F1’s five 2013 rookies have already had a taste of Singapore – and liked it a lot, possibly because two of them shared the two GP2 race victories between them at Marina Bay last season. One of them is Caterham’s flying Dutchman, Giedo van der Garde: “I have really happy memories of Singapore as the last time I crossed the finish line there in 2012 I won the GP2 sprint race and finished Caterham Racing’s season on a real high. That was all part of my preparation for F1 and with that experience of the Singapore circuit under my belt I’m really excited about getting back out there in an F1 car!”
Q2: who is the third rookie driver in this year’s F1 field who raced in Singapore last year?
The other is Marussia’s Max Chilton, the young Englishman who took out the GP2 feature race on the Saturday of the 2012 event. “Working to European hours is always interesting,” says Chilton, “but I’ve seen the floodlights first-hand so I know that while it feels like night-time in the Paddock, it’s like daylight on the track. We’ve done a lot of work behind the scenes to try to optimize our current package and for my part I’m quite pleased with how my pace is really building, so my first objective for Singapore is to maintain that momentum.”
Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1:46.362 = 171.704 km/h
1st: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 2:00.26.144 (av. speed 149.043 km/h)
2nd: Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes) gap 8.959s
3rd: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) gap 15.227s
Fastest Lap: Nico Hülkenberg (Force India Mercedes) 1:51.033 = 164.480 km/h on lap 52
A1: It’s known as the Singapore Sling
A2: Esteban Gutiérrez, now with Sauber, then with Lotus GP in GP2