Round 14 - Singapore 21-23 September 2012
Venue: Marina Bay
Circuit Length: 5.073 Km
Lap Record: 1:45.599 = 172.740 km/h - K. Raikkonen (Ferrari) 2008
Pole Position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault); 1:44.381 = 174.962 km/h
1st: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 1:59.06.757
2nd: Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes), 1.737s behind
3rd: Mark Webber (Red Bull Renault), 29.279s behind
Fastest Lap: Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes); 1:48.454 = 168.392 km/h on Lap 54
SINGAPORE SET TO SHINE AGAIN
For the fifth time the Singapore harbourside will light up as F1’s only night race works its magic on the streets of the Lion City’s Marina Bay district. With Singapore in discussions over a five-year renewal, the race is set to launch the 2012 World Championship into a thrilling final sprint that sees seven races in a nine-week span, all of them ‘fly-away’ events that will tax humans and machines to the limit. Last year Sebastian Vettel left needing just one point for his second title, but the title has never been decided in Singapore or before the F1 caravan arrived there.
If you are heading for Singapore, chances are you will get up close and personal with Romain Grosjean – the French driver’s features are plastered all over the Singapore taxis in a promo campaign with the team’s fuel partner. Grosjean’s return to the cockpit after his one-match ban for the first-lap incident at Spa is one of the talking-points of the weekend. Chastened by the experience, Grosjean also admits to being a little out of touch for other reasons: “I would say that since Hockenheim I haven’t really had the same connection with the car as I had previously,” he says. “Whether it’s the tyres, the set-up or something in my driving style I’m not 100% sure. The grids are so close this year that any tiny thing can mean the difference between being at the front and sitting in the midfield.”
Could Singapore be the place for a Lotus breakthrough? They have Kimi Raikkonen in the cockpit, but the Finn has never scored a point in Singapore. “I have some unfinished business there,” says the 2007 World Champion. “That doesn’t mean I’m not quick there as I’ve been told I still hold the lap record from 2008.” Not strictly true: minor changes stretched the track from its original 5.067km to 5.073 in 2010, but we know what Kimi means. He’s only a point off second place in the Championship too…
Four races in Singapore means 12 podium places. Three of those have gone to Fernando Alonso, who arrives with a 37-point lead on Lewis Hamilton, but it’s the McLaren Mercedes man and his team who have the momentum now. Three wins in a row, two of them to Hamilton, have changed the game. “We’re now inching closer to the finish line – and this is where it starts to get exciting!” says Hamilton, himself a Singapore winner in 2009 but out in 2010 after coming off worse in a battle with Mark Webber and again in one of last year’s ongoing clashes with Felipe Massa. “It’s a darty track that requires you to be really on top of the car to get the best from it,” adds Hamilton. “Most of the braking zones are approached at very high speed and the walls are never far away. Factor in the heat and humidity and it’s a very challenging weekend.”
To prepare for that challenge, Hamilton’s teammate Jenson Button has been taking it easy in Singapore – by heading up a 93km bike ride around the island! A DNF in Monza halted the Englishman’s revival as soon as it had started in Hungary, but he prefers to dwell on the upside. “What’s more encouraging is that we have strong pace on a range of very different circuits,” he insists, “and hopefully we can continue to push that momentum in Singapore.” It was Jenson who hounded 2011 Singapore Sebastian Vettel in the closing moments, but that second place is Button’s only Marina Bay podium to date.
Underlining the unique nature of Marina Bay, it has more corners taken at less than 100 km/h than Monaco; the drivers are required to change gear around 80 times a lap, which means a total of 5000 shifts in the race; and only 45% of the lap is at full throttle, unlike the last race in Monza where it reaches 80%. It has 23 corners, 14 right and nine left, and 10 of those 23 come in the final sector of the lap, so getting round is a real stop-go affair. The best chance to overtake is at Turn 7, immediately after the DRS zone.
As they did at Monaco, Pirelli have brought their P Zero Yellow/Soft and P Zero Red/Supersoft compounds to meet these specific demands. They expect two stops, although Seb was in three times on his way to victory last year. Pirelli’s Paul Hembery is the only man brave enough to forecast a dry race, flying in the face of local weather experts who say thundery showers are on their way. But he makes another valid point: “One factor that could certainly come into play is safety cars – during every single Singapore Grand Prix that has been held so far the safety car has come out at some point. This means that strategies have to be flexible as well as effective.”
Red Bull locked out the front row last season and had Vettel and Webber on the podium. In fact Mark has been third in Singapore for the last two years running, even though it’s not his favourite circuit. On the other hand, it’s a street circuit: “We’ve been solid on street circuits this year,” says Mark and as usual it’s understated. He was fourth in Valencia after starting 19th and before that he won Monaco! Teammate Vettel loves Marina Bay: “Singapore is one of the highlights of the calendar,” he says, “because the atmosphere of night racing is amazing. I also like it because the track is really great to race on, which is partly to do with the fact that we race anti-clockwise there.”
Could this be Michael Schumacher’s final Singapore appearance? He calls it “a brilliantly unusual race”, but what’s most unusual is the absence of the Schumacher name from the points-scorers there. In 2010 he was 13th, then in 2011 a criss-cross move on Sergio Perez went awry and Michael was out before half-distance. With all the paddock tittle-tattle about Hamilton being in talks with Mercedes, now could be the time to correct that gap in his CV. He could be helped by a new exhaust system which the team asked Sam Bird and Brendon Hartley to try out at last week’s Young Driver Test in France, with encouraging results.
Another man racing under a bit of a cloud is Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. The Brazilian was on pole in Singapore first time there but has yet to finish higher than eighth. “There is no news on my future at the moment, but there’s no doubt that good results will help,” says Massa. “I just need to keep pushing hard and getting good results, in the hope of hearing some good news soon. It’s always better to know what the situation is, as of course I want to know what I’m doing next year. But I can tell you that it’s never happened that I’m in the car in the middle of the race and I start thinking about what I’ll do next year!”