By Neil Leverett
- Round 14 of F1 season moves onto Singapore at Marina Bay Circuit
- Lewis Hamilton holds three point lead in Drivers’ Championship over Sebastian Vettel
- Race signals first of Asian leg on Formula 1 calendar
MARINA BAY CIRCUIT, SINGAPORE – Sebastian Vettel will look to leapfrog Lewis Hamilton once more in the standings, in the first of three races on the Asian leg of the F1 calendar.
Can Mercedes hold off Ferrari charge?
A fortnight on from Lewis Hamilton‘s dominant win at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, the Briton will look to maintain his slender points advantage in the Drivers’ Championship, as the Formula 1 circuit rolls into Singapore for the first of three races in Asia.
Despite Hamilton’s strong form in the second half of the season – winning in Belgium and Italy respectively – Mercedes remain fearful of the more reliable Ferrari engine’s history in the Far East, seeing his rival Sebastian Vettel re-taking the lead this weekend. In team boss Toto Wolff’s words himself described this race as a ‘big challenge’ as he told BBC Sport:
“It is a circuit that we have found difficult to master. We head to Asia with the expectation that we have a big challenge ahead of us.”
“As we have pushed to become better and stronger in every area, we have put the finger in the wound in order to understand the root causes of both our good performances and the bad ones,” Wolff states.
“In 2015, Singapore provided us with one of the most painful experiences in recent seasons, so we rolled up the sleeves, learned from it and managed to bounce back with a great win last year.
“So far this year, we have seen the pendulum swing according to circuit type. On the surface, Singapore is the kind of circuit that should favour both Ferrari and Red Bull.”
Whilst Wolff could be playing a psychological game of cat-and-mouse, the slow and meandering circuit of Marina Bay will not favour his team during the course of the next few days. Add to that the record of Vettel himself during his career in Asia, everything points to a difficult few weeks for the Mercedes team as a whole. So can Hamilton cling on to the red coat-tails?
Bottas payback for Mercedes in Singapore?
A key player in that equation could be team-mate Valtteri Bottas. Having been rewarded with an extended one-year deal for next season this past week, the Finn will play an important part at Marina Bay in what for Mercedes will need to a team-driven effort more than any stage of this season.
Whilst just three points separate the top two, Bottas is now unlikely to challenge the hierarchy in the race to Abu Dhabi at the end of November. It will be his role as ‘spoiler’ however, that could go a long way to deciding the outcome of the this years World Championship.
As we have seen throughout this calendar, there can be no questions over the Finn’s commitment to the cause, whereas across the paddock, Kimi Raikkonen has shown signs of frustration in being forced to tow the party line.
Could Bottas’ evident willingness to fight for the cause, prove pivotal this weekend?
Red Bull could throw spanner in works
Whilst Ferrari are acknowledged as the favourites to dominate in Singapore, the Red Bull engine is equally-suited for battle in round 13.
With reports suggesting a parting of the ways between them and engine manufacturer Renault at the end of next year, drivers Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo will be keen to keep themselves in the shop window.
Whilst Verstappen remains a hugely talented string in the Red Bull bow, the Belgian still is yet to curb his rather erratic nature. Ricciardo however, has in the last few months portrayed a more mature and relaxed approach, perhaps than at any other stage in his motor racing career.
Indeed as Friday commenced, the Australian clocked the fastest time in early practice with a time 1.42.89 setting the pace. If Mercedes are themselves powerless against the Italian might of Ferrari this weekend, it is just possible that Red Bull could put a major dampener on red hopes of putting a stranglehold on the Formula 1 season.
The Singapore Grand Prix takes place this weekend at Marina Bay Circuit, with the race proper on Sunday at 1pm.
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