The 2016 Singapore Grand Prix is the one race this season where Mercedes’ dominance could be under real threat given the circuit characteristics and some reference from last year’s form. Will the Silver Arrows face a genuine challenge this weekend, or will it turn out to be yet another 1-2 finish for the reigning World Champions? And if they are indeed challenged , will it be Red Bull Racing or Ferrari? And if it is Red Bull Racing, will they allow a fair battle between Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen? Unpredictability, the one factor that’s usually missing in Formula 1 since the last few seasons, is adding to the hype of the sport’s only night race.
As you read this, we’ve got Friday Practice data already and Nico Rosberg, who trails Lewis Hamilton by two points in the Drivers’ Championship, had a mixed bag of a start. He ended Free Practice 1 (FP1) in the barriers, but made up for it in Free Practice 2 (FP2) by topping the timesheets – ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen. Lewis Hamilton had to retire from the second session due to a hydraulic leak. Will Mercedes stretch their mechanical reliability to retain performance advantage?
In 2015, Mercedes struggled to find a balance in their setup but it seems that they’ve done their homework for this weekend, especially on the favoured tyres. However, the long runs in FP2 (which basically is a race simulation) indicated that Mercedes’ gap to Ferrari and Red Bull Racing seemed smaller and that the two challenging teams will have to attempt different strategies on Sunday to be able to beat the Mercedes cars. With a 100 percent chance of a Safety Car period ( each of the previous eight races have seen the Safety Car in action), the race on Sunday could be an intense battle of race strategy. Would it be fun though?
In the pre-race chatter, Lewis Hamilton blamed his clutch for his slow starts and believes that his clutch might decide the Drivers’ Championship this season. If the Ferrari and Red Bull Racing cars are in the mix on Sunday, there could be a good gain (or loss) of points for either Mercedes driver in their championship positions. Would this mean that the race result in Singapore could have a larger bearing on the Drivers’ Championship than other circuits?
Nico Rosberg, who has been on a winning spree and won his first-ever races in Spa and Monza in the last fortnight, would add yet another ‘first ever win’ tag if he wins on Sunday. Strangely enough, Rosberg’s last and only podium appearance in Singapore was eight years ago when he drove for Williams. And funnily enough, the list of previous winners in Singapore includes World Champion drivers only – Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Hamilton.
The other battle that could make the race on Sunday interesting is the one between the Red Bull Racing teammates. Ricciardo seems to be in fine form and has been raking in the podiums while Verstappen has been raking in the PR mileage. If Red Bull Racing is within a shot of victory, which driver will clinch it for the team? And if both their drivers are in contention (and we hope they are), which driver will the team back? The ever-smiling and super-consistent Ricciardo or their prodigal and can-do-no-wrong Verstappen? Let’s hope that they’re fair as they give wings to their racers.
Sebastian Vettel has won 50 percent races of all the races contested in Singapore. In fact, his win in 2015 was his and Ferrari’s last win in Formula 1. But come Sunday, the Mercedes and Red Bull Racing cars might not be the only ones for Vettel to beat – he might find competition in his teammate Kimi Raikkonen too. After being eclipsed in the first half of the season, Raikkonen has seemed much closer to Vettel and maybe faster at times. A Vettel vs Raikkonen battle for victory (ie if Ferrari are able to challenge) would be a dream for Ferrari and Formula 1 fans!
And finally, among the big boys, we’re expecting Force India and Toro Rosso to be in the spoils too. After Williams clinched fourth place back from Force India in Monza, it seems that Force India could well snatch that pace back if their FP times are anything to go by and if you’re a Force India fan, you’ll be pleased to know that the Indian owned team has traditionally done well at this circuit. After the start of the European season, Force India’s new chassis has outscored the Williams by 39 points and this means that if they continue this form, the team will finish fourth in the Constructors’ Championship – their best ever. Will Sergio Perez still decide to leave them and find a cockpit elsewhere? Well, this story could well be for our column post-Singapore. For now, remember to tune in on Sunday as we expect yet another cracker.