Formula 1 is heading into the final of its three chapters with the Singapore GP kick-starting a sequence of ‘flyaway’ events that takes in seven races across four continents in just 11 weeks. But what are some of the key talking points as the championship prepares to sparkle and shimmer beneath the Singaporean skyline? Let’s take a look at some of the 2019 Singapore GP talking points..
Is it now a case of when, not if?
Lewis Hamilton has not been headed at the front of the championship since May, when he pocketed the title lead with a commanding Spanish Grand Prix victory. His form over the next few weeks was ominous as he racked up win after win, while a devastating sequence of results prior to the summer break left nearest rival and Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas significantly on the backfoot. History has shown that Hamilton finds a new level through the second half of seasons, while Bottas struggles, and the gap between them now stands at 62 – effectively a two-and-a-half race advantage with seven to go. Hamilton has won at all of the remaining grands prix before, many on multiple occasions, while Bottas picked up a dead-rubber win in Abu Dhabi two years ago. He is still awaiting a first triumph at the six other circuits. The Marina Bay Street Circuit is a venue that plays into Hamilton’s strengths and in their time as Mercedes team-mates Bottas has not been able to hold a candle to the five-times World Champion at the torturous 23-turn track. Bottas is hanging on in there but if results go Hamilton’s way then there’s an outside chance the title battle could be done and dusted by the time the sport departs Japan in mid-October. Bottas needs to strike back, and fast.
Is this Vettel’s last chance at redemption?
Another talking point for the 2019 Singapore GP is the fate that awaits Sebastian Vettel. His future in Formula 1 has been debated, his very legacy in the sport has been re-evaluated, while right now he faces a fight for supremacy within the team in which he was once the undisputed leader. His prospects of emulating his childhood hero, Michael Schumacher, are surely hanging by a thread. His latest high-profile error was an unmitigated disaster. Spinning in a race, under little pressure, was bad enough. His antics upon re-joining accentuated a messy situation. That he did it at Ferrari’s home round piled on the negatives. That his 21-year-old team-mate won in brilliant fashion at the first time of asking at Monza was the unwanted icing on the proverbial cake of doom. It was worst case scenario for Vettel, turned up to 11. His eighth mistake in a 25-race spell shows there is a trend that he knows he must stop. The encouraging element for Vettel is that Singapore is a location where he has previously thrived. During his Red Bull career he was often untouchable at the street circuit, threatening to defy the laws of physics with the way in which he manhandled his cars around the city. He has a record-equalling four wins in Singapore. But, but… It is also where his title bid collapsed in dramatic fashion in 2017 when he clashed with Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen off the line. Another concern is of Ferrari itself. Its SF90 has struggled at venues where high mechanical grip and downforce levels are required, meaning it is likely to trail Mercedes and Red Bull. Even if Vettel firmly puts Charles Leclerc in the shade he will need to conjure up a substantial portion of magic if he is to fight for victory.
Will Verstappen, Honda, be back in the game?
The combination of an on-form Max Verstappen, an ever-improving Red Bull and an increasingly potent Honda power unit melded together to produce a string of eye-catching results prior to the summer break. Verstappen brilliantly won in Austria and Germany and took his maiden pole in Hungary. But in the pair of races since he has cut a relatively anonymous figure. Red Bull expected to be off-the-pace at the power-hungry events in Belgium and Italy, but on both occasions Verstappen compromised his prospects with first-corner collisions. Clashing with Kimi Raikkonen in Belgium left him with a broken track rod, and a one-way ticket into the barriers ensured, while Honda tactically changed his engine in Italy, leaving him at the back, where he was caught up in the Turn 1 concertina effect. Four points from two rounds is a paltry return. But a string of tricky rounds was always likely to be on the cards. “We’ve had our penalties and hopefully also our trouble,” said Verstappen in Italy. “From now on we can just focus on performance.” The Marina Bay Street Circuit has typically suited Verstappen’s attacking driving style and last year his superb performance was eclipsed only by Hamilton’s exceptional one. The RB15 will be more at home in Singapore while the improved driveability and reliability with Honda’s Spec 4 power unit, now in the back of Verstappen’s car, should give him that extra ounce of performance. Verstappen will be a formidable threat for victory this weekend.
Is this Formula 1’s ultimate endurance test?
Formula 1 heads from one extreme to the other. The Italian Grand Prix is fast and ferocious, with the high average speed meaning the race flashes past in just 75 minutes. Singapore, meanwhile, has a low average speed, courtesy of slow-speed corners and only a smattering of straights, and the grand prix has regularly run to its two-hour time limit. The Formula 1 paddock has the unusual task of keeping its body clock on European time, meaning breakfast occurs at 3pm, lunch around 10pm, and bedtime is roughly 6am, just as those on a normal schedule are getting up and pondering a day at work. The test of endurance and stamina is accentuated by the extreme humidity and high temperatures present in the Malay peninsula. It is the race that all the drivers have in mind while putting in the long, arduous hours in the gym throughout the year, knowing that they will relinquish several kilos in sweat through the course of the 61-lap race. They have been working out in several layers of clothes in order to get used to sweating. Even a brief walk outside leaves you soaked in, er, yep, ahem. It’s not a race for the faint-hearted.
That’s all for our 2019 Singapore GP talking points. Be sure to follow updates throughout the upcoming weekend!
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Written by: Phillip Horton
Phillip uses trains, planes and automobiles to travel the world, exploring far-flung reaches of society, while taking a look at the history and culture of a country. Oh, and he also visits the F1 race in said country and writes about fast cars.