Formula 1: Singapore Grand Prix Preview

Neil JamesFeatured ColumnistSeptember 20, 2012

Formula 1: Singapore Grand Prix Preview

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    After an eventful Italian race two weeks ago, this weekend Formula 1 returns to Asia for the Singapore Grand Prix.

    Adding to the spectacle of seeing 24 of the world's fastest cars race around the streets of one of the world's most densely populated countries, the event will take place at night under more than 1,500 floodlights.

    The humidity of the night air and the bumpy track surface make this one of the toughest races of the year for the drivers. It also will be one of the longest.

    Singapore also has a very high statistical likelihood of a safety car deployment—100 percent in the first four races there.

    Overtaking is never easy here, but we should at least get top quality racing.

     


As It Stands

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    Fernando Alonso takes a 37-point lead into the weekend, with Lewis Hamilton in second place.

    Kimi Raikkonen is third, Sebastian Vettel fourth and Mark Webber fifth. The Top 10 is as follows:

    Pos Driver Team Points
    01 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 179
    02 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 142
    03 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 141
    04 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 140
    05 Mark Webber Red Bull 132
    06 Jenson Button McLaren 101
    07 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 83
    08 Romain Grosjean Lotus 76
    09 Sergio Perez Sauber 65
    10 Felipe Massa Ferrari 47

     

    In the constructors' championship, Red Bull's double-retirement in Italy saw their lead over McLaren cut to 29 points.

    Ferrari are third, Lotus fourth and Mercedes a distant fifth. The standings are as follows:

    Pos Team Points
    01 Red Bull 272
    02 McLaren 243
    03 Ferrari 226
    04 Lotus 214
    05 Mercedes 126
    06 Sauber 100
    07 Force India 63
    08 Williams 54
    09 Toro Rosso 12

    Caterham, Marussia and HRT remain pointless.

Marina Bay Street Circuit

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    The Marina Bay Street Circuit began construction in 2007. It was designed by Hermann Tilke, modified by a company called KBR (they're not F1 experts) and first hosted the Singapore Grand Prix in 2008.

    It's certainly not a track that will find its way into the hearts of millions, and there's little evidence it's particularly popular with the drivers. One of the few positives is that the race is held at night, which makes the place look rather beautiful.

    Sadly, it also makes most of the corners look exactly the same.

    A lap begins with a reasonable run down to Turns 1 and 2, a medium-speed left-right combination which leads into another, slightly tighter left (Turn 3).

    Overtaking into the first corner isn't going to be easy unless one car comes out of the final turn very close behind another.

    Turn 4 is one of those barely-there kinks, but Turn 5 is probably the most important corner on the circuit. A near-90 degree right, it leads onto the longest "straight" Singapore has to offer.

    It's not a normal straight because it's split almost exactly in half by a right-hand kink (Turn 6), which is taken flat-out.

    After the two halves of the straight comes Turn 7, a tight 90-degree left which is the primary overtaking spot on the circuit. That doesn't mean it's easy—Turn 6 has a tendency to disrupt moves into here—it's just not quite as hard to pass as it is elsewhere.

    It's normal to run a little wide on the exit of Turn 7, which may be picked up on by commentators in light of the debate about doing this earlier in the season.

    There's a short run down to Turn 8, which is a slightly less than 90-degree right. Turn 9 is a 90-degree left (you may have noticed Singapore has a lot of these).

    Next up is a short straight, the cars reaching 160 mph before braking for the Singapore Sling—the most interesting corner we'll encounter this weekend.

    Named after the cocktail, the Sling is an awkward, fiddly little left-right-left chicane which Lewis Hamilton once described as "ridiculous" and "pretty much the worst corner I've ever driven in Formula 1."

    The kerbs are very tricky and with little room for error, it's likely we'll see at least a few drivers bounce painfully through here this weekend. One or two might end up in the wall on the exit, as Kimi Raikkonen did in 2008.

    If that corner is successfully negotiated, next up is a slow right-left for Turns 11 and 12. The circuit is very narrow here, and it passes over the Anderson Bridge before Turn 13, which is a moderately tight, near-90-degree left.

    A straight follows, directing the cars up Esplanade Drive. It's only a short straight before braking for Turn 14, which is on the same road junction as Turn 8. This one's another near-90-degree corner.

    The next section almost seems like someone decided there weren't enough corners, but it keeps the drivers very busy. Turn 15 is a flat-out left kink just before braking for Turn 16, which is a medium-speed right leading into an almost identical left (Turn 17).

    This is where Nelson Piquet Jr. intentionally crashed out in 2008, letting teammate Fernando Alonso take advantage of the safety car deployment to win from 15th on the grid.

    Turn 18 is an interesting one, a tight 90-degree left before the track passes into a pseudo-tunnel below a grandstand. The end of the tunnel and Turn 19 (right-hand, near-90-degree) is only a few metres down the road.

    Turns 20 and 21 are a slightly more open, reversed copy of 18 and 19—right-left instead of left-right. There's also a little bit more run-off here.

    The cars then head down a short straight toward the fast left-handers of Turn 22 and 23. These two are the final (and probably the most fun to drive) corners of the lap, and they lead back onto the pit straight.

    The start-finish line is only a short distance after the exit.

    The pit-lane entry is on the inside of Turn 22, and the exit feeds into Turn 2.

Tyres and DRS

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    Marina Bay is a circuit based on public roads, which tends to result in less grip. The surface will become more grippy over the course of the weekend, but it won't reach the levels we'd see at a purpose-built track.

    Perhaps for this reason, Pirelli are bringing the red-marked super-soft and yellow-marked soft compound tyres. This is the same combination used at Monaco.

    Singapore is a very "busy" circuit and the tyres spend a lot of the lap in corners, braking zones and traction zones. While more action usually means more wear, the low speeds involved mean it isn't that much of an issue here.

    Also aiding tyre management is that the race takes place at night. Though the air temperature remains very high, the track temperature falls away somewhat quicker.

    Safety cars and rain could play havoc with strategies, but two stops is likely to be the most common approach. 

     

    DRS

    There's only one realistic place to put the DRS zone in Singapore. The detection point will be between Turns 4 and 5, and the activation point comes at the exit of Turn 5.

    The zone runs through the flat-out Turn 6 and ends under braking for Turn 7.

Weather Forecast

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    Few things sound less appealing than driving around a floodlight-swamped circuit in a rainstorm. Anti-glare visors do exist, but I don't believe they've ever been tested in race conditions.

    It's going to be hot and humid, but that aside, the current outlook is uncertain. BBC Weather suggests thunderstorms and heavy showers for Saturday daytime, but clearing up by the time darkness falls and the cars take to the track. The Sunday forecast is much the same.

    The Singapore Weather Service appears to have the same expectations, while Formula1.com's glass is most certainly half empty, with thunderstorms predicted every day.

Session Times

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    As always, the Singapore Grand Prix weekend will consist of three free practice sessions, qualifying and the race.

    The session times are as follows:

    Practice One Friday 18:00-19:30
    Practice Two Friday 21:30-23:00
    Practice Three Saturday 18:00-19:00
    Qualifying Saturday 21:00
    Race Sunday 20:00

     

    All times are Singapore local time. Formula1.com has a handy one-click tool to convert them to your own time zone.

    Enjoy the weekend!