Sebastian Vettel may have gambled to secure pole position for the Singapore Grand Prix, but other drivers may have to rely on the safety car to keep them within touching distance of the German driver.
The Marina Bay circuit represents a huge challenge, and the combination of darkness and high humidity breeds mistakes. The safety car is almost guaranteed, and Nelson Piquet Jr.'s crash in 2008 that allowed Fernando Alonso to win a controversial race shows just how crucial it can be.
Piquet later claimed that he was asked to crash by Renault's then-managing director Flavio Briatore in order to bring out the safety car and aid Alonso. Nick Pearce of The Telegraph reported Piquet as saying, "Flavio Briatore was my executioner," and a full FIA investigation led to the dismissal of Briatore and director of engineering Pat Symonds.
History repeats? In 5 F1 races Singapore the polesitter has been victorious 3 times ('09, '10, '11). LIVE Grand Prix SKY Sport 1 - 11.55pm— SKY Sport NZ (@skysportnz) September 22, 2013
This isn't to suggest that another team will try this in order to dethrone Vettel, but it shows just how important the safety car can be to this race. Its inevitable arrival will benefit everyone but Vettel and allow his competitors to stay within touching distance as the race slows down.
It's not a reliable strategy, but there doesn't seem to be much that anyone can do to stop the German's remarkable ascent.
Vettel has dominated practice and qualifying, to the extent that he sat out the final part of qualifying because he thought his time was good enough. It was a risk, but things are going Vettel's way right now and his gamble paid off.
The German's main title rival is currently Alonso, but he only managed seventh on the grid. He needs all the assistance he can get if he is to close the 53-point gap, and the safety car's arrival would work in his favour.
There were two safety car periods last year, which affected the pit strategy. The pit lane is long and some teams are understandably anxious to avoid unnecessary stops. If the safety car is to help Vettel's rivals, it will need to make two appearances again.
Of course, it didn't stop Vettel from winning last season, and it would be foolish to bet against him when starting from pole. He just looks too strong right now, and it's going to take an incredible drive as well as the safety car to beat him.
It's not likely to make for an exciting race, but the dominance of one driver already threatens to do just that. The intervention of another winner would help the sport as a whole, but the safety car will need to play its part.