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Singapore F1 Grand Prix 2016: Key Battles, Marina Bay Street Circuit Breakdown

Chris LakerFeatured ColumnistSeptember 15, 2016

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 04:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP on the grid before the Formula One Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 4, 2016 in Monza, Italy.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Lewis Hamilton is clinging on to a two-point lead over rival Nico Rosberg heading into Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix, a true spectacle on the Formula One calendar.

Hamilton has watched his Mercedes team-mate eat away at his lead over recent races and will need to make sure he gets off the start line better at the Marina Bay Street Circuit to stop it being overhauled completely.

We take a closer look at the key battles heading into Round 15 of the season.

      

Key Battles

Nico Rosberg vs. Lewis Hamilton

Luca Bruno/Associated Press

Although he has never crossed the line first at Singapore, Rosberg has all the momentum.

Consecutive victories in Belgium and Italy have seen the German ace regain the upper hand on Hamilton since the season break.

Hamilton’s performance off the start line has proved to be his Achilles' heel this season. It hindered him earlier in the year, and last time out, in Monza, the Briton could only watch as five cars sped past him.

Rosberg's renewed confidence can be seen through his own speedy reactions off the start line, and he has proved a tough man to catch when he gets his nose in front.

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Hamilton has won twice at Singapore but finds himself under pressure at Marina Bay this time, with the driver admitting he doesn't know what is causing his problem, leading to talks with team bosses.

Hamilton said, as per Paul Weaver of the Guardian: "We’ll try to get as much information, and learn as much as we can, to try and make sure in the remaining seven races we’re not struggling getting off the line from pole positions. They’ll be working very hardit's not a quick fix so it’s not something we can change for the next race."

Rosberg looked relaxed as he spent time in Singapore:

F1poleposition.com @F1polepositionc

Street Food per Nico #Rosberg a #Singapore. https://t.co/XvWvtIT8K8

So there is hope for rival teams as Mercedes arrive in Singapore without the swagger they possess at most race weekends.

The Silver Arrows suffered a big slump at this race in 2015, when their cars qualified fifth and sixth on the grid. The race saw Rosberg finish fourth and Hamilton forced to retire with a power-unit problem.

According to Ian Parkes of Autosport, the German has already admitted Mercedes have a big gap to recover:

We can't go there with too much confidence because we were miles off last year. 

In qualifying it was 1.5 seconds I think, which is huge. It was our most difficult race of the last two years.

So it's going to be a very challenging weekend for us.

We think we've made progress, but 1.5 seconds, that's not going to be easy [to close the gap].

However, it would be a huge surprise if Mercedes have not managed to find a solution to last year's problems in Singapore.

And with such a tight circuit, the battle between Rosberg and Hamilton could go wheel-to-wheel at the front of the race.

         

Sebastian Vettel vs. Max Verstappen

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 28:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany drives the  Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo drives in front of Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing during the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamp
Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel has fine form at Marina Bay, having won last year and on three other occasions.

Max Verstappen was told off after some debatable defending at the Belgian Grand Prix, and the flying Dutchman comes into Singapore off the back of a rare controversy-free outing at Monza, where he came home in seventh.

He also ignored Toro Rosso's orders last year when holding off then-team-mate Carlos Sainz for eighth place, as per Nate Saunders of ESPN F1.

If the Red Bulls go well in Singapore, Verstappen's prodigious talent could collide with the German's on-track nous and sparks may fly, as they did with Vettel's Ferrari team-mate, Kimi Raikkonen, after the race at Spa.

      

Circuit Breakdown

SINGAPORE - SEPTEMBER 20:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari drives during the Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 20, 2015 in Singapore.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
Dan Istitene/Getty Images

The Marina Bay Street Circuit is a twisty feast of 23 corners and provides a real test of concentration and endurance for drivers, as races can last up to two hours.

The humid weather conditions also play a part, but for the drivers, it is a challenge they relish and a "halo race" for the sport, according to McLaren driver Fernando Alonso, per F1's official website:

Singapore is a great race - it's always an enjoyable weekend and definitely one of the halo races on the calendar each year. It's a really long race - usually almost two hours - so a lot can happen. It's tough on the cars too, especially with the current that runs underneath the asphalt near the Anderson Bridge towards Turn 13, which can play tricks on the electronics systems. It's definitely a race of attrition, so I hope we can have a smooth weekend with good reliability, and work our way towards the front.

Race organisers released a time-lapse video to show the preparations taking place ahead of the race:

SingaporeGP @F1NightRace

After 200 days and nights of intense buildup, we are finally two days away from hosting the 2016 #F1 #SingaporeGP! https://t.co/t6jUil30RT

The track is bumpy and with few straights on which to build up proper speed. According to Marc Priestley on Sky Sports' F1 Report, the Singapore Grand Prix gives opportunities to everybody, so it is not purely about the team that has the best engine.

"It gives the midfield teams like Force India and McLaren an opportunity," Priestley said. "If they don't make any mistakes, they have a really good opportunity to start knocking on the door of the top four, maybe even a podium."

The crown could well go to whichever driver can keep his cool. Hamilton's qualifying pace has been unbeatable on many occasions, and if he can work out how to make a solid start, then he'll take some stopping.

But with the nighttime race conditions of Marina Bay, coupled with Mercedes' poor showing at the track last year, the prospects of an exciting, unpredictable race are high.   

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