Singapore preview - time to reveal the true contenders 23 Sep 2010
As Formula One returns to high-downforce tracks, the Singapore Grand Prix will reveal what individual team form can be expected over the five remaining rounds as the world championship fight builds to its climax.
Spa and Monza were both low-downforce venues, on which the effect of the tightening up of the rules on flexible wings and undertrays was minimised. This weekend will give a much clearer view of any changes on that front, and the likely pecking order from Singapore to Abu Dhabi.
Red Bull are expected to regain the performance advantage they held all season and which reached its aerodynamic peak so dramatically at the Hungaroring, while Ferrari showed both there and at Monza that their car is very competitive in all configurations.
"Monza for us represented our biggest challenge and the fact we have come out and outscored McLaren as a team is massively positive," said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. "There are tracks that should suit us, tracks that should be a bit more marginal between teams but hopefully not offset all our strengths."
While driver Sebastian Vettel says that his title campaign is back on track after that clever strategy alleviated his brake problem at Monza, and Horner acknowledged that points leader Mark Webber was frustrated to finish only sixth, Horner added of the Australian: Looking at the championship points on the way home, closing the European season as leader of the championship is a strong performance from him."
Fernando Alonso was very buoyant after his win on Ferraris home ground, but remains cautiously optimistic for the forthcoming races. I think any good result gives you extra confidence and some good motivation for the whole team to keep working hard and try not to give up at any point in the championship, he said.
We know that one race, good race or bad race, can change the positions in the championship a lot with the new points system. We need to remain calm. This was a good weekend for us. In Spa it was a bad weekend for us. We need to try to find some consistency in the last five races and we need to be fighting for the podium. That will be the key. This result is a good motivation for all us. But the remaining five races are really important with good points.
McLaren won at Spa but not at Monza, where the strategy chosen for Jenson Button may have lost them the chance of victory, and Lewis Hamiltons crash bruised his title campaign. But they remain optimistic - even though in theory the MP4-25 is less well suited to the upcoming circuits than either the Red Bull or the Ferrari - thanks to another upgrade for the weekend.
"The Singapore Grand Prix will be a very interesting weekend because I think it'll give us a clearer idea of the destiny of the world championship, current title holder Button says. "The last time we were at a low-speed, high-downforce track was in Hungary back at the start of August; our car wasn't particularly competitive there, and maybe we haven't had a properly representative view of the top teams' relative pace because we've just visited two high-speed circuits. But, equally, a lot has changed since that race in Budapest - not least, some quite hefty revisions to the rulebook regarding bodywork flexibility and, additionally, a lot of work by the engineers at the McLaren Technology Centre to ensure our car is now better suited to slower circuits.
"Singapore will be interesting for all of us - we'll not only get an idea of the speed of the Ferrari and Red Bull, but we'll get to see for the first time whether all our efforts over the past two months have helped put us back in the ballpark at high-downforce tracks."
Hamilton, meanwhile, exudes resolve. "Its one of those experiences that happens in motor racing sometimes, he said of his Monza error. Its always so disappointing, because your adrenaline is really flowing and then, immediately, it gets cut short right when youre in the heat of battle. But, like I say, these things happen - its not the first time my race has ended on the first lap, and it probably wont be the last, unfortunately.
I got up on Monday morning and I was already focused on the next race, improving the car, and closing in on the world championship. You cant dwell on the negatives - we are still in a good position, and we need to capitalise on that.
Ive had two non-finishes and one win in the last three races - and, while thats not bad, it does mean that I lost points to some of the other drivers in the hunt for the title. And those results arent enough to get me the title. lll keep pushing. Ill take each race as it comes, but Ill also be making sure I get to the finish of the next five races - thats more important than anything. I go to Singapore to win.
Mercedes, Force India and Williams will all have their last updates of the season, but Paul di Resta wont be driving for Force India this Friday. GP2 winner Jerome DAmbrosio, however, will get a try-out with Virgin on that morning in place of Lucas di Grassi, as part of the teams ongoing driver evaluations for 2011.
The race also marks the return of Nick Heidfeld, who will start his first Grand Prix since Abu Dhabi last year, as he takes over Pedro de la Rosa's seat at BMW Sauber, the Spaniard having been replaced by the German following a string of poor results.
The Marina Bay Street Circuit weaves anti-clockwise over 5.073 kilometres of downtown Singapore, passing several famous landmarks including Saint Andrews Cathedral, City Hall, the Supreme Court and the Esplanade Bridge, as its 23 corners run beneath 1,500 light projectors which each boast 2,000 watt white metal halide lamps.
There have been some minor changes to the circuit. Following complaints about serious bumps, the section between Turns Five and Seven has been resurfaced, and also between Turns 14 and 19. Some kerbs have also been re-profiled, notably those in Turn 10, the sometimes unpopular chicane.
This year Bridgestone are bringing their medium and super-soft tyres. Singapore is a street course so we will see a lot of surface evolution and improvement as the track is first cleaned by cars running, then rubber is laid, meaning better grip, says Hirohide Hamashima, their director of motorsport tyre development.
This makes finding a good set-up difficult as the track condition is a moving target. The first time we visited the circuit was very bumpy, but this was improved for last year. For 2010 it will be interesting for us to learn about the surface again as it is made up of public roads which are used throughout the year for purposes other than a Grand Prix.
The weather may be unsettled this weekend, with thunderstorms and showers forecast each day and an ambient temperature ranging between 33 and 34 degrees Celsius.
All of the drivers will aim to stay on European time. Fridays free practice sessions will run from 1800 to 1930 hours (local time) and 2130 to 2300, Saturdays from 1900 to 2000, qualifying from 2200 to 2300, and Sundays 61-lap race from 2000, all eight hours ahead of GMT.
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