Singapore preview - the title fight takes to the streets 20 Sep 2012
The 2012 Formula 1 Singtel Singapore Grand Prix comes with a reputation for being the toughest and longest on the calendar, with high ambient and track temperatures and humidity, even though its a night race.
Fernando Alonso remains quietly confident as the world championship leader, 37 points ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who is himself only one point clear of Kimi Raikkonen and two in front of Sebastian Vettel. Spicing things up, Mark Webber is only eight points behind the German.
Ferrari will bring a significant update to their F2012 here, but Alonso says: We'll see in the next couple of races how the teams develop the parts. At the moment McLaren has won the last three Grands Prix and they are in top form. I think from Jerez they won in winter testing, and who was the driver that I respect more, that was Lewis, and we're still here - 11 or 12 races afterwards we are first and second in the championship. It will be tough until the end.
Hamilton remains surrounded by speculation about his future, whether he will re-sign for McLaren or switch to Mercedes. But he insists that his focus right now is the championship fight. McLaren believe they have a very strong car, but team boss Martin Whitmarsh is at pains to stress that they dont come here automatically expecting a fourth win in a row.
Fernando Alonso is a formidable competitor, Whitmarsh says, but we think we can overhaul him. We have a quicker car and we will do our best. But Singapore is a high-downforce circuit, totally different to Spa and Monza, so well see what happens this weekend.
The Marina Bay track is the third and final true street circuit of the year, following on from Monaco and Valencia, and runs in an anti-clockwise direction. It has 14 left-handers and nine right-handers and requires maximum downforce, good traction and neutral balance.
Its unique, Jenson Button says. There are a couple of long straights, so its very fast, but all the corners are generally taken in second or third gear, so youre trying to find the best set-up compromise - particularly as you need good end-of-straight speed for overtaking into Turn Seven. Thats the best opportunity for passing as it also comes at the end of the DRS zone.
Every lap is a great challenge: I had a really enjoyable race at Singapore last year. My car was completely dialled in and I was able to push to chase down Sebastian during the closing laps. This year, I hope well once again have a package that will enable us to fight at the front.
Hamilton fervently hopes so, now that he is back in contention after the win at Monza.
Were now inching closer to the finishing line - and this is where it starts to get exciting! After winning the last three races of the European season, the whole team starts the long haul around the world for the final series of flyaways that will determine the outcome of this years world championship.
After winning in Hungary and Monza, I head to Singapore full of positivity and optimism that we can take the title fight to Fernando. I enjoy the Marina Bay circuit in the same way that I like racing at the Hungaroring - its a darty track that requires you to really be on top of the car to get the best from it. It requires more finesse, though: most of the braking zones are approached at very high speed, and the walls are never far away. Factor in the heat and humidity and its a very challenging weekend.
Although I had a fantastic win there back in 2009, Ive not had the greatest of results in Singapore recently. I got a puncture and retired after tangling with Mark Webber in 2010 and I was delayed after touching wheels with Felipe (Massa) last year. Both those races were unlucky for me - I think I need a better roll of the dice this time around!
Another driver hoping to steer clear of contact is Romain Grosjean, who returns to active duty at Lotus after his one-race ban at Monza. The track could suit the E20 perfectly, and a win for the team has been on the cards all season. The Frenchman would like nothing better than to oblige on his comeback - remember how strong he looked in Valencia - but team mate Raikkonen is the man who really needs the points as he is in strong contention still for the title.
At Red Bull there will be anxiety over alternator performance after what happened to Vettel and Grosjean in Valencia, and despite last years victory the reigning world champion isnt expecting to dominate this time around.
Singapore is one of the highlights on the calendar, because the atmosphere of a night race is amazing, he says. I also like it because the track is really great to race on - which is partly to do with the fact that we race anti-clockwise there. We all stay on European time for the weekend and because the race doesn't start until 8pm, most of the drivers tend to get up around 2pm - its pretty unusual.
Weve had some good results in Singapore, adds team mate Webber. Its a very, very challenging circuit and one that the car should work well on. Weve been solid on street circuits this year, so that gives us some confidence that the car will be towards the sharp end again. Everyone embraces the event, but I also love the fact that we have a lot of Australians attending, especially from the West Coast as its an easy flight from there. Thats quite unique.
Late-race tyre wear could become a serious factor again, as Pirelli are bringing their P Zero Yellow soft tyres and P Zero Red super-soft tyres. Besides the high ambient and track temperatures - expected to be around 30 and 40 degrees Celsius respectively, the humidity will also be a key factor as it tends to remain within 75 to 90 percent throughout the weekend. Traction is critical here, with the second-highest number of corners (23) seen all year. The asphalt is bumpy and slippery, and grip is further compromised by street furniture such as manhole covers and painted white lines. Nonetheless, the cars manage to generate up to 4.3g under braking despite the inherent lack of adhesion.
Pirellis motorsport director Paul Hembery says: Due to the unusual circumstances in which the race is run, under more than a thousand spotlights, the teams and drivers have to think very hard about strategy - track conditions and evolution are somewhat different than you would find in a normal daytime race. One factor that could certainly come into play is safety cars: during every single Singapore Grand Prix that has been held so far since 2008 the safety car has come out at some point. This means that strategies have to be flexible as well as effective in order to quickly take advantage of any potential neutralisation. While the humidity is constantly high, it hasnt yet rained in any Singapore Grand Prix so this should be the same again this year and we are likely to see the ultimate performance offered by the two softest slick compounds in our Formula One range.
Vettel won last years race with a three-stop strategy, but Hamilton finished fifth after stopping four times and taking a drive-through penalty as well.
There have been minor changes to the track since 2011. It has been resurfaced on the approach to, and at the apex of, Turn 13; the outer pit lane has been resurfaced; and all rubber kerbs have been replaced by fabricated steel sections anchored securely to the ground with 24mm diameter bolts.
The single DRS zone, in the long run into Memorial Corner (Turn 7) also remains unchanged. The detection point is at Turn 4 with the activation point after Turn 5.
Sundays race will run over 61 laps of the 5.073-kilometre (3.152 mile) circuit, or 309.316 kilometres (192.202 miles), and starts at 2000 hours local time, which is eight hours ahead of GMT.
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