Driver market moves and Marina Bay’s return – 5 storylines we’re excited about ahead of the Singapore GP
It’s time for the flyaway races to kick into gear as we head towards the final stretch of the Formula 1 season, and they start with a long-awaited return to a pair of incredible venues. So let’s take a look at some of the stories that are likely to get people talking this weekend in Singapore…
1. Title permutations for Verstappen
We hinted at it ahead of the Italian Grand Prix, and yet another Max Verstappen victory at Monza means there is a mathematical chance of him becoming world champion this weekend in Singapore.
That would mark a remarkable turnaround after the opening three races of the season, when Charles Leclerc and Ferrari took an early lead and Verstappen was some 46 points adrift of his early title rival.
Now, Leclerc finds himself with a 116-point deficit to Verstappen with six races remaining, and with one Sprint event still to come that means there’s a total of 164 points still on the table. Those numbers tell you it’s unlikely that Verstappen wraps the title up in Singapore, but not impossible.
He’ll need to leave the race with a lead of at least 138 points, meaning only a victory will do. If Verstappen wins, then Leclerc needs to finish at least eighth to stop him winning the title, or seventh if Verstappen also sets the fastest lap.
Should Leclerc fail to do that, then Sergio Perez can delay his team mate’s celebrations by finishing in the top three, whether Verstappen wins with the fastest lap or not.
George Russell is also still in mathematical title contention, but a Verstappen victory would end those hopes regardless.
2. The AlphaTauri line-up
In many ways, there shouldn’t be a question mark over who is driving for AlphaTauri in 2023 anymore, after the team confirmed Yuki Tsunoda will be staying for another season. The Japanese driver has impressed the team with his raw pace and commitment by moving to Faenza to be fully integrated, and they see potential that can be built on in his third year.
But who races alongside Tsunoda is still unclear. Pierre Gasly was announced by the team earlier this season as staying for 2023, but his future has since become the centre of speculation after there was interest shown in signing IndyCar racer Colton Herta. That tied in with Gasly being wanted by Alpine as a replacement for Fernando Alonso, but neither team has confirmed a move yet.
The Herta interest appears to have ended due to Super Licence issues, but there are a number of talented drivers available who could also be on AlphaTauri’s radar if Alpine does want to push ahead with a move for the Frenchman.
It was perhaps telling that the announcement regarding Tsunoda’s extension did not include any mention of who his team mate would be next year, despite the fact Gasly had previously been confirmed. Expect plenty of questions around this topic over the coming races.
3. Who races for Williams?
One of those drivers who has been linked with a move to AlphaTauri has very quickly gone from being on the outside looking in, to being in high demand in F1, as Nyck de Vries attracts plenty of interest.
The Dutchman was massively impressive when filling in for the unwell Alex Albon in Monza last time out, picking up two points on his debut – off the back of a Q2 appearance – despite only joining the team from FP3 onwards.
With Albon suffering respiratory failure while recovering from surgery in Italy and spending more time in hospital than expected, the target of returning for one of the most physically demanding races of the season in Singapore is a tough one. So Williams is likely to have made contingency plans that involve De Vries, who was in Hungary to test for Alpine last week.
A planned trip to the UK was then cancelled due to his passport being at the Japanese embassy to secure a visa, suggesting De Vries will be ready and waiting in both Singapore and Japan if his services are required again.
There’s also the matter of who will be racing for the team in 2023 alongside Albon, now it’s been confirmed Nicholas Latifi will be leaving after three seasons. Will De Vries get the nod, or has he got his eye on another seat on the grid? Time will tell…
4. A record-breaking 2023 calendar
While we still have six races to go this year, we now also have a clear idea of what the 2023 season is going to look like after the approval of the new calendar by the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council.
There are a record 24 races planned next year as F1’s popularity continues to grow around the world, taking the sport to more venues than ever before and providing fans with as many opportunities as possible to see their heroes racing in person.
The schedule is full of highlights but a few of the standout dates include the season-opener in Bahrain on March 5, the return of China and Qatar, and the climax in Abu Dhabi being set for November 26. Just one week before that finale, however, promises to be absolutely spectacular as the first ever Saturday night race in Las Vegas will take place.
A stunning layout that takes in a significant portion of the iconic Strip will see the lights go out at 10pm local time, as F1 returns to Vegas for the first time since 1982. A four-day extravaganza is planned and anticipation is already building.
5. The return to Marina Bay
If night racing is your thing then we’ve definitely got you covered this weekend too, as the Singapore Grand Prix welcomes F1 back for the first time since 2019.
The COVID-19 pandemic has meant it has felt like an age since we were able to get out on track on the Marina Bay Street Circuit, but it will have been worth the wait when the cars take to the streets once again.
And Singapore is far more than just a spectacular race visually, with it providing the drivers with one of their most difficult challenges of the season due to the humidity and race length that regularly takes the Grand Prix close to the two-hour time limit even when it runs without interruptions.
The 2022 cars are likely to be a real handful on the street circuit too, as they are less forgiving in terms of suspension and provide a harder ride for the drivers, while also generating their downforce in different ways to previous years. The entire grid will be really made to work for it behind the wheel this weekend.