Trackside Performance Analysis: Pushing the limits at Singapore's Turn 5
To understand the subtleties of car performance and driver technique, there’s no substitute for standing trackside and watching (and listening to) the protagonists at work. For FP1 in Singapore, Mark Hughes saw how drivers took on the tight, punishing, right-hander that is Marina Bay Street Circuit's Turn 5...
Singapore’s Turn 5, an innocuous access road junction for 362 days a year, is this weekend a stern test of F1 chassis balance, grip and driver feel.
As the Friday daylight session begins, the surface is still super-dusty but it’s the two Ferraris out there on soft tyres doing most of the cleaning up. The turn is an acute angled one, with Raffles Avenue somewhere out of sight beyond from the turn-in point, the car hemmed in by a wall.
So the drivers are accelerating towards this solid, hard border, trusting that the front tyres are going to bite into the surface rather than the wall jumping out to bite the car.
Hamilton, like Verstappen, is pushing hard to find what the car will accept.
It’s all about getting the front tyres to properly load up soon into the turn, well before the apex. But in these early dusty laps even the softest compounds don’t really want to, so Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc are beginning the turn earlier and with less steering lock than they will later on, just gently nudging those tyres into gripping up, not asking too much, too suddenly from them.
It's a delicate balancing act, between braking, steering, momentum and throttle. Ambition demands they maintain as much momentum as possible, even as the fronts are not yet digging properly into the surface. A couple of times each, Vettel and Leclerc have to demand a sudden extra turn right at the end, as the wall is coming up fast, the Ferraris doing a delicate little wiggle as the rear breaks free in response, rear tyres throwing out brown dust.
In the post-tyre change part of the session, the grip has ramped up considerably and the Red Bulls are out on softs, the Mercedes on hards.
The extra grip has made the bump on the apex more apparent and the Red Bull is amplifying it further. The car is loading up with a lot of grip much earlier into the turn than the Ferraris were but its front damping looks less than ideal, the front of the car continuing to rebound into the latter part of the corner. Max Verstappen, having been applying the gas harder and earlier than anyone else, tries it yet earlier on one occasion, well before the apex. It simply induces the Red Bull into understeer for the latter third of the corner. He seems to have found the limit for this part of track for the time being.
The Mercedes, even on the hardest tyre, is loading up just fine and carries that grip through the turn with so much certainty. It’s not quite as upset by the bump as the Red Bull and by contrast it’s the rear of the car that reveals it. It’s not quite as electric on turn-in as the Red Bull, both Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton smooth in the transition, the front needing slightly more time to load up.
The Ferrari on the mediums looks very nicely poised and it smothers the bump better than either of its rivals. Later, as Vettel and Leclerc come out on a second set of softs they maintain that poise even with the step-change in tyre grip. They have slightly more lock applied than the Red Bull at mid-corner and their momentum through the turn isn’t as great as the Mercedes, but they look the most drivable of all of the top three cars.
Hamilton, like Verstappen, is pushing hard to find what the car will accept. He finds it and for a dramatic millisecond the front tyres surrender as he’s almost at the wall and it requires a super-quick correction to keep it out. A few minutes later the session is red-flagged as Bottas has edged beyond those limits elsewhere...