What To Watch For in the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix
From three teams with an eye on victory to a direct battle between the best of the rest, and a potential advantage for those starting outside the top ten to drivers suffering in the heat, we highlight five key topics to keep an eye out for at Marina Bay…
A three-way fight for victory?
Mercedes vs Red Bull was expected, but Ferrari crashed the party
Arriving in Singapore, you’d have been brave to put your money on a Ferrari pole position, with both Mercedes and Red Bull expected to battle it out for the front row in the same way they did a year ago. Ferrari had struggled on similar circuits this season but continued their fine form to secure a third straight pole position, with Charles Leclerc delivering once again.
Red Bull were left a little surprised at the gap to the front two teams as Lewis Hamilton split the Ferraris – but Max Verstappen is still within striking distance from fourth on the grid. So whoever comes out of the first sequence of corners in the lead is likely to have a car strong enough to fight for the victory.
When the polesitter says it would be “crazy” to convert his starting position into a win, you know this is a race that is wide open.
McLaren and Renault going head-to-head
The pair are now just 18 points apart in the constructors’ standings
The past two races have seen McLaren dropping points, with 18 left on the table when Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz retired from fifth in Belgium and sixth in Italy respectively. Renault took full advantage, picking up 22 points in the latter race to significantly cut McLaren’s advantage in the constructors’ championship, and the pair have been closely matched all weekend in Singapore.
Renault were targeting McLaren in qualifying but Sainz and Norris appeared to have the advantage until a scruffy Q3 lap left Norris in P10, behind both Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg.
Although Ricciardo was later excluded from qualifying after it was ruled that he’d enjoyed the benefit of excessive power from his car’s MGU-K during Q1, Hulkenberg will be right in the fight with Renault’s main rivals as he looks to overhaul Sainz ahead while simultaneously repelling Norris behind. It’s a battle that could have repercussions beyond just Sunday’s race result.
Tyre strategy choices
Starting outside the top 10 was an advantage for many in 2018
Drivers missing out on a spot in Q3 are usually able to console themselves with the slight advantage of being able to choose which tyres they start the race on – but in Singapore that can play a much bigger role in the race outcome.
Last year, the midfield teams in the top 10 were actually hampered by having to start the race on a very soft compound that didn’t last very long, ensuring they lost track position when they made their first pit stops and couldn’t regain it.
This time round, the soft compound appears a little more robust but the McLaren and Renault drivers will still be at risk. Pirelli estimate it to be almost as quick to start on the medium tyre and switch to the hard at around half distance, compared to the ideal strategy starting on softs and changing to mediums. Pull off the former strategy and you could gain track position before hoping for the intervention of the Safety Car…
Singapore is the most likely venue for the Safety Car to make an appearance
Unlike the Ferrari pole position, a Safety Car appearance is expected in Singapore. In the last five years there has been at least one spell under the Safety Car – and usually more – in every race, and it can really mix up the field.
As a street circuit, naturally the close walls play a part in the likelihood of incidents, but it’s also the fact that three DRS zones will encourage drivers to try overtaking moves, something that isn’t always realistic on street tracks.
The dilemma this provides teams with is that they don’t want to give up track position by pitting early in case a Safety Car then allows their rivals to make a pit stop and lose less time. But if you extend your first stint hoping for a Safety Car and start losing time to a car that pits early, then you could lose out when you pit if an incident doesn’t occur.
Luck plays a major part, but the strategists are all wary of such a twist when they have happened so regularly in Singapore in the past.
This race is the biggest physical test of the season
While the Safety Car might mix up the order, the finishing positions are rarely comfortable until the end of the final lap, such is the challenge of the Singapore climate.
Even racing at night under floodlights, the temperature regularly stays around the 30 degree Celsius mark, and high humidity means the drivers are battling the heat throughout the race. The Marina Bay Street Circuit has the most corners of any track on the calendar (23!), leading to a low average speed that means the race regularly goes the full two-hour distance – so the drivers are having to work hard for the maximum period of time.
This is the race they specifically train for in the knowledge that any lack of fitness will be brutally exposed by a drop-off in lap times in the closing stages, as well as difficulty making decisions under fatigue. If a driver is fit enough to perform for the full race distance in Singapore, they will be fine at every other venue.