RACE DEBRIEF

    The Singapore Grand Prix returns to the Formula 1 calendar for the first time since 2019 – and with it brings the most physical and mental challenge the drivers will face all year.

    At 30 Degrees Celsius, it’s not the hottest race of the year, but it’s the humidity that provides the real challenge. On average, it can hit a very sweaty 80%. And that’s just when you’re outside.

    Walk into the garages and it’s a step hotter and sweatier, the fans on stands offering brief respite when you get a waft of cool air.

    FORM GUIDE: Can anyone halt Verstappen's winning run in Singapore?

    Then you ramp it up again for the drivers, decked out in fireproofs and their thick racesuits, in the cockpits with the heat rising to 60 Degrees Celsius – a fraction cooler than sauna. It’s brutal.

    That’s why you’ll see drivers spending plenty of time in saunas leading up to the weekend. Daniel Ricciardo was telling me he started his sauna programme two weeks before arriving in Singapore.

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    In full race suits, the drivers face extreme temperatures in the cockpit

    To up the ante, Carlos Sainz took his exercise bike in the sauna with him while on a training camp the Ferrari driver managed to squeeze in due to the absence of the Russian Grand Prix.

    Another strategy is to wear several layers of clothing while doing their traditional training workouts. Ricciardo said he had up to seven layers on, with a mix of tight-fitting items and some thicker, warm garments, in a bid to try and simulate the conditions.

    The drivers then must tackle a beast of a track. The 23-corner circuit is a mix of low-speed corners with very few straights to give the driver a breather. And they will have to negotiate it 61 times, which on Sunday afternoon often takes a minimum of 110 minutes based on recent history.

    READ MORE: 'If you survive Singapore, you’re fit for anything else in F1' – Drivers brace for toughest race on calendar

    It's no wonder that in those conditions and at that intensity, the drivers lose up to 5kg. And while they don’t like to drink from their bottles, given how hot the liquid becomes, it is a necessity to avoid dehydration.

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    Verstappen is on an incredible run of form heading into the last six races

    Quite a race, then, for drivers to return to after a three-week break – and one which could see Max Verstappen crowned champion for the second year in a row if results go his way.

    To have any chance of achieving that feat, the Red Bull driver needs to win the race. If that happens, his main rival Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc needs to finish ninth or lower with Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull fourth or lower.

    READ MORE: ‘It’s a bit unrealistic’ – Verstappen says he’d need ‘a lot of luck’ to be crowned champion in Singapore

    It’s a big ask, even if Verstappen is on a five-race winning run, because Singapore’s layout should in theory suit Ferrari and Mercedes rather than runaway leaders Red Bull. Even the Dutchman reckons it’s a long shot to get the job done here.

    Red Bull may not be favourites, but they’ve shown impressive pace across a range of circuits this year. The tight and twisty Hungaroring shouldn’t have suited them and Verstappen was able to fight back from 10th to win the Grand Prix.

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    Leclerc has a tough ask to halt Verstappen's winning run and keep the title fight alive

    Mercedes are playing their cards close to their chest regarding their expectations, with George Russell saying he’ll need two or three laps to know if the car is going to be good around Singapore. If it’s the same feeling he had after that many laps in Zandvoort, his hopes will be boosted that it's going to be a good weekend.

    READ MORE: Leclerc hopes to show Ferrari have ‘grown’ from mistakes with return to form in Singapore

    For Ferrari, their qualifying pace this season has been so good, they are in shape to lock out the front row with the perfect job. And whereas at other tracks this season they’ve struggled to convert a pole into victory, passing here is much trickier.

    A tantalising – and sweaty – prospect lies in store.