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Singapore preview - Red Bull and Ricciardo set to pounce

17 Sep 2015

After the pain of Italy, Red Bull are confident the tables will be turned this weekend. Under the lights of Marina Bay, they are more than just dark horses: with a track that plays to the RB11's strengths, a long-term plan to attack, and two drivers desperate to lead the fight back, the team expect to come alive in Singapore. Ferrari, and possibly even Mercedes, are in their sights...

When is a honey badger at its most dangerous? When it's hungry.

And right now Daniel Ricciardo is very, very hungry, coming off the Italian Grand Prix where he had to fight though from the back of the grid for his valiant eighth-place finish.

Red Bull's strategies on engine changes have been aimed at maximising their drivers' chances in Singapore, and the Australian firmly believes that the RB11 will be able to reveal its true pace after all the hidden progress that has been made with the chassis since Hungary - especially as Renault's current horsepower deficit will be negated by the tight and twisty layout. 

"I don't want to get too excited, but we can all go in there with some confidence," says Ricciardo, who finished on the podium here last year. "I think the car has got better and better in the last few races.

"It was always going to be hard to get in the top 10 with our package at Monza, but the chassis itself again I'm really pleased with, it's handling well. I said at the start of [that] weekend that if we can crack the top eight it will be like a podium for us. So to finish in the top eight exceeded our expectations."

He's not rash enough to expect to be able to challenge Mercedes - unless the Silver Arrows hit trouble - but he does think that they can challenge Ferrari for the final podium slot because "Singapore will bring our car to life".

The tight Marina Bay Street Circuit places much less emphasis on power than the venerated Italian track. For a start, at 23 it has the highest number of corners of any circuit on the Formula One calendar, which means teams run close to maximum downforce. Then there's the 80 percent humidity, which costs horsepower on top of making for a punishing race behind the wheel.

Traction and braking are also hugely important, as is dealing with the surface's numerous bumps. Like Monaco, this is one of those places where you don't get away with big mistakes. 

Last year Mercedes dominated, and there's no reason to expect that they won't do so again, though there are still concerns over Nico Rosberg's latest-spec engine after its coolant pipe breakage on Saturday in Monza.

His last-gasp retirement in Italy means he enters this weekend with a 53-point deficit to title rival Lewis Hamilton. He approaches the final seven races, therefore, with the view that there's nothing to lose. 

"It's maximum attack and I won't be giving up the fight, no way," he insists. "Singapore is one of my favourite races, so that's a good place to start. It's so tough on everyone - physically and mentally - and I love that challenge. I was only a few thousandths off pole last year and feeling good for the race until a problem with the steering wheel. I know I've got the pace to win there, so I'm hoping for a clean weekend." 

Hamilton, meanwhile, sounds yet another warning: "This race is always a highlight of the season - a great city which looks really spectacular under the lights with the tricky street circuit below - my favourite kind of track to drive. You've got to stay 100 percent focused for a full two hours, which is tougher than it sounds with the crazy humidity. Any small slip and you're in the barrier, so maintaining that total concentration is crucial. 

"I've won there twice now - both times from pole, which shows you how important qualifying is too. It won't be easy to make it three, far from it. But I'm riding high right now and I'll be pushing for that hat-trick."

Red Bull aren't the only wounded animal looking for redemption in Singapore: McLaren too entertain hopes of surging up the order at a circuit where power is less crucial.

"There is no denying that Spa and Monza were incredibly tough races for McLaren," racing director Eric Boullier admits. "We expected it, and it was no surprise when the results came, but it doesn't make it any easier to bear. Saying that, we are entering a phase of the season where the circuits rely less on pure power and more on balance, characteristics that tend to suit our package better.

"Together, McLaren and Honda are constantly striving to improve our package and we have faith in our collective abilities to analyse our weaker areas and continue pushing forward. We won't make any promises or predictions, but we love this circuit and hope to put on the best show possible."

Perhaps the most significant changes, at least outwardly, come at Marussia meanwhile, after the team announced that Alexander Rossi will make his Grand Prix race debut this weekend in place of Roberto Merhi. The American, currently second in this year's GP2 standings, has been signed up for five of the remaining seven races, with Merhi taking back the reigns for Russia and Abu Dhabi.

"Singapore is a circuit I really enjoy and the timing of my debut could not be more perfect," Rossi said. "This is a small F1 team that has been through so much. They exemplify passion and true strength of character, and their comeback this season is extraordinary. I'm honoured to be part of this legacy and their continued growth and success. There's a lot of work ahead and I'm looking forward to a busy end to the 2015 season."

The Marina Bay circuit is one of the toughest on the calendar for drivers, but as a street track the demands on tyres are slightly different to venues like Monza. As a result, Pirelli are bringing the two softest tyres in their range, the yellow-marked soft and red-marked supersoft compounds - and they expect a time gap of around two seconds between the two choices.

Their motorsport director Paul Hembery says: "Since joining the calendar in 2008, Singapore has always provided a truly stunning spectacle that showcases what Formula 1 is all about: the most advanced technology in the world, under the spotlights. As this is a street circuit, we've nominated the two softest and fastest tyres in the range: they offer the maximum mechanical grip and a rapid warm-up, which are two keys to success in Singapore.

"There are lots of factors for the teams and drivers to consider when planning strategy: the unusual track temperature evolution, a big performance gap between the two compounds, the need to save fuel over the long and demanding race distance, as well as the high likelihood of a safety car, which has featured at every race in Singapore so far. Because of all these variables and also the assorted street furniture – painted white lines, manhole covers and so on, which have caught out a few drivers in the past – the work done in free practice to capture all the necessary tyre data will be even more important than usual."

Over the race weekend Pirelli will also be defining, together with the FIA, a clearer procedure for measuring tyre pressures and temperatures prior to the start, to avoid the sort of scenes that broke out at the end of the race at Monza a fortnight ago.

The circuit itself has been slightly altered from last year - adjustments have been made between Turns 10 and 13, with the drivers now using the left-hand side of the Anderson Bridge on the run down to the latter corner. Despite that, circuit length remains the same, at 5.065 kilometres. As was the case last year, two DRS zones will be in use - the first on the back straight, just after Turn 5, and the second on the main pit straight, 45m after the final corner.

Sunday's race will run over 61 laps or 308.828 kilometres (191.897 miles), and will start at 2000 hours local time (1200 GMT). While temperatures are forecast to exceed 30 degrees Celsius, there is also a chance of thunderstorms on Saturday evening and scattered showers on raceday.