Singapore Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Tuan-tuan dan puan-puan, Selamat datang ke Grand Prix Singapura*. The Singapore Grand Prix is one of the hardest circuits on the calendar. The nature of the track requires total concentration as there is very little room for errors. More than half of the 23 corners of the circuit are at harder than 90 degree angles. The cars have to be set up with a heavy downforce package, despite having a slightly higher than usual ride hight. Cars can be raised by as much as 4mm to account for the more than bumpier track. Sections of the track are extremely tight, therefore it’s no surprise to hear that the Marina Bay Circuit is known as the “Monaco of Asia”. The Singapore Grand Prix would has to be one of the best races of the season, although I realise that I may be slightly bias in my appraisal given that I used to live there and slightly consider it my home Grand Prix… But ignoring that, the night race is nothing short of stunning.

Qualifying was a slightly more interesting session than expected with number two drivers out qualifying their team mates (with the exception of Vettel… but we’ll talk about that later). Most notably of this was Grosjean qualifying third, while a bad back Kimi meant that he was knocked out in Q2 starting from thirteenth on the grid. The Frenchman set his flying lap time of 1:43.058 during the last run in Q3, and I have to say impressed. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if Grosjean managed to finish in third or fourth (provided he doesn’t hit the barriers or take himself or anyone else out), the Lotus just looked really strong in Qualifying. Grosjean seems to have been gaining confidence since Spa this year and is making a lot smarter decisions on track.  This does appear to slow his pace down, and Singapore might be a good fit for this. I don’t doubt that if Kimi hadn’t been suffering from a pinched nerve in his back that he would have qualified up with his team mate, though it’s hard to say how he will perform tonight. It’s a tough track on the drivers at the best of times, and with an injury it would be extremely painful. Without a back injury I’d fully expect to see him finish ahead of Grosjean.

Less of a gap between the second and first drivers were Massa and Alonso. The Brazilian, who found out after Monza that he will not be racing at Ferrari in 2014 has said that for the rest of the season he will be racing for himself, and not for the team. Perhaps the kick up the butt of pressure to find a new seat was all he was waiting for to get back on form. Alonso was looking a little slippy on track, which makes me think that the cars don’t have quite enough downforce to handle corner after corner. Both the Ferrari’s are still struggling in qualifying, and Singapore probably isn’t a track best suited to their cars, but both drivers did well to qualify in sixth and seventh.

Other cars which looked particularly slippy on track were the Williams of Maldonado and Toro Rosso of Vergne. Maldonado was knocked out in Q1, and Vergne in Q2. Meaning that Bottas and Ricciardo both out qualified their number one drivers. Ricciardo was reportedly disappointed to qualify ninth. The Toro Rosso looked to have the speed, but as Vergne demonstrated, possibly lacking in grip. Similarly Bottas struggled to get heat into the tyres in Q2 (which is odd, because Singapore is flipping warm). Mercedes qualified well, with Rosberg starting second and Hamilton in fifth, I hope that such a strong performance in qualifying won’t be lost in the race. The last windy, high down force, street circuit that Mercedes excelled at was Monaco. I’m hoping Rosberg can deliver again, I’d like to see him on the podium, second or possibly third.

Vettel qualified on pole position ahead of Webber (one of the few exceptions to this weekend’s qualifiying trend. Red Bull just really have got it right this year. So (dare I say it), I fear tonight’s race might be a touch boring from the front of the field. With clean air and an empty track ahead, there is nothing stopping Vettel from developing a healthy lead. Webber put in an excellent qualifying performance, despite missing out on the front row and qualifying in fourth. Fingers crossed Mark doesn’t have his signature start.

If we ignore the mammoth lead that Vettel is bound to have, I think tonight’s race will be really exciting. The atmosphere at the track is fantastic, and it’s built like a proper street circuit. I’m actually pretty devastated I’m not there this year.

– Alex

* I re-read my Key Stage 3 report from my school in Malaysia the other day, and my Bahasa Melayu teacher commented that I had trouble remembering  Malay phrases and vocab. Well, ten years later and I remember a fair bit.

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