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Preview: Singapore Grand Prix kicks off with Hamilton on the cusp of equalling Senna

We preview the race ahead of qualifying this evening at the Singapore Grand Prix, where Lewis Hamilton is the reigning champion.

Preview 19 Sep 2015, 09:29 IST

Singapore Grand Prix 2014

As the European season ends at Monza, Formula One flies back to Southeast Asia for 13th round of the 2015 championship at the Republic of Singapore. Hosting its eighth annual race, the Singapore Grand Prix has uniqueness to its own as it’s contested under the floodlights at night.

The Hermann Tilke-built Marina Bay Street Circuit has 23 corners – more than any other circuit on the Formula One calendar with 14 left and 9 right turns. The slow and tight track nature meant that it has the second longest average lap speed in the whole of the season.

Sebastian Vettel holds the lap record at 1: 48.574s in his last year of domination with Red Bull in the sport back in 2013.

The German is the most successful driver in Singapore GP’s history after winning the race on three consecutive occasions between 2011 and 2013. Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton are the only other drivers to have stood atop the podium.

A special lighting system four times brighter than the floodlights in a sport stadium creates a daylight atmosphere without the danger of blinding even in case of rain. The 5.065km (3.147 miles), 61 lap run race passes several local landmarks including the Singapore Flyer, Supreme Court and the Parliament. 

Minor revisions were made to the circuit in a bit to improve overtaking opportunities in 2009 and also in 2013 when the Singapore Sling chicane forming Turn ten was replaced with a more conventional left-hander. Changes are being made to turns 11, 12 and 13 in the middle sector this year with the latter becoming a tighter hairpin. 

It’s a physically draining experience for drivers racing at the highly-demanding Singapore circuit, exacerbated by the heat and the mental challenge of driving so close to the walls with a little margin for errors. The temperature this weekend is forecast to stay at the low 30 degree Celsius and the lingering haze may well hamper visibility on the track where chance of a Safety Car period is high.    

The drivers rely on their incredible core strength to maintain stability in the car with so many corners to tackle with. One of the stranger aspects of the Singapore race weekend is that all of the teams and drivers stay on European time to compensate for session timings at night. 

Pirelli have chosen the two softest tyre compounds for the weekend – soft and supersoft. The Italian tyre supplier has backed its decision stating, "These compounds are perfectly suited to the street circuit characteristics of the Marina Bay track, providing a rapid warm-up and maximum mechanical grip."  

Hamilton catching up to Senna

The championship situation after Monza was that Lewis Hamilton had extended his lead at the top by 53 points over Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg after the German’s race was curtailed due to engine failure with three laps remaining.  The reigning world champion took the chequered flag with a mammoth winning margin of over 25 seconds for his seventh win in 2015. Having done so, he currently has 40 career victories in total just one more he will join Ayrton Senna and Sebastian Vettel at third place in the all-time list of Grand Prix winners.

Having secured his 11th pole position at the Italian GP qualifying, and seventh in a row this season, the 30-year-old will equal another record set by Ayrton Senna between 1988 and 1989 seasons for most consecutive pole positions in Formula One, should he sit on pole at Marina Bay Street circuit in Singapore this weekend.

When asked about equalling his boyhood hero’s victory tally, Hamilton told Gazzetta Dello Sport:

“I watched [Senna] as a child and it would be an honour to match him. Now I’m just one GP win away [from Senna’s record] but I hope to do even better. [But] never forget that if he were alive he would have won a lot more.”

Hamilton carried his 2014 title-winning form through to dominate this season as since last year he has been on top step of the podium in 18 of the 31 races which accounts to a whopping 58% winning chance every race. Remarkably, the Stevenage-speedster will start his 161st race come Singapore which is the exact same number the Brazilian legend managed in his triple-title winning illustrious career. 

What about the others?

Williams are optimistic about reducing deficit to Ferrari as they introduce latest upgrade package this weekend. However, they’ve only beaten the Italian marque on three occasions this year including in Spa where Sebastian Vettel was comfortably ahead until his late tyre failure.

In all of the last five races in Singapore, Vettel has finished in top two representing an astonishing record and his likeness for street circuits. However between the dominating Mercedes and a potentially much stronger threat from Red Bull, he may face a tough task in reaching the podium this weekend. On contrary, this is a venue which hasn’t been particularly kind to his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.

Having endured one of the hottest and longest races of the year without a drinks bottle in 2014, Daniil Kvyat looks to upset his nearest rivals for a good haul of points at the streets of Marina Bay. Like his Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo is expecting a stronger showing for the team on a track where downforce, traction and braking count for more than engine performance.

The weakness of the Honda engine was particularly very evident at the power-thirsty Monza. Singapore marks a return to the type of circuit where McLaren expect to do better and a decent result may help mend the strained relations between the once-successful partnership between McLaren and Honda.

Upgrades at the Marina Bay Circuit

The updates Force India will bring for the ‘B-spec’ VJM08 should help the team sustain its momentum and increase its chances of holding on to fifth place in the championship. Their sights are set higher at the moment but realistically Red Bull’s 50-point margin over them is more likely to grow than shrink in Singapore.

Sauber finally have an aerodynamic upgrade package ready for this weekend. Head of track engineering Giamapolo Dall’Ara describes it as a “a rather significant” development, but cautioned that it will have to be “validated” first in testing.

American driver Alexander Rossi has signed a deal to replace current driver Roberto Mehri for five of the remaining seven events of the 2015 season with Manor. In addition to Singapore, Rossi will drive in the Japanese, United States, Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix. 

The first American F1 driver since Scott Speed drove for Toro Rosso in 2007, Rossi will make the step up from the GP2 Series in which he currently lies second to runaway championship leader and McLaren reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne.

The 23 year-old was signed by the former Marrusia team as reserve driver in 2014 and completed his first outing in the team’s colours during Free Practice for the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix.

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