Punishing track will push cars to breaking point

2012 Singapore Grand Prix preview

Singapore, 2011The final series of flyaway races begins with the Singapore Grand Prix.

This time last year Sebastian Vettel was already as good as crowned champion. So it’s encouraging that year, with seven races remaining, there are drivers from as many as four different teams still in the hunt.

We have begun to see the first signs of weakness from the teams as they strain to wring every last hundredth of a second out of their cars. The tooth-and-nail battle for performance has started to have an effect on reliability.

Both Red Bull and McLaren had to retire cars with technical problems during the Italian Grand Prix. And Ferrari were hit by problems prior to the race which hampered Fernando Alonso’s qualifying effort.

Singapore will brutally expose any such shortcomings. The brakes take a pounding from the unending series of slow corners and the bumpy track doles out serious punishment to gearboxes and engines. On top of that the oppressive heat, even after night falls, places a high demand on cooling – a particular problem for KERS batteries.

It’s not just the cars that suffer. Nico Hulkenberg described Singapore as “the toughest race of the year ?ǣ physically and mentally”.

“I think it?s because there are 23 corners on the track and it?s one of the longest races of the year ?ǣ always close to the two hour limit. So you certainly feel it after the race because of the high temperatures and humidity.”

Singapore circuit information

Lap length 5.073km (3.152 miles)
Distance 61 laps (309.3km/192.2 miles)
Lap record* 1’47.976 (Fernando Alonso, 2010)
Fastest lap 1’44.381 (Sebastian Vettel, 2011)
Tyres Soft and Super soft

*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix

Singapore track data in full

Pirelli will bring their soft and super-soft tyres as they did in 2011. After a couple of races where one-stop strategies were the norm we could see two and three-stoppers this weekend – the latter was commonplace last year.

The likelihood of a safety car deployment will also figure in the teams’ strategy calculations. It has appeared in every previous Singapore Grand Prix, a total of six times in four races.

Singapore Grand Prix team-by-team preview

Red Bull

The return to high-downforce tracks will be a welcome change for Red Bull. The world champions struggled to compete on the quicker circuits. Although Vettel salvaged a vital second at Spa, Monza was a disaster for him and Mark Webber.

But while the Singapore circuit should suit the RB8 better, reliability will be a concern. A repeat of the Valencia alternator problem sidelined Vettel in Italy, and it was later discovered that the low RPM reached in slow corners was a contributory factor.

The team will be well aware that Singapore has one of the lowest average corner speeds of the year (105kph). That, combined with high ambient temperatures and the bumpy track, will make Sunday’s Grand Prix a two-hour torture test for their problematic electrics.

McLaren

Even before racking up their third win on the trot in Italy McLaren had singled out this race as a critical stage of the championship. “It?ll take until we get back to Singapore to fathom out where everyone?s going to be for the rest of the year”, said sporting director Sam Michael.

McLaren are the form team at the moment and have slashed their deficit to Red Bull in the constructors’ championship from 70 points to 29 in the last three races.

There is no shortage of off-track distractions for the team at the moment, with speculation over Lewis Hamilton’s future reaching fever pitch. But there’s no indication yet that it’s put them off their stride.

Ferrari

Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Singapore, 2010Fernando Alonso has a record to envy at Singapore: First, third, first and fourth in the four races so far. And while the dubious circumstances of his first win here cannot be overlooked, nor should the fact that he has usually been competitive on merit at this circuit.

The ever-improving Ferrari F2012 may have been the quickest car at Monza two weeks ago. Alonso reckoned that without his problem in Q3 he would have easily taken pole position. Since then the team have had the further benefit of three days’ testing at Magny-Cours.

Put the two together and this is perhaps the first time all year that Alonso can be considered an early favourite for victory. If he leaves Singapore having maintained or even extended his 37-point championship lead, a third title will begin to look like a very realistic proposition.

Mercedes

Mercedes were another team who attended the three-day Young Drivers’ Test at Magny-Cours. They put it to good use, with Sam Bird and Brendon Hartley putting over 1,300km on a raft of upgrades for the W03.

These included new exhaust exits, mimicking those used by several of their rivals since early in the season, a further DRS upgrade and a small shark fin. The question now is which new parts will make it as far as Sunday’s Grand Prix – and whether they will restore the team to the kind of competitiveness they enjoyed in the opening races.

If they do, look to Michael Schumacher to be the one to make best use of them. He’s in excellent form at the moment, having out-qualified and out-raced his team mate in four of the last five Grands Prix.

Lotus

Romain Grosjean makes his return to racing following his one-week ban. And he does so at a track which does not have particularly happy memories for him.

In 2009, with recriminations over Renault’s role in ‘Crashgate’ hanging in the air, Grosjean spun off during practice at the very spot where Nelson Piquet Jnr had infamously crashed 12 months earlier.

His return to the sport this year has been markedly more successful. But by his own admission, Grosjean has not been getting on as well with the E20 since the high of Valencia, where he was in contention for victory before being struck down by the same alternator problem as Vettel.

Lotus will bring a revised rear wing with improved DRS switching effect for this weekend’s race. They surely can do no worse than last year’s dismal outing (as Renault), which team principal Eric Boullier described as “embarrassing”.

Force India

Paul di Resta caught the eye with an excellent drive to sixth in last year’s race and is hoping for more of the same:

“The car has been strong on street circuits this year,” he said. “So I?m hoping that we will go well there, optimise the set-up and pick up some good points.”

Monza probably did for their hopes of beating Sauber in the constructors’ championship. Force India have eked out a nine-point margin over Williams but will be well aware that the performance of the FW32 means those rivals cannot be discounted.

Sauber

Sergio Perez, Sauber, Monza, 2012Sauber showed excellent pace on the low-downforce Spa and Monza tracks, though they weren’t entirely able to capitalise on it for reasons out of their control.

But they may have to adjust their expectations this weekend. The C31 has not gone as well on the previous high-downforce, low-grip circuits such as Monaco and Valencia.

“Out of the seven upcoming races I expect this one to be the most difficult for our C31,” head of track engineering Giampaolo Dall?Ara admitted. However the team’s chances will be improved by a further aerodynamic update for their car.

Toro Rosso

Points-scoring opportunities have only come along infrequently for the Toro Rosso drivers. That makes it all the more frustrating for Daniel Ricciardo that he lost tenth place and his fuel pressure at the final corner at Monza.

New technical director James Key reckons there are improvements to be made with the car before the year is over. Whether that will give them further chances to feature in the top ten remains to be seen.

Williams

Eight races since scoring his maiden win, Pastor Maldonado is yet to add to his points tally. In the meantime Bruno Senna has made five top ten appearances and has closed to within four points of his team mate in the drivers’ championship.

The team say they expect to score points in this weekend’s race. Maldonado has demonstrated a flair for street circuits in the past – particularly at Monaco in junior categories – so if he can stay out of trouble he stands a good chance of reasserting himself over his team mate.

Caterham

As they near the end of their third year in the sport this team has still probably never had more exposure than when Heikki Kovalainen’s car (then Lotus) caught fire at the end of the 2010 race.

The team remain some way off the midfield pace but hope to close the gap with the introduction of a new front wing this weekend.

HRT

Ma Qing Hua, HRT, Monza, 2012Ma Qing Hua will get another run during Friday practice for HRT, this time on a considerably more challenging course.

As usual he will drive in place of Narain Karthikeyan, who recently admitted that losing practice time was impeding his efforts to get on terms with Pedro de la Rosa. Nonetheless Karthikeyan outqualified his team mate for the first time this year at Monza.

Marussia

Marussia’s most recent upgrade has strengthened their chances of not finishing last in the constructors’ championship for the first time. And Timo Glock will be eager to take the fight to Caterham on a track where he has excelled in the past:

“I have great memories from this race as I finished on the points in the first year and on the podium in 2009. Every year it?s great to come back and without doubt it is my favourite race on the calendar.”

2012 driver form

Q avg R avg R best R worst Classified Form guide
Sebastian Vettel 5 5.75 1 22 12/13 Form guide
Mark Webber 7.46 6.31 1 20 13/13 Form guide
Jenson Button 6.38 8.58 1 18 12/13 Form guide
Lewis Hamilton 5.08 5.45 1 19 11/13 Form guide
Fernando Alonso 6.31 3.67 1 9 12/13 Form guide
Felipe Massa 10.62 9.83 4 16 12/13 Form guide
Michael Schumacher 8.15 7.14 3 10 7/13 Form guide
Nico Rosberg 8.69 8.08 1 15 13/13 Form guide
Kimi Raikkonen 7.85 5.23 2 14 13/13 Form guide
Romain Grosjean 6.83 6 2 18 7/12 Form guide
Paul di Resta 11.31 9.58 6 14 12/13 Form guide
Nico Hulkenberg 12.38 10.67 4 21 12/13 Form guide
Kamui Kobayashi 10.54 9.8 4 18 10/13 Form guide
Sergio Perez 12.85 7.7 2 14 10/13 Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo 13.85 12.75 9 17 12/13 Form guide
Jean-Eric Vergne 16.62 12.73 8 16 11/13 Form guide
Pastor Maldonado 11.62 12.1 1 19 10/13 Form guide
Bruno Senna 14 11.92 6 22 12/13 Form guide
Heikki Kovalainen 18.08 16.92 13 23 12/13 Form guide
Vitaly Petrov 18.69 16.3 13 19 10/13 Form guide
Pedro de la Rosa 21.58 19.7 17 22 10/12 Form guide
Narain Karthikeyan 23.08 20.13 15 23 8/12 Form guide
Timo Glock 20.67 17.64 14 22 11/12 Form guide
Charles Pic 21.31 18.1 15 20 10/13 Form guide
Jerome D’Ambrosio 15 13 13 13 1/1 Form guide

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36 comments on Punishing track will push cars to breaking point

  1. Results at the last high-downforce/high-temperature race, Hungary, might suggest that McLaren will be confident this weekend. While Ferrari may struggle. Can’t wait to find out :)

  2. In an era that has Briatore and Montezemolo talking about shortening races because our attention spans are not long enough, they would do well to remind themselves of this event’s success.

    It’s a gruelling race distance, getting on for 2hrs in the dry, and tests the drivers concentration to the limit (as well as the cars’ brakes). I do love this race!

    • davidnotcoulthard said on 20th September 2012, 0:35

      Yeah, especially when one of the reasons I prefer F1 is because they do it non-stop 1 hour 30 minutes, not 2 or 3 races each lasting half an hour. It’s one of the things that make F1 better than, say, GP2, or the WTCC or the BTCC.

  3. matthewf1 (@) said on 19th September 2012, 13:49

    The Mercedes shark fin was something they were trying out for the FIA to help fans with driver identification.

    http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/102642

  4. James (@jimbobian) said on 19th September 2012, 14:44

    I thought a Grand Prix was defined as the least number of complete laps to make the race distance 300km (with the exception of Monaco). That would make this Grand Prix 60 laps, why is it 61?

  5. PhilEReid (@philereid) said on 19th September 2012, 14:49

    That’s quite an interesting stat in the form guide. In all the races that Schumacher has finished, he’s always finished in the points. If only the reliability of the car had been better for him. It actually puts him as one of two drivers to, when finish, finish in the points (along with Alonso), which is quite remarkable if I do say so. It’s also ‘nice’ to see him out doing Rosberg, as that’s always been a struggle. Where would he be had he been able to finish (granted it was his own fault for not finishing at Catalunya. For one they’d (Mercedes) would be further away from Sauber. Granted they probably wouldn’t be challenging the top 4, but they’d pretty much be confirmed 5th at least.
    It’s just quite an interesting thing to see, as I’d never really seen it before. It’d be nice if this continued for Michael going into next year, or for him to get a win this year. That would be quite a special moment in F1.

    Also Timo saying that his favourite race of the year is Singapore. I wonder if he’s the only one? I suspect the Force India drivers a looking forward to a track that could possibly suit their car.

  6. Joey-Poey (@joey-poey) said on 19th September 2012, 15:08

    Any body else getting the vibe that HRT are grooming Ma to take over Narain’s seat?

  7. I expect we would see what Fernando really can do here…unless someone crash into his gearbox.

  8. ECWDanSelby (@ecwdanselby) said on 19th September 2012, 16:21

    Nice preview there, Keith. Thanks.

  9. Wouldn’t suprice me to see both Redbulls qualify top 4, then retire after a few racing laps cause of alternator failures. Bumps + heat + low revs can’t be good.

  10. craig-o (@craig-o) said on 19th September 2012, 16:47

    So tough to choose between all the top teams, perhaps Mercedes could be dark horses here! Lotus should be strong too, as well as McLaren and Red Bull, though the latter two have reliability issues…

  11. If low rpm in slow corners damaged the Renault alternators at Monza, they are going to see some pain in Singapore. It obviously has many more of the same—even more than Valencia, where the alternators also packed it in.

    • agree. i also feel Red Bull design is further enhancing the problems. Red Bull might retire while Lotus could manage the race.

    • I think it’s a cooling issue, which would also be a massive problem with such high ambient temeperatures. Obviously an easy solution would be to simply add cooling however, and I think it’ll b ea new engine since they didn’t use one in Monza.

  12. everyone talking about lotus again, they bring promise but dont deliver on race day. dont see lotus winning
    red bull and mclaren and ferrari to challenge, predicting alonso to win it with the red bulls and mclarens behind with raikkonen mixing in as usual

  13. Does anyone know the estimated performance gain from KERS around Singapore? Wondering if RB might be turning it down/off if they aren’t going to be seeing much benefit to reduce the load on the alternator.

  14. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 19th September 2012, 23:19

    Singapore will brutally expose any such shortcomings. The brakes take a pounding from the unending series of slow corners and the bumpy track doles out serious punishment to gearboxes and engines. On top of that the oppressive heat, even after night falls, places a high demand on cooling – a particular problem for KERS batteries.

    It’s not just the cars that suffer. Nico Hulkenberg described Singapore as “the toughest race of the year – physically and mentally”.

    I think this is what I like best about Singapore. In the age of circuits that have become so increasingly similar that they are nigh on interchangeable, Singapore has a real character to it.

    That character just happens to be Jason Voorhees.

  15. Manter MBS (@sridharbhanu) said on 20th September 2012, 11:12

    So, FI is in Asia and should pick up now, fast, if they are to reach Sauber.

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