Friday, 14 september 2018, 04:30 , by Rob Watts
Sebastian Vettel is the pre-weekend favourite for a Singapore Grand Prix win that could tilt momentum his and Ferrari's way in the Formula 1 title race against Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, but rain is forecast for the night race. Sound familiar?
- Intense heat and humidity make it the toughest race physically for the drivers
- Longest race on the calendar, and often runs close to the two-hour limit
- High fuel usage and heavy on brakes due to stop-start nature of the circuit
- Low average speed, with emphasis on slow-corner grip and traction
- High chance of a safety car - at least one every year so far
WHO'S IN CONTENTION FOR THE WIN?
Championship leader Hamilton has a good track record here, with three wins overall including a fortuitous victory in last year's race, but the likelihood is that his title rival Vettel will be favourite.
Ferrari have performed well in recent visits to Singapore, scoring pole position in two of the past three races, and their recent upgrade bodes well for the remainder of the season with Vettel targeting a win this weekend to reignite his championship challenge.
Hamilton's advantage over Vettel is now up to 30 points, and with Valtteri Bottas a further 70 points behind, the Finn is set to play a supporting role to Hamilton starting from this weekend, despite objecting to Toto Wolff's 'wingman' comments in Hungary.
Look out also for a changing dynamic between the Ferrari drivers this weekend. With the news that Kimi Raikkonen is to leave the team at the end of the season, the close partnership he and Vettel have enjoyed in recent years may change with Raikkonen unlikely to have the same motivation to support his teammate's title bid.
WE'RE NOT DONE WITH SILLY SEASON ...YET
This week we finally had confirmation of the worst kept secret in F1, that Charles Leclerc would be moving to Ferrari to replace the retiring Raikkonen ...or so we thought. No sooner than the press release had circulated, Raikkonen himself announced on Instagram that he would, in fact, be staying in F1 with Sauber, the team with whom he made his debut 17 years ago.
The news caught many by surprise and is further proof that we should expect the unexpected as next year's grid continues to take shape.
In the two weeks that have passed since Monza, we've also learned that rookie Lando Norris will get his first taste of F1 racing next season as replacement for the struggling Stoffel Vandoorne at McLaren. The Belgian seems to be on his way out of F1 after a poor season, with only Sauber appearing to be an option for him - and a slim one at that - for a place on the grid in 2019.
This weekend, the main stories are likely to be focused on Esteban Ocon's future and the increasingly long list of drivers being linked to a seat with Toro Rosso next year.
Ocon has just this very week admitted that his hopes of staying on the F1 grid next season are fading, and he appears to be the main casualty of the midfield merry-go-round that will likely see Williams' Lance Stroll take his seat as part of his father's deal to purchase the team.
Elsewhere, Mick Schumacher became the latest driver to be linked with Pierre Gasly's soon to be vacant Toro Rosso seat, but that idea was quickly shot down by Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko. There's likely to be some legs in that story, however, and if Schumacher Jr pips Red Bull prospect Dan Ticktum to the Euro F3 crown, that story could gather momentum again before the season's out.
FORCE INDIA'S FIGHTBACK CONTINUES
While the focus will mostly be at the front of the grid this weekend, there should be a fairly intense battle going in the midfield with a lot to play for in the remaining seven races.
Force India, or Racing Point Force India as they're now officially known, have already risen above Williams, Sauber and Toro Rosso with a fine haul of 32 points in just two races after being stripped of their constructors' points following the team's change of ownership.
Looking back at previous Singapore Grands Prix, the odds seem good for another big score this weekend. Force India have taken points in seven of the last eight races here, with Sergio Perez scoring in every race here since his F1 career began in 2011.
Ocon finished 10th in last year's race, and with rumours that he'll be without a drive for next season, he'll be hoping for a strong result this weekend to try and secure his short-term future, with Williams looking like his only realistic option remaining.