After two of the world’s oldest, most famous tracks for the last two Grands Prix, the Formula One season leaves Europe for the humidity of Asia and the Singapore Grand Prix. It will be up to 50 degrees in the cockpits as the drivers tussle with the Marina Bay Street Circuit this weekend.
A race that challenges drivers physically more than any other with its extreme conditions and bumpy circuit, Singapore is a late-season fixture and has been since becoming Formula One’s first ever night race in 2008. Raced over 3.15 miles and with 23 corners, this weekend should favour the Red Bull and Mercedes cars after the Ferraris had the advantage at Spa and Monza.
Charles Leclerc took advantage of the Ferrari’s straight-line speed in Belgium and Italy to record his first two Formula One victories in as many weekends. The young Monegasque driver is realistic about Ferrari’s prospects for Singapore, however. Ferrari haven’t been able to live with Mercedes, and to a lesser extent Red Bull, through the slower corners this season, as was exhibited through sector two at Spa.
Leclerc’s victory in front of a jubilant Ferrari crowd at Monza was dominated by controversy as the stewards decided against a punishment after he forced Lewis Hamilton off the track. The impact of that decision, particular in light of Sebastian Vettel’s penalty in Montreal earlier this season, could be massive. How the remainder of the season is officiated will be fascinating. With a safety car appearance almost certain, the stewards could be the centre of attention again come Sunday afternoon.
Hamilton, leading the Drivers’ Championship by 63 points, is the favourite to win the race at +140 with Fox Bet. The Brit has won in Singapore on four previous occasions, including the last two races. A stunning pole lap in 2018 set the platform for success in the race, and the five-time world champion will be looking for something similar this weekend. The only times the pole-sitter hasn’t won the race since 2009, they have retired. That’s not to say overtaking is impossible, but it puts additional value on qualifying much like Monaco.
After starting at the back of the grid at Monza, Max Verstappen will be desperate to return to the podium this weekend. Two brilliant drives in Hungary and Austria before the break have been followed by frustrating races to end the European leg of the season.
Verstappen and Hamilton have already engaged in some epic duels this season, and everything points to another one in Singapore. The pair went head-to-head at this race in 2018 after Ferrari misjudged Vettel’s strategy. While Vettel is unlikely to be as competitive this weekend, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Verstappen and Hamilton with their front wings inches apart as they head into the first corner.
Hamilton opted for the soft compound tyres in his race victory last year – Verstappen has selected the maximum of 10 sets of the red-stripe softs, as has his teammate Alex Albon. Mercedes, who have eked more out of their tyres than their rivals, have been slightly more cautious than both Ferrari and Red Bull.
Away from the headline act of Hamilton and Verstappen, this weekend also gives a first glimpse of genuine head-to-head racing for Albon and his new teammate. With Albon taking a grid penalty at Spa and Verstappen doing the same at Monza, Singapore will give an indication of how close the rookie can get to his more established teammate. Albon is a good bet to make the podium, and some could be tempted by his +1200 to win the race with 888Sport.
After their best race of the season in Italy, Renault will hope they can build on that this weekend. Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg have had frustrating moments this season, but the French manufacturer are just 18 points being McLaren in the ‘best of the rest’ battle.
With showers possible across the weekend – which would make it only the second wet race in Singapore – the Renault and McLaren drivers could sneak into the top six if we get similar chaos to what we saw in 2017.
After a predictable start to the season, there has been a succession of thrilling races. Hopefully, the racing – and not just the 1,600 floodlights – lights up the Singapore sky on Sunday. It will likely come down to Hamilton and Verstappen, and potentially the latest episode in what will become one of the all-time great Formula One rivalries.
By Sam Cox