Sebastian Vettel could desperately do with victory in his battle with Lewis Hamilton for the Formula One Drivers’ Championship at this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix (Race: 8.10am ET Sunday).
The consensus is that Vettel’s Ferrari team have a slight pace advantage over Hamilton’s Mercedes, but that is not reflected in either of the championships, which are led by Hamilton and Mercedes respectively. Hamilton is 30 points clear in the drivers’ standings.
Mercedes have said that they are turning their factories “upside down” in search of performance upgrades capable of keeping them on a par with Ferrari, but in the meantime, Hamilton’s stellar driving and a series of errors – some minor, some major – from Vettel and Ferrari have been sufficient for them to maintain their advantage in both championships.
Ferrari locked out the front row at Monza two weeks ago but were unable to convert that into victory. Vettel’s somewhat optimistic move around the outside of Hamilton on the opening lap led to contact and a spin that sent Vettel tumbling down the order. Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen had some trouble with this tyres, which allowed Hamilton to take victory. Vettel recovered to finish fourth behind the other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas.
It was not the first time that a slightly reckless decision has cost Vettel points, again raising question marks over his ability to handle high pressure situations. In the circumstances, in need of a confidence boost and a result to make up some ground on Hamilton, there could be no better Grand Prix for him than Singapore.
Not only is it a circuit at which Mercedes struggled for outright pace last year, despite Hamilton taking advantage of incidents in front of him to claim victory, but one at which Vettel himself has always excelled. He has won the race on four occasions, including for Ferrari in 2015, and can be fancied to secure another triumph on Sunday.
Singapore is a race that Red Bull have long had pencilled in as one of their best chances to take a further victory this season. While they are unlikely to be quite as quick as they were at another street circuit in Monaco earlier this year, where Daniel Ricciardo won from pole position, they will still be there or thereabouts towards the front of the field.
It is, however, difficult to suggest backing them to produce a strong result in Sunday’s race. Both Ricciardo and his teammate Max Verstappen switched to Renault’s Spec C engine in Monza, and although performance was good, the fact that the factory Renault team have elected not to use the upgrade due to reliability concerns introduces unwelcome uncertainty.
Red Bull can, though, be expected to perform well in qualifying. They qualified second and third last year, while Ricciardo has put together a run of four consecutive top-three qualifying performances at the circuit, including two years in which he qualified second. He is capable of again getting his car onto the front row of the grid this weekend.
Verstappen came home fifth in Monza ahead of the two Force Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez, promoted following the disqualification of Romain Grosjean’s Haas due to an illegal floor. Carlos Sainz finished eighth for Renault, ahead of the Williams pair of Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin, the latter securing the first point of his Formula One career.
Renault started the season strongly, with five double points finishes in the first eight races, but have struggled to maintain that consistency despite a couple of top-six finishes thereafter. Indeed, their fourth place in the constructors’ championship is starting to come under heavy pressure from Haas.
It was Renault who submitted the protest against Grosjean’s car that led to his disqualification in Monza – a decision that Haas are taking to the FIA’s International Court of Appeal – leading to an outburst from Haas boss Gunther Steiner. “If they cannot beat you on the track, they try to beat you in court,” he said.
The Singapore Grand Prix should, however, offer Renault the opportunity to beat their rival fair and square out on the tarmac. Nico Hulkenberg had looked solidly on course for a top-six finish for them last year before an oil leak ended his race, and it was his teammate Jolyon Palmer who benefited, securing the best result of his F1 career in sixth, just two races before Sainz came in to replace him.
The team appear confident that they will again be quick this weekend. Sainz came home fourth for Toro Rosso in last year’s race in an impressive performance and has a solid chance of again producing a top-six finish on Sunday.
So this preview comes to our Singapore Grand Prix predictions, for those thinking of having an F1 wager.