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Singapore: Glamour girl of GP

2013-09-19 07:11

SINGAPORE BY HEIGHT: An aerial view from the city's Swissotel Stanford shows the track for the upcoming F1 Singapore GP night race on September 16, 2013. Image: AFP

DIETER RENCKEN

Monaco has the glamour, Singapore has the lights, and that's where DIETER RENCKEN is now for the sixth running of this Asian F1 GP. Here's his preview...

SINGAPORE - The Singapore GP: F1’s highlight round in every sense of the word and right up there with Monaco in the glamour stakes despite this the 2013 event being only the sixth edition of the city-state’s night race.

In fact the similarities are deeper than simply their status: each runs through rather exclusive harbour streets with the Marina Bay Circuit, like the track in Prince Albert’s back yard, a maximum downforce track with uneven surfaces and high kerbs which call for longer suspension travel and maximum ride height.

UNFORGIVING WALLS

However, despite being the GP that takes longest to complete – every race so far has run close to (even, in 2012, exceeded) the stipulated two-hours - Singapore has higher average lap speeds than Monaco with the disparity explained by Monaco being a shorter distance than the rest of the calendar. (See track map.)

Sunday’s race will be the 13th (of 19) on the championship calendar and is likely to be an absolute cracker, particularly as runaway title-leader Sebastian Vettel is a marked man after dominating the previous two rounds. He won in 2012 after Lewis Hamilton retired while holding a comfortable lead.

When 22 cars delivering a combined 18 000bhp scream around the Asian financial capital’s streets for two hours without headlights under some of the brightest illumination known to man the sight and sounds are simply off this planet – without even factoring the non-stop drama Singapore’s races have invariably delivered.

With its stop/star/stop action, unforgiving walls and lap times longer than any other current GP, Marina Bay demands ultimate concentration – but its challenges do everything they can to shake that concentration. Add in that cars need to carry more fuel than usual to last the distance without turning down power and it's clear Singapore presents a unique experience for drivers already hit by jet lag.

1500m - TEN TURNS

The track is usually packed with traffic, predominantly diesel taxis, delivery trucks and smoking mopeds. As a result the bumpy surface is inconsistent, offering low grip and incorporating the usual street furniture such as painted white lines, manhole covers and lamp posts.

Eight corners of this rather angular 5.073km street circuit’s 23 turns (11L and 12R) are taken at less than 100km/h, with the final sector demanding absolute concentration: drivers need to negotiate 10 turns in 1500m with little or no run-off. Others are taken at more than 250km/h.

All five previous races since the scandal-hit inaugural 2008 event - known as ‘Crashgate’ for well-known reasons - featured at least one pace-car deployment. Given that the silver Mercedes SLS has seen duty eight times in five races, the chances are 1.4:1 it will be deployed again, which incident will surely be factored into race strategies by teams.

Whatever, matters are not that simple: at 404m, Singapore’s narrow pits lane is the longest of the year; safety requirements demand a maximum speed of 60km/h (80 for most other venues), making for a significant tyre-swop penalty.

Pirelli has specified its Supersoft (red sidewall markings) and Medium (white) compounds as used for Australia and Canada’s open-road courses – and we know how tyre degradation enhanced the spectacle of those. Thus two stops are likely to be the minimum, three on the cards for aggressive drivers – unless, of course, it rains.

CURRENT CONVENTION

No wet stuff is forecast for race day (thunderstorms predicted for Saturday) and, incredibly for an event held virtually on the Equator where humidity levels hit more than 90%, no night race has yet been declared ‘wet’ . Drivers will, however, be soaked to the skin through sheer exhaustion under stifling 32-degree night skies: they will shift gear 80 times alap (a total of 5000 in two hours) and brake at full pressure for 20% of each lap, or almost 1000 times in total.

Turn 4 demands the most braking pressure and is among the hardest on the calendar with drivers shedding more than 200km/h in 100m (less than two seconds) at a pedal pressure of 140kg and g-forces almost reaching six. However, some respite has been afforded by a change to Turn 10, which has been aligned to lose its second and third apexes to provide higher ‘attacking’ speeds.

In keeping with current convention, two DRS zones will operate, with 1 and 2 adjacent to each other, permitting two bites at the cherry, or one driver to retake the other on the same lap, so much chopping and changing could result on the narrow streets. DRS 1 runs from Turn 5 through to Turn 7, with DRS operating from the final corner to Turn 1, thus down the length of the main straight.

Going to this race, triple champion Vettel (Red Bull) tops the log with 222 points from Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso on 169 and Mercedes' star Lewis Hamilton third on 141, but now virtually out of it given that Vettel has more than three straight wins in hand over the Briton with seven races remaining.

Kimi Raikkonen (134), at the centre of a storm last week after the announcement that he would in 2014 be returning to the Ferrari team that fired him in 2009, lies fourth after dropping down the rankings after two disappointing races for Lotus.

DELAYED FOR SIX HOURS

Being out of the title running does not, though, disqualify Hamilton and Raikkonen - or fifth-placed Mark Webber, soon to leave Red Bull to go sports car racing with Porsche - from taking the fight to the two leaders. They have, after all, nothing to lose, and a win to gain.

Singapore will be the final standalone round of the season; the remaining six races will be paired: Korea/Japan, India/Abu Dhabi and US/Brazil over a period of seven weeks.

To accommodate Sunday’s night race all preliminary sessions will be delayed by six hours, with qualifying and race at 8pm (2pm South African time) on Saturday and Sunday respectively.

Stay with Wheels24 for the 2013 Singapore F1 GP weekend.

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