Brought to you by TheJudge13 ‘Track Profile Specialist’ Alistair Hunter
After our long and enjoyable stay in Formula One’s European heartlands, we go from a racetrack that has held the most Grands Prix to one that will be hosting its sixth Grand Prix this weekend. Singapore is the location for our Autumn adventure into Asia, and once again we will see the racing that has seen the Singapore Grand Prix elevated to one of the jewels in the Formula One calendar.
The search for the first Grand Prix in Singapore takes us back to the history of the Malaysian event, with three Formula Two events held at the Thomson Road track before Singapore ultimately achieved independence by being excluded from Malaysia. After this, eight Formula Libre events were held in this new state, before racing stopped in 1973 due to a variety of reasons, such as the increase in traffic, the issue of closing roads for the event and fatal accidents in the final two years of its existence.
In 2007, Formula One officially confirmed that a night race in Singapore would take place during the following year, a deal created by Bernie Ecclestone, the Singapore Tourist Board and local property entrepreneur Mr Ong Beng Seng, whose wealth sees him and his wife ranked in the top ten wealthiest people in Singapore.
The new race was mainly supported by the government, with local telecommunications company SingTel – also majority owned by the investment arm of the Singapore government – snapping up the naming rights for the event in a deal that would see Formula One added to their growing portfolio of sports events available to watch, as shown by a 2011 press release in which they promoted the kind of multi-platform F1 viewing that we all take for granted.
When the race first took place in 2008, many were interested by the way the drivers would either stay on European schedules or adapt to local time, as well as the effect of racing under so many bright lights for the first time. These factors, as well as the tough nature of the Singapore circuit, saw one of the most exciting and physically demanding races of the year.
Singapore – Marina Bay Street Circuit Characteristics © FIA
The track starts in the start/finish area specifically created for the Grand Prix, before reaching the second fastest part of the track at Turns One, Two and Three. A little straight and corner brings the drivers out onto the first DRS zone on the circuit and the fastest part of the track, with a fast right hand corner allowing the drivers to build up speed before braking for the sharp seventh corner at the end of the first sector.
Following these, a section of fairly standard corners takes the drivers from Turn Seven to the turn formerly unofficially known as the Singapore Sling, which will now see the tight chicane removed this year in favour of a slightly more straightforward left hand turn. Two bridge sections follow at Fullarton Road and much wider Esplanade Drive.
After turning right onto Raffles Avenue, the track makes a little detour along to The Float at Marina Bay for turns seventeen and eighteen, the section of track famous for Nelson Piquet Jr. crashing there in 2008 as part of the Crashgate scandal that saw Fernando Alonso take the race victory; alternatively, if you are a fan who doesn’t want to remember that section for that reason, it is also the grandstand and floating platform which hosted the opening ceremony for the 2010 Youth Olympic Games.
Turn 18 also sees the track go under the previously mentioned grandstand and come back out onto Raffles Avenue, before a fast series of left hand corners reunite the drivers with the start/finish straight, which acts as the second DRS zone. The lap record for the track currently stands at 1:45.599 set by Kimi Raikkonen in 2008; however, the drivers should be going around one second faster than last year due to the removal of the Turn 10 chicane.
Maximum downforce is required in order to survive the low speed corners and traction controls, especially as understeer could lead to a spectacular accident in the Singaporean night. The suspension has to be strong, as do the brakes, while the teams need to get their heads round the demands of the longest race of the year on their engines and their tyres.
Rain has not been a factor in the race so far, but the possibility of it could lead to some spectacular – albeit uncomfortable – racing. The only time wet tyres have been used on the track were in FP1 in 2010 and 2012, as the track had just survived a heavy rain shower a few hours before on both occasions. In the latest situation, Fernando Alonso had set the fastest time on intermediate tyres of 2:01.573 as the track began to dry out, before the session evolved into a battle between Vettel and the McLaren drivers for top spot in the session.
A lap with Mark Webber
I may have mentioned last time that Sebastian Vettel hadn’t won consecutive races this year, and therefore he might not win the race in Monza. Continuing with that obviously flawed logic, he has not won three races in a row this year, so that probably won’t happen. Except that, with the form Red Bull are showing and this traditionally being one of their strongest tracks, it probably will.
Speaking of Red Bull, during Sebastian Vettel’s Asian domination last Autumn, they did win the race last year, meaning the German drew level with Fernando Alonso’s tally of two victories here. Lewis Hamilton won the 2009 edition as McLaren bounced back from a disappointing car at the start of the season to win twice, and I suspect McLaren fans might hope for a similar result this year.
The constructor with the most victories at this track is Red Bull, since both of the victories Alonso achieved came for two different teams. And if you are looking for more pointless statistics, whenever Alonso has won at this circuit, the World Championship has went to someone else, while whenever Vettel wins here, he wins the championship, and whenever Hamilton has won here, a British person has went on to win the championship. And, honestly, I don’t see any of those facts changing this year.
Of course, similar to what I wrote last week, only three people have taken pole position this season (Lewis Hamilton (5), Sebastian Vettel (4) and Nico Rosberg (3)), and five people have won races this season (Sebastian Vettel (6), Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso (2), followed by Lewis Hamiton and Kimi Raikkonen (1)). Five of those victories have come from pole position, achieved by Sebastian Vettel (3/4), Nico Rosberg (1/3) and Lewis Hamilton (1/5).
Pirelli and Monza
Following two fast and historic circuits in the heartland of Europe, Spa and Monza, Formula One is now headed for a complete contrast: the ultra-modern Singapore street circuit, which is the only race on the calendar run at night under street lamps. To suit the stop-start nature of the track, Pirelli has selected the P Zero Red supersoft tyre – the softest tyre in the range – and the P Zero White medium.
As well as the fact that the race is run at night, with the teams all sticking to a European time schedule, there are a number of other factors that make the Marina Bay circuit unique. In terms of duration, this is usually the longest race of the year as it often comes close to the two-hour time limit, which means that the cars carry the heaviest fuel load of the season. It’s also one of the most humid races of the year, and statistically there’s a high chance of a safety car intervention. All these elements affect tyre wear and degradation as well as strategy.
Pirelli Motorsport Director Paul Hembery: “The tyres we are bringing to Singapore this year represent a change from last year, when we went for supersoft and soft. This is because the tyres are generally softer across the board this year in order to maximise performance and grip.
Singapore is quite bumpy – a typical feature of street circuits – and there’s lots of street furniture such as painted white lines and manholes that compromise grip and traction. We’re racing at night, which presents a unique set of parameters for the tyres to deal with when it comes to the way that track and ambient temperatures evolve. The cars also carry the heaviest fuel load of the year, which again has a direct effect on tyre wear and degradation. It’s a long race, and that gives the teams plenty of scope to come up with some interesting strategies at what is a truly spectacular event in every sense.
We’ve always been made to feel incredibly welcome at Singapore, which is probably the most spectacular event of the year in terms of the whole show that is put on for the public. Our aim as always is to contribute to that show by providing tyres with exactly the right compromise between performance and degradation in order to guarantee close racing.”
Jean Alesi: “I’ve never raced at Singapore but I went over there to watch the grand prix two years ago. I can only describe it as an amazing sight: what the organisers have achieved takes your breath away. And it’s fantastic to watch on TV too as a pure visual spectacle.
From what I could see it’s a race that is hard on the drivers and cars but maybe less so on the tyres: the average speed is not so high and there’s a lot of stop and start with quite low grip, which are all conditions that generally do not punish the tyres too much. For the drivers though it’s a different story: the high temperatures, humidity, and the sheer length of the race demand a lot physically.
Spa and Monza, which we’ve just had, are two tracks that are very hard on tyres. Now we go to something that’s completely different and I think it’s going to be interesting to see what sort of strategies the teams can formulate in Singapore. With the supersoft and medium tyres, there is plenty of opportunity to try something different, and that’s a fascinating part of modern grand prix racing.”
The circuit from a tyre point of view
Traction is fundamental as Singapore contains the second-highest number of corners of the year (23). The asphalt tends to be bumpy and slippery, with grip compromised by street markings and manholes. But the cars can still generate 4.3g under braking despite the lack of grip.
The humidity levels at Singapore are between 75% and 90%, which can often lead to rain. Consequently, there is a high chance that the Cinturato Green intermediates or Cinturato Blue full wet tyres could also be used.
Singapore has one of the highest pit stop times of the year, due to a lower pit lane speed limit than most races (60kph) and a 404-metre pit lane, which has an impact on the strategy as well.
Technical tyre notes
As well as being a long race, fuel consumption per kilometre is one of the highest of the year due to the stop-start nature of the circuit. Around half the lap is spent on full throttle, but there are also several braking areas.
All the podium finishers last year used a two-stop strategy. Sebastian Vettel won the race from third on the grid with the P Zero Red supersoft tyre and then completed two stints on the P Zero Yellow soft tyre. Jenson Button finished second using exactly the same strategy. All of the top 10 on the grid started the race with the supersoft compound.
Race strategy at Singapore has to be very flexible in order to take into account the high safety car probability (there were two safety car periods last year). Safety car periods mean that some drivers can effectively bank a ‘free’ pit stop, and it also slows down overall wear and degradation as lap times are much slower.
A lap with Pirelli
Brembo and the Marina Bay Street Circuit
As they pick their way through the turns and chicanes on the Singapore Street Circuit the drivers are well aware that they will need to put a lot of stress on their brakes with almost a full fourth of the time spent on them. Of the 16 braking sections that characterise this circuit, none of them are particularly demanding, but the heated pace and the lack of adequate space for cooling make it one of the hardest on the braking systems. Friction material wear is one of the things that need to be monitored constantly in telemetry during each lap of the race.
2008 – The inaugural Singapore Grand Prix was won by Fernando Alonso after his teammate Nelson Piquet Jr. crashed in order to bring out the safety car and benefit the Spaniard’s strategy. Felipe Massa led the race from pole position, but his race was ultimately destroyed by driving away from his pit box with the fuel hose still attached. Rosberg, Fisichella and Trulli also had stints in the lead, but as soon as Alonso led he built up enough of a gap to the rest of the field, albeit with another safety car period between him and his first victory of the season.
2009 – Lewis Hamilton led away from pole position, and was caught up in a battle for the race victory with Sebastian Vettel. However, Vettel was given a drive through penalty for speeding in the pit lane, leading Hamilton to finish ahead of Timo Glock and Fernando Alonso in second and third place respectively.
2010 – Fernando Alonso qualified on pole and led every lap on his way to victory, but was pressurised by Sebastian Vettel. The two McLaren drivers were also involved in a fight for the championship points with Mark Webber, with a collision between the Australian and Lewis Hamilton ruining the race of the British driver. Behind them, Sebastien Buemi and Heikki Kovalainen had an incident leading to the Lotus Racing driver seeing his car go on fire on the main straight, forcing him to put out the fire with an extinguisher borrowed from the Williams garage.
2011 – Vettel led the race from pole and took the race victory from Jenson Button and Mark Webber, while Lewis Hamilton got involved in an incident for the second year in a row, this time with Felipe Massa, compromising both of their races.
2012 – Hamilton led the field away and appeared to be on course for a routine victory, before a gearbox issue saw Sebastian Vettel overtake him for the eventual race victory. In addition, Michael Schumacher gained further criticism due to his crash into the back of Jean-Eric Vergne, while the race finished two laps early due to time constraints.
No Singaporean driver has ever competed in Formula One, sadly. However, there have been a few drivers who have tried to reach that level, such as Denis Lian, who became the first Singaporean driver to win an international motorsport competition when he won the Asian Formula 2000 in 2002. He also became the first driver from this country to compete in Europe in the Formula Palmer Audi series, and followed that up by competing in the A1GP World Series, where he finished 18th and 19th in the Czech Republic round.
The other representative of Team Singapore at the A1GP World Series was Christian Murchison, who followed up on a promising career in Australian motorsports with an eighth place finish for the team in China. As he has not performed national service in Singapore though, there is a chance he will be arrested if he goes back to the country.
In GP2, former leader Stefano Coletti’s streak of seven races without scoring a point has left him stranded in third place, behind the current leader Fabio Leimer and second placed man Sam Bird. The Swiss driver took victory in the first race at Monza, while Adrian Quaife-Hobbs won the second race; although the latter is 104 points down on the former.
Since the GP3 and Porsche Supercup series will not join F1 again until Abu Dhabi, this weekend’s action is complemented by the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia, which previously supported the Formula One in Malaysia. Earl Bamber is the current championship leader from Martin Ragginger with three races to go, and while the latter looked good in the first three races, Earl Bamber – a former GP2 Asia, A1GP and Superleague Formula driver – has had greater results since the series visited the Zhuhai International Circuit earlier this season.
|2012||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2011||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|