As Ferrari attempt to move on from their failure to land a victory from a front-row lockout at their home Grand Prix, they return to a venue that last year hosted one of their most disastrous races in their recent history; the Singapore Grand Prix.
Last year’s race marked one of the key turning points of a season that went against them. Instead of giving Ferrari – who started first and fourth – a platform to challenge struggling championship leaders Mercedes, overzealous defending eliminated both Ferrari drivers (as well as Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso) on the opening lap of the race. The incident effectively gifted Mercedes a one-three finish, and the championship leads of Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes extended to 28 and 102 points respectively.
Although their attempts to overhaul Mercedes were always going to be tough, that race began the unravelling of their 2017 season.
This year, Ferrari are hoping that their season hasn’t already been damaged beyond repair. Vettel’s opening lap attempts at defending against Hamilton in Monza was another example of how prime point-scoring opportunities haven’t been taken, and how Mercedes have recently been capitalising on chances that have fallen their way. Hamilton’s win extended his championship lead to thirty points, the biggest championship lead of the 2018 season so far.
Recent history suggests that Ferrari will be favourites on the Marina Bay Street Circuit and it is Vettel’s strongest track, the one where he makes the biggest difference. They’ve taken pole position in two of the last three races and, despite only winning once, they were favourites in two of those three races.
Hamilton had already downplayed Mercedes’ chances in Singapore a couple of weeks ago, but team principal Toto Wolff was also spreading pessimism about their capabilities this weekend.
“Singapore has features that we’ve struggled with in the past. The short straights, the slow, tight corners and the bumpy surface all make the Marina Bay Street Circuit one of the trickiest tracks of the season for us,” said Wolff.
“In 2015, we endured one of our most painful experiences in recent years there. Last year, we started the race from the third row – and came home with a win and a third place. On paper, the track should favour the Ferraris, but the championship fight is so close that predictions are almost meaningless.
Whilst the Belgian and Italian Grands Prix have been showdowns between Ferrari and Mercedes, Red Bull are expecting to be more competitive around the tighter street circuit of Singapore.
Despite Max Verstappen’s win at the Austrian Grand Prix, Red Bull haven’t shown many glimpses of front-running pace since their win at the Monaco Grand Prix, but the Dutchman is confident a genuine challenge for the podium can be made in Singapore.
“I think the whole team is looking forward to Singapore because we know we have a real chance to have a good result there. The race has been a strong one for us in the past and I think we should be able to challenge for a podium this year.
A coup for Sauber? Raikkonen’s form peaking despite Ferrari snub
Last time out at Monza, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen claimed his first pole position since the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix, and – at 38 years and 334 days old – he became the oldest driver to start on pole position since a 41-year-old Nigel Mansell back at the 1994 Australian Grand Prix.
In claiming pole position, he also set a new record for the longest amount of time between a drivers first and last pole positions. The time between his first pole (2003 European GP) and his last pole (2018 Italian GP) is 15 years and 65 days, beating the record held by Rubens Barrichello (1994 Belgian GP – 2009 Brazilian GP) by just 14 days. Obviously. Raikkonen will break his own record if he takes pole position in any future races.
The Finn’s has compared well to Vettel in the European leg of the 2018 season. Although Vettel has the edge in qualifying overall, Raikkonen has only scored nine less points than his championship-challenging colleague since the Canadian Grand Prix. The tallies would’ve been closer, but Raikkonen was taken out on the opening lap of the Belgian GP.
Although some of the comparisons will partly be down to the errors created by Vettel, the consistency demonstrated by Raikkonen will no doubt be useful to the Sauber team, who will likely be in a battle with more than one team for constructors’ championship places next year.
By: Luke Murphy
All images: Motorsport Images
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