Verstappen’s chance to put one over the title contenders | 2018 Singapore Grand Prix pre-race analysis

Max Verstappen gave the smartest assessment of Sebastian Vettel’s miscalculation at the start of this race 12 months ago after it put the pair of them and two other drivers out of the race.

“When you’re fighting for the championship and then try to be that aggressive at the start when Lewis [Hamilton] is behind you, quite comfortably, it’s not I think the smartest move to do,” said Vertappen.

This year Verstappen has again qualified second and the championship is again a straight fight between Hamilton and Vettel. But will Hamilton be quite as uncompromising with Verstappen at the start? And can either of the title contenders afford to risk getting dragged into a fight with the Red Bull?

Vettel, against expectations, could only manage third on the grid. But he has a fast-starting Ferrari underneath him and all the incentive in the world to send one down the inside of Hamilton at the start.

By parking himself between the championship contenders, Verstappen has positioned himself perfectly to take advantage of their preoccupation with each other and make a bid for his second win of 2018. And while Verstappen is seldom short of aggression in wheel-to-wheel combat, the same goes for his strategy.

All of those who reached Q3 did so using hyper-soft tyres and therefore will have to start on them. But the quickest strategy in the race, according to Pirelli, is to start on ultra-softs, run around two dozen laps, then pit for softs.

This suggests and explanation why Vettel went to such lengths to persuade Ferrari to let him run on the ultra-softs again in Q2, He was convinced he could reach Q3 on them – and the data indicated he may have been right – and it could have made him the only driver in Q3 on the optimum strategy. It also begs the question whether Ferrari are more concerned about their performance on the hyper-soft tyres than their rivals.

Those starting on the hyper-softs are likely to begin looking at pit stops around lap 13, according to Pirelli. But keeping – or gaining – track position is going to be the overriding priority. The intriguing question will be whether Hamilton or Vettel bother to react to Verstappen if he comes in early.

The top six drivers are more thoroughly shuffled than usual, so team strategy could have less of an effect in the race. The danger for Vettel, of course, is that he may get beaten off the line by Valtteri Bottas, which would seriously compromise his efforts to stay in touch with Hamilton.

The punishing nature of the Singapore circuit and limited room for run-off means we’re likely to see a Safety Car – real or Virtual – at some stage. With those who choose to start on the ultra-softs potentially able to go 10 laps or more further into the race than the drivers who start in the top 10, a mid-race Safety Car period could pay a huge dividend to those drivers, and we could see some of them extend their first stint in the hope they’ll get lucky.

However if the latter half of the race stays green it’s likely that however many of the six front-runners remain, at least one of them will eye up the opportunity to pit for fresh tyres and go on the attack. This has been a feature of recent race at Singapore, and could add more drama in the final laps.

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Qualifying times in full

Sector times

Speed trap

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Over to you

Will Vettel stop Hamilton extending his points lead even further? Can Verstappen take advantage of their title fight to grab another win?

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2018 Singapore Grand Prix

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