This is it. The single race to make or break 2018 will begin in less than 48 hours. This is going to be Hamilton versus Vettel, where both will battle towards capturing this year’s driver’s title.
Formula One’s shining jewel of the night, the Singapore Grand Prix, still sees shadows from the implications 2017’s race start had on the championship.
Race fans continue to ponder what would have happened last year if Vettel hadn’t fallen prey to his own aggressiveness; would the title have been his?
At the time of it’s running in 2017, the German had a slim but dwindling lead over Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. He had fought inspirationally in a car that was not yet the class of the field and spread wide a crack in the Silver Arrow’s hegemony.
That all went up in a slick of engine coolant less than ten seconds after the lights went out. If you have been living under a rock for the past year and haven’t seen the crash that wiped out four of F1’s top talents, stop reading right now and watch it. You will hardly find a more significant impact in the sport, both literally and figuratively.
F1 returns to the city-island-country Singapore in 2018 with much of the same weight on its shoulders.
Only, this time it is more overt. Vettel comes into the race he had spent so many years murdering at a distinct disadvantage.
Momentum with Hamilton
All the championship momentum sides firmly with Hamilton, despite the Scuderia Ferrari now holding a perceived car advantage. Hamilton limited the damage in Spa following the summer break, where Vettel won, and then followed up a week later by stealing a hard-earned win at Ferrari-friendly Monza.
Hamilton’s audacious move into the first chicane caught Vettel, and everyone else watching by surprise and tipped the dominoes of the race in his favour. Vettel spun, dropping to last, while the Brit escaped unscathed, eventually overtaking Kimi Raikkonen and sailing off into the distance.
Lewis Hamilton now sits 30 points clear of his championship rival, who, quite frankly, should be leading the championship. Were it not for his blatant mistakes over the course of the season thus far, Vettel would surely be sitting atop the standings. Instead, it is Mercedes who have somehow wrestled 2018 into a corner, with Ferrari again chasing.
Vettel needs to refocus
Sebastian Vettel needs to regroup and collect his fifth win around the Marina Bay Circuit if he is to resuscitate his hopes of another driver’s championship.
It is that simple. No other track on the remaining calendar will offer him the hope that this weekend does. In six of the previous eight runnings, he has finished on the podium; this includes four wins. Until last year, he was considered its master.
And, while the effects of 2017 remain to be felt long after it’s conclusion, his prowess around the street circuit is unmatched, even if his practice times to this point have been lacking.
Hamilton, meanwhile, will be gunning to do exactly that: match Vettel’s win total in Singapore. One more and he will also have four. It is assumed because we have almost been lulled into believing Mercedes have “struggled” around the circuit since 2014, he will be at a disadvantage. But, the facts point to a more capable car than is spoke of: three wins in four years with two double-podiums. Add the team’s FP2 lap times – where they were less than a tenth off Kimi Raikkonen’s leading pace – to this history and you begin to see why Hamilton may not be worth betting against.
The Street Specialist
There is a cog in the F1 wheel, which centres around Vettel and Hamilton, that may break off this weekend. And that cog is called Red Bull.
In particular, Daniel Ricciardo, who has finished on the podium for four consecutive years, seems to lick his chops around Marina Bay. With his overdue Monaco win earlier this season still fresh there is an outside chance he could threaten for the win in 2018.
A resurrected Max Verstappen, significant-incident-free since Hungary, is another driver to watch. It was his fast start on a wet track last year that was the catalyst for the aforementioned race-ending, season-altering incident. Should he get away cleanly this time, from an equally opportune position, a double Red Bull podium is a definite possibility.
Others in the Grid who can make a mark
Other drivers looking to make their mark will be the Force India pair, Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, and Kimi Raikkonen. The old aggressive Finn was present in Monza last time out and, with his departure from Ferrari recently announced, one wonders if he will be gunning for one more win the rest of the season. Accordingly, he lead the timesheet in FP2.
Perez has scored points every time he has raced in Singapore – seven out of seven tries – and Force India have recently made a raft of developmental progress, with results to show for it.
Ocon is looking at a lot of closed options to drive in F1 for 2019 and will not go gently into that good night. He has been an impressive talent since his call-up in 2016, one that has every right to remain on the grid.
The best thing he can do to stay relevant, even if forced to miss some time in the top tier of racing, is leave lasting impressions. Every race from here on out is an opportunity to do that.
Just hours to go…
The Singapore Grand Prix never fails to impress. It is arguably the most picturesque circuit and one of the most difficult races for the drivers.
The nighttime atmosphere, heavy humidity and dazzling lights always look the part, while the added title implications mean this year’s race should be no less amazing. 2018’s tight midfield fight – and deep drives for personal reasons – will also ratchet up the action a few notches.
But make no mistake about it, this race is firmly about the championship; Vettel’s chances of rescuing his fifth title from a blunder-filled disaster start now and Hamilton only has to keep a steady hand on the wheel to keep the well-earned momentum at his back.