Lap record: 1m 45.599s – Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari (2008)
Singapore has the highest number of turns on the current F1 calendar with 23, and each lap is punishing because of the heat and humidity in which the race takes place. The track layout has several sections of high kerbing which require a compliant suspension, although the worst of these, surrounding the chicane at Turn 10, have been removed and replaced with a single-apex left-hander which should see lap times fall by about a second. The 61-lap race normally runs close to the two hour time limit for Grands Prix, and we saw last year that safety car periods can push it over that allowance, with only 59 laps completed in 2012. This is the only race of the season held entirely under lights – the Abu Dhabi race starts in twilight and finishes in darkness – and the track is illuminated by over 1,600 light projectors which provide a brightness level of approximately 3,000 lux, roughly four times that of most sports stadiums.
Race strategy highlights from last year
High tyre degradation on both the soft and supersoft tyres was expected, with the challenge being to make it to lap 13-14 on a set of used supersofts from qualifying and then switch to softs for the rest of the race, with a second stop somewhere between laps 30-35. Eventual race winner Sebastian Vettel couldn't make it that far in his first stint, having to pit after just 10 laps with severe tyre degradation, then coming in for a second time under the safety car on lap 33. The six laps spent at reduced speeds played into his hands, as it did for Fernando Alonso, and a second three-lap period under caution, triggered by Michael Schumacher whacking into the back of Jean-Eric Vergne, enabled both drivers, and others with tyre management problems, to go to the end without stopping for a second time. The safety cars negated a building threat from McLaren with Jenson Button, whose strategy had been to be on newer tyres than Vettel at the end of the race, but the caution periods negated any threat from Button as their lives were equal, having both stopped on lap 33 in the first safety car period.
What to look out for in 2013
Singapore can deliver fascinating strategic battles, with safety car periods regularly changing the state of play amongst the field. The difficulty in overtaking places a premium on qualifying, with three of the five races held here to date won by the polesitter. With the supersoft and medium tyres being brought to Singapore, there could be a significant difference in speed between the two - last year we witnessed lap times up to 1.6s faster on the supersofts so the frontrunners will have to use these to qualify well, and anyone who opts to use them in the last stint could be primed to make some serious inroads into the cars ahead, evoking memories of Robert Kubica's 2010 charge to seventh from well outside the points, having taken on a fresh set of tyres late in the race after a puncture.
Who has the best record in Singapore?
Singapore’s relatively recent arrival on the calendar allows us the chance to directly compare the racing history of F1’s three best drivers - Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton - and it will come as no surprise that those three men share the winning honours in Singapore, with Alonso and Vettel taking two wins each, while Hamilton has a win from 2009 under his belt. Statistically it is Alonso who has the best record, with a further two podium finishes and an average finish of 2.4 from his five races here. The Spaniard has never finished lower than fourth and will need to keep that run going if he is to maintain any kind of challenge to Vettel’s title aspirations. Sebastian has won the last two races here and has a second place in 2010, along with further points finishes in 2008 and 2009 giving him an average finish just slightly lower than Alonso’s at 2.6. Jenson Button and Mark Webber also have two podium finishes each at Marina Bay.
Three of the five races held in Singapore to date have been won from pole position, with last year’s race won from third position by Sebastian Vettel. The inaugural race in 2008 is one that still evokes strong memories to this day, for it was the venue for the infamous ‘Crashgate’ scandal, where the Renault team instructed its second driver, Nelson Piquet Jr, to crash deliberately on lap 13, on the exit of Turn 17 where a safety car deployment was likely. The resulting safety car period allowed team-mate Fernando Alonso, who had stopped very early, to leapfrog the entire field and lead the race for the remainder of the afternoon, eventually taking the victory. Renault’s reasoning for doing so on a strategic level was that once they were in front it would be extremely hard to pass, owing to the tight street circuit layout of the Marina Bay track, and they were proved right. It was suggested that the team’s management felt under pressure to deliver a result given Renault’s indecision about whether to remain in the sport at the end of 2008, but the supreme irony of the situation became clear two weeks later when Alonso won, entirely on merit, at the Japanese Grand Prix in Fuji.
Tyre wear: 7/10
Most of the field stopped twice last year but it was touch-and-go until a second safety car period made it possible to run a final stint of 26 laps to the flag. Multiple heavy braking zones put a lot of load through the tyres, and with a softer all-round platform to the 2013 Pirellis, recent changes notwithstanding, the two/three stop question will be one that we'll only know the answer to on race day.
A very tight circuit which requires very high downforce settings to push the car into the track in the corners. The turns, not the straights, are where time is won and lost so there's no benefit to being quick in a straight line over having speed in the corners.
Average speed: 3/10
With 23 turns, 12 of them at 90 degrees or greater, Singapore is low down the average speed per lap. There is a new profile to Turn 10 - the chicane of previous years has been replaced by a sweeping left-hander, which is expected to increase lap times by about a second per lap.
Track difficulty: 8/10
One of the most humid races of the year, coupled with a long lap with the highest number of corners on the current calendar, makes Singapore a real challenge. The drivers love racing here but know that the close proximity of barriers and walls around the track mean that mistakes will be punished more severely.
Turn 7 is where most of the action takes place, situated at the end of the track's longest full-throttle section and with a DRS zone to aid overtaking chances. A second DRS zone will be in use on the pit straight - this is unlikely to see the same number of moves completed into the first corner but could serve to bring cars closer together to have a go into Turn 7.
Singapore became the new 'race to see and be seen at' almost immediately, with a lot of F1's deals being done at this track. The night race element and city setting give it a panache that the other races can only dream of.
Driver’s eye view: Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus
I really like going to Singapore. It’s a great place to be, I love the local food, and I don’t mind the unusual times we run in the car as it means I don’t have to get up so early. I have some unfinished business after my three Grands Prix there so far, as I enjoy the circuit but have not yet had a podium. That doesn’t mean I’m not quick there as I’ve been told I still hold the lap record from 2008. I crashed while fighting for fifth place that year, finished down in tenth in 2009, and took sixth last season, so I want more this time. Like at every street circuit it’s very difficult to pass other cars there, so starting the race as high as possible on the grid is very an important factor in getting a good result on Sunday.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli Motorsport Director
The tyres we are bringing to Singapore are the P Zero White medium compound and P Zero Red supersoft: 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 the 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.