After the frenetic Italian Grand Prix, Formula One heads to a distant destination, Singapore for Round 15 of the 2019 Championship. Thanks to Charles Leclerc’s brilliant performances, Ferrari rounded off the European leg of the season in the best fashion with two epic victories, but the street circuit of Singapore is expected to highlight the strengths of their two rivals, Mercedes and Red Bull.
Formula One first visited Singapore in 2008, but the history of the Singapore Grand Prix goes further back. It was first organised in 1961. Back then, it was known as the Orient Year Grand Prix. The following year, the race was renamed the Malaysian Grand Prix. Singapore attained its independence in 1965 and the event was renamed the Singapore Grand Prix for the following years. A total of eight grands prix were held between 1966 and 1973 for the Formula Libre series on the Thomson Road circuit.
Bernie Ecclestone signed an agreement for a five-year deal with the Singapore GP Ltd to host a grand prix at Marina Bay from 2008. The event, first sponsored by the telecommunication company Singtel, became the first night race of Formula One. This timing meant that the event could be broadcast at a convenient time for European audiences. The race under artificial lights usually starts at 8 pm local time which slightly moderates the extreme temperatures in the tropical climate. The first street circuit in Asia created for Formula One was designed by Hermann Tilke.
The first race held at the new Marina Bay Street Circuit was the 15th round of the 2008 FIA Formula One World Championship, and was also the first night-time event in Formula One history. Felipe Massa secured the pole position in a dominant fashion but Ferrari made a crucial mistake during the pit stop, releasing the Brazilian too early. In the end, Fernando Alonso won the race driving for Renault.
For the 2009 race, the circuit was reprofiled slightly, including modifications to turns 1, 2 and 3 to aid overtaking, and also at turn 10 where high kerbs caused many accidents in 2008. McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton secured the victory in front of Timo Glock and Fernando Alonso. In 2010, the Spaniard became the first man to win twice in Singapore, but he was driving for Ferrari at that time. When the circus arrived at Marina Bay in 2011, Sebastian Vettel was in an unbelievable run of success and enjoyed a lead of over 100 points over the field. He used his 11th pole position of the season to perfection to score his first win in Singapore. Next year saw Lewis Hamilton take the pole position, but he pulled out with gearbox issues which enabled Sebastian Vettel to claim his second consecutive triumph at Marina Bay.
For the 2013 race, it was announced that the 10th turn of the track, the "Singapore Sling" chicane, will be reconfigured in order to make the track safer. However, the modification could not stop Sebastian Vettel to steal the show with another victory. In 2014, the first year of the hybrid era, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton secured the pole position which he that converted into a race victory on the following day.
In 2015, Sebastian Vettel secured his first Ferrari pole position and he was able to hang on to that place on Sunday to clinch a commanding victory. Nico Rosberg controlled the happenings in the following year for Mercedes. In 2017, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel proved the fastest in the qualifying session, but he was involved in a first corner collision with his teammate Kimi Räikkönen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, which led to the retirement of all three drivers. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton did not let this opportunity slip away from his hands and took full advantage of the initial chaos on the initially damp track.
Last year’s Singapore Grand Prix was a crucial event for the title contenders, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. However, Ferrari did not have the necessary pace around the street circuit and Hamilton won the race with Verstappen second and Vettel third.
Neck on neck
Considering that they have dominated the past decade of the sport with multiple world championship titles, it is no surprise that Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are neck on neck when it comes to wins earned in the Singapore Grand Prix history. Both men have won on four occasions which makes them the most successful drivers around the tricky street circuit. The Briton has taken his first triumph behind the wheel of McLaren while he has taken three other victories for Mercedes. The German recorded a hat trick of victories in 2011, 2012 and 2013 for Red Bull and won for Ferrari two years later.
Fernando Alonso is the only other repeat winner in Singapore. He took the victory in the first ever Formula One Singapore Grand Prix in 2008 in controversial conditions. Driving at Ferrari, the Spaniard claimed his second victory on the Marina Bay Circuit in 2010 following an epic battle with Sebastian Vettel.
Mercedes is the most successful constructor in Singapore with four victories of which three were clinched by Lewis Hamilton and the fourth one by Nico Rosberg. With three triumphs, Red Bull is second on this list followed by Ferrari with two wins.
The ultimate test of man and machine
With its total length of 5.063km, Singapore is one of the longest tracks on the current calendar. However, the street track rather became famous thanks to its layout. Drivers have to excel with their cars driving through a series of difficult corners and over very high kerbs. Singapore’s climatic conditions characterized by heat and high humidity also add another challenge to master.
The specially made pit straight offers the first opportunity for drivers to use the drag reduction system. At the end of the relatively short straight, drivers approach the first turn at a speed of around 300kph. The sequence of the first three corners is shaped like an ‘S’ that entices drivers to drive aggressively over the kerbs to gain track time. A short full-throttle section, the Republic Boulevard follows which then ends in the right-hand Turn 5. Drivers focus with all their energies on the exit of that turn to have the best acceleration onto the longest full-throttle section of the circuit, the Raffles Boulevard.
The second sector starts with Turn 7 where the exit kerbs usually become hot topics over the weekend as drivers are keen to exceed the track limits there. After taking Turn 8 at a speed of approximately 70kph, drivers pick up the throttle for a short period of time before braking to 115kph to take Turn 9. St. Andrews Road is another longer full-throttle section. The right-hand Turn 10 requires a precise braking move. The sequence of the next two bends form a chicane where rear stability is important to manoeuvre the car well over the daunting kerbs. After driving over the Anderson Bridge, drivers approach Turn 13, one of the slowest part of the entire circuit. Having a good exit is key as the second sector ends in a long full-throttle section.
After building up speeds of 285kph, Turn 14 diverts to the right at 78kph. Next, a series of mostly blind corners from turn 15 to 19 where drivers often kiss the barriers with the rear tyres. The section between Turn 18 and 19 goes under the floating platform grandstand. After 19 corners, drivers approach another tricky chicane formed by Turn 20 and 21 where tyres are usually overheated and as a consequence do not give the best grip. Running down towards Turn 22, drivers pass the 165m tall Singapore Flyer, where Turn 22 and 23 are taken flat-out at about 180 km/h.