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Saturday, October 01 2022
F1's suffocating 60C test laid bare; Mercedes' final roll of the dice: Singapore GP Talking Points

Formula 1 returns to Asia for the first time in three years with the Singapore Grand Prix, and there’s plenty on the line at the iconic night race.

The championship could be decided this weekend in Max Verstappen’s favour, confirming the long inevitable outcome of what’s become a surprisingly one-sided title campaign.

He and Red Bull Racing have both publicly said they’d prefer to win it in Japan, the home of engine supplier Honda, but a title victory in Singapore would be meaningful for other reasons.

Despite street circuits long having been regarded as Red Bull Racing-friendly tracks, the Milton Keynes-based team has won here only three times, and not since 2013, the final year of its streak of dominance.

Verstappen has never won here, with a pair of podium finishes his best results.

Winning the title with his first Singapore victory and the team’s first triumph in almost a decade would certainly make a statement.


Five drivers have arrived in Singapore still in championship contention. Some are almost certain to be eliminated by the end of the weekend, and there’s a decent chance that Verstappen will put the championship beyond doubt completely by Sunday night.

Charles Leclerc, Sergio Perez, George Russell and Carlos Sainz are all still theoretically able to overhaul Verstappen before the end of the season.

Driver (gap to leader)

Charles Leclerc (116)

Sergio Perez (125)

George Russell (132)

Carlos Sainz (148)

Verstappen needs a margin of 138 points at the end of the weekend to put his rivals out of contention and claim the championship.

Sainz is therefore almost certain to be out for the count at the end of the weekend, as is Russell.

If Verstappen wins, Perez needs to finish on the podium or fourth with the fastest lap to prolong his challenge one more week.

If Verstappen wins with the fastest lap, Leclerc must finish at least seventh to stay in contention. Leclerc can finish eighth with the fastest lap and still hold onto his championship chance.

The summary is that his second championship is unlikely to be won this weekend short of a Ferrari catastrophe — not out of the question, let’s be honest — but is clearly inevitable.

“I don’t really think about it,” Verstappen said. “It’s quite a long shot. I just want to enjoy the weekend and try to win.

“I need a lot of luck for it to happen here.”

Verstappen’s target will be to put himself in the best possible position to capitalise on any possible misfortune befalling Leclerc, but the Dutchman highlighted Red Bull Racing’s relatively weaker qualifying pace as a possible hindrance to success this weekend.

Verstappen has taken just four pole positions this season to Leclerc’s eight, with Perez and Sainz taking one and two apiece.

With overtaking typically difficult around the twisty street track, Verstappen said extracting maximum pace from his car over a single lap would be key to potentially winning the title.

“I do think that our car might suit [Singapore] a bit better than it did Monaco, for example,” he said. “But we really need to focus over one lap.

“This year I think we’ve never really been incredible over one lap. We’ve always been good in the race, but around here we know that one-lap performance is very important.

“You can set it up more over one lap than for a race, but on most of the tracks of course then in the race you will struggle a bit more. Around here you might get away with it.”

With so little to lose, Verstappen will feel free to back himself to manage a riskier race strategy with an outside chance of title glory.


But before Verstappen can think about winning the race, he first must master the exhausting Singapore conditions.

The Singapore Grand Prix is the most difficult race on the calendar. Not only is the circuit a non-stop combination of corners with no time for rest, but the heat is ever-present — even after sunset cockpit temperatures can reach 60°C — and the humidity is suffocating.

The climate is made more trying by the fact Formula 1 hasn’t visited this part of the world for three years, meaning drivers are out of practice. The closest they’ve been is the Miami Grand Prix earlier this year, which was less humid and run around a less punishing circuit configuration.

“Every driver kind of hates it, but it’s also a real reward when you do well here from a physical point of view,” Daniel Ricciardo said. “Getting a good result here feels like you’ve completed a marathon or something. It’s quite an accomplishment.

“Where we rest, simply, are the straights. Here the front straight is so short because you come off a quick last corner, you don’t get that much time, and then the other straight has a kink in it, so it‘s not like you can really let go of the wheel and take a few breaths. It’s pretty relentless.

“I’ve found always this one is just tougher, and it reaches that two-hour limit more often than not.

And there’ll be an additional challenge this season with this generation of car. The 2022-spec machine is heavier, and its simplified suspension system and ground-effect aerodynamics makes them much clumsier at low speed and less assured on the kerbs, which are crucial to attack to achieve a good lap time around a street circuit like this.

That’s also combined with the combination of the low ride height of these cars with the typical bumpiness of the public roads. We’ve had several races this season in which the bouncing has been so severe that drivers have developed headaches and sore backs and necks.

Drivers are bracing themselves for another bumpy ride this weekend.

“The bouncing … the ride stuff — they are more uncomfortable this year,” Ricciardo said. “I don’t know how that’s going to be. I think after 60-something laps we’re going to be very done and over it.

“We’ll probably get a headache — but it’ll be necessary to get that extra tenth.

“But again, it’s fun. You know that everyone’s feeling it, so you can take some satisfaction knowing that if someone didn’t prepare as well, you might be hurting, but they’ll be hurting more, so that’s where the mindset goes.”


It’s difficult to know which team will be Red Bull Racing’s chief rival this weekend given the Singapore circuit is so extreme, but Mercedes is prepared to throw its hat into the ring.

Reading Mercedes’s form has been difficult this season, but after appearing to be better at higher speed tracks earlier in the year, low-speed, high-downforce circuits have become the team’s preferred turf.

Highlights so far this year were George Russell’s pole and the team’s double podium at the Hungarian Grand Prix and Lewis Hamilton’s ultimately foiled victory tilt in the Netherlands.

Speaking ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix, Russell said there were plenty of conditions in favour of another Mercedes strong performance this weekend.

“I think the factors in favour are the high-downforce set-up — our car seems to work better on higher downforce than lower downforce — [and] our competitors, the fact that Red Bull are very, very efficient with their straight-line speed and here that doesn’t have much effect, so their advantage will be less,” he said.

However, unlike Budapest and Zandvoort, Singapore is a street circuit replete with the kind of bumpiness you’d expect to find on public roads.

Ride quality has been one of Mercedes’s major weaknesses this season, and though the W13’s ride quality has improved markedly since some devastatingly bumpy early rounds, Singapore will be its biggest test in months.

“We’ve clearly struggled at street circuits this year, in Monaco, Azerbaijan, Montreal,” Russell said — though in Baku and Montreal he and Hamilton scored a podium apiece.

“We have made a lot of progress in that regard, but this will be validation of the steps we’ve made on the ride have translated to performance.

“I don’t think we’ll be necessarily Zandvoort or Budapest levels of performance this weekend, but I’m fully confident we’ll be more competitive than we saw in Monza and Spa.”

In that sense Singapore is high-pressure weekend for Mercedes. Not only is it arguably its last best chance at navigating itself to a race victory, but it’ll be an important marker as to how much progress the team has made in understanding its problems as it locks in decisions for its 2023 car.


A Mercedes victory or even strong podium finish would be bad news for Ferrari, which leads the German marque by only 35 points for second in the constructors standings.

On paper — at least a paper written before the mid-season break — this would be a Ferrari track given it rewards high downforce and limits the advantage of a powerful engine.

However, at previous tracks with similar characteristics, namely the Hungaroring and Zandvoort, the team has struggled for race pace, scoring a single podium from four finishes.

But it’s not just these sorts of tracks the car is struggling at. The SF-75’s race pace has been concerningly slow since July, and the team is yet to crack the reason behind its step backwards and into the clutches of the improving Mercedes.

But in Singapore the team might have a small advantage up its sleeve.

Ferrari has taken 10 of the season’s 16 pole positions so far this season, including two during its latest fallow spell of form. The car has remained quick over a single lap, which can be extremely valuable around street tracks.

“I think we can bring the fight definitely, especially in qualifying,” Carlos Sainz said confidently. “It‘s a track where in the race, if you’re ahead, then you can stand a bigger chance of winning the race.

“What we did in Monza or Spa when we were starting ahead of them — we‘re going give it our best shot, try nailing the qualifying and see what we can do in the race.”

And Sainz said that the green shoots spotted in Monza, where the Ferrari car had the measure of the Mercedes, made him optimistic that Ferrari could still rescue second place in the standings this season.

“We are concerned about getting back to winning more than Mercedes,” he said. “Honestly, if we know we get back to winning before the end of the season, then the battle with Mercedes should be sorted.

“I think we have both cars always qualifying in the top three, top four, so we need to get that race pace back, like we did in Monza. We had a much better race pace and like this we don‘t get out-raced on Sunday from the Merc.

“I think we just need to get focusing on trying to be the Red Bull whenever we can, and that should sort out the championship battle.”


Stream the Singapore Grand Prix live and ad-break free on Kayo Sports and Fox Sports 506.

First practice is at 8pm (AEST) tonight, with second practice at 11pm.

FP3 is at 8pm Saturday, with coverage of qualifying starting at 10pm for an 11am start.

Pre-race coverage starts at 9:30pm Sunday, with lights out for the Singapore Grand Prix at 11pm.

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