Lewis Hamilton will aim to extend his three-point championship lead on the slow and twisty streets of Singapore circuit, which is likely to suit the Sebastian Vettel-led Ferrari more than the Mercedes on Sunday.
Hamilton produced a dominating show on the high-speed tracks of Spa and Monza to wrest the championship lead from Vettel but according to Mercedes team boss Totto Wolff, stopping the Ferraris and Red Bulls in the hot and humid Singapore will be anything but easy.
“So far this year, we have seen the pendulum swing according to circuit type. On the surface, Singapore is the kind of circuit that should favour both Ferrari and Red Bull,” said Wolff ahead of the night race.
“Both have shown strong performance on low-speed circuits demanding maximum downforce, and we have found life more difficult at those places in 2017. We head to Asia this time round with the expectation that we have a big challenge ahead of us,” he added, mindful of the experience in 2015 when Hamilton endured his first retirement of the season and Nico Rosberg came sixth.
The race is also an opportunity for Vettel to infuse fresh life into his title bid.
The German, who has won the street race a record four times since its inception in 2008, will be sniffing blood after the disappointment of the previous two races where he finished second and third respectively to concede the championship lead for the first time this season.
While the four-time World Champion finished fifth at the Marina Bay track in 2016, he had won the won the race for the first time with Ferrari the previous season.
Besides Ferrari, Red Bull is another team that should be strong on the high downforce circuit. Last year, Nico Rosberg had done well to see off the challenge from Daniel Ricciardo, who crossed the chequered flag less than half a second behind the now retired German.
Ricciardo is known for making the most of the slightest of opportunities and it won’t be a surprise if outsmarts his Ferrari and Mercedes rivals on Sunday. The Australian secured Red Bull’s sole victory of the season at the action-packed Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
“I believe Singapore won’t be our only chance but is one of our best chances of a win in the second half of the season,” said Ricciardo.
“You have to build up speed a little slower in the practice sessions on a street circuit like Singapore. At some point you have to start taking risks but to do that straight away doesn’t make sense,” he said.
The battle for the lead in the drivers’ standings has been intense but Mercedes (435 points) have built up a healthy 62 point lead over Ferrari (373) with seven rounds remaining.
Red Bull are a comfortable third on 212 points and Force India are sitting pretty on 113 with Williams a distant fifth on 55. The fight for sixth and seventh appears to getting a lot closer with just five points separating the sixth-placed Toro Rosso and Haas F1.
Force India got their act together at Monza, scoring their tenth double points of the year following the fiasco at Spa where a costly contact between Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon forced the Silverstone outfit to announce that both drivers were no longer free to race.
Force India boss Vijay Mallya told PTI that he is happy with team’s performance up till now and expects more double points performances from Perez and Ocon.
“We haven’t eased off. Development of the VJM10 continues and will bring benefits for the 2018 car too. We are still bringing new parts to the track and both cars will have developments this weekend,” said Mallya in a team preview.
All the races here since 2008 have seen the safety car at least once and there is no reason why the trend will not continue this time.