Cape Town - It is not often that Ferrari and Renault are mentioned in the same sentence. However, in Singapore today, they have something in common – they both have drivers under pressure.
For the Scuderia, the race at the Marina Bay circuit is being heralded as their best chance to fight back against Mercedes in a title battle that is beginning to slip from their grasp.
Only three points separate Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel at the top of the standings, and, for the first time, the lead is in Hamilton’s favour after changing hands at Monza Circuit in Italy.
That, without a doubt, marked Ferrari’s worst Grand Prix in this campaign. Third-placed Vettel came in a whopping 36.317 seconds behind race winner Hamilton – at Ferrari’s home race!
However, there will be a bright light shinning down on Ferrari, thanks in part to about 1 600 light projectors that will be used during the night race. The Marina Bay circuit is a Ferrari circuit with its high downforce, low-speed corners and heat. More to the point, it is a Vettel circuit.
The German has four Singapore Grand Prix wins to his name, the most recent coming in 2015 with Ferrari. Last season, Vettel raced from the back of the grid to finish in fifth position – moving up 17 spots on a street track where overtaking is notoriously difficult.
The Scuderia can also draw encouragement from their Monaco showing, a race where Kimi Räikkönen claimed pole position and Vettel led his team-mate home to first and second position finishes for Ferrari.
Mercedes, though, haven’t been idle since Monaco. While Toto Wolff – 30% team owner and executive director – acknowledges that the nature of Marina Bay doesn’t work with the DNA of Mercedes’ F1 cars, he reckons they raised their level of performance significantly in Hungary. The team will do so once again today as they look for a third Singapore win in four years.
But the championship rivals may yet fall to Red Bull Racing at today’s race, which has 61 laps. After Monza, a track that doesn’t suit Red Bull’s RB13 engine, Daniel Ricciardo joked that he would lap the field in Singapore after racing from P16 to P4 at the Italian Grand Prix.
While this is little more than a dream sequence, a podium result – or even a win – is not. Red Bull have three Marina Bay wins on the board, while, last season, Ricciardo lost to Nico Rosberg by a mere 0.488 seconds. The Bulls may not be in the title race, but could yet influence the outcome by taking points off the contenders.
Nico Hülkenberg will be a most desperate man as the Renault driver faces the dubious prospect of setting a new record – of 129 – for the most starts without a podium.
While Hülkenberg has shown promise throughout his seven-year F1 career, he has not delivered a top-three showing. At present, he is tied with Adrian Sutil, but a P4 or lower will make the record all his. Sutil will be confined to the annals of history.
That, though, is at least more encouraging than the fate that awaits the beleaguered and, by all accounts, soon-to-be-departed Jolyon Palmer. It is reportedly just a matter of time before the Brit loses his Renault race seat, whether that be at the end of this season or in time for Malaysia – even scoring his first points of this season may be too little too late. – TEAMtalk Media