McLaren preview Singapore Grand Prix
The Singapore Grand Prix is Formula 1’s only true night race. It starts two hours after sunset, at 8pm local time, and it takes the drivers nearly two hours to complete the 309km race under the dazzling lights that surround the Marina Bay Street Circuit.
To quote McLaren-Honda driver Fernando Alonso, who has won through the streets of Singapore on two occasions, “the race is a modern-day classic”. It’s only in its eighth year, yet already the event is one of the most prestigious on the World Championship calendar.
The 5.065km/3.148-mile street circuit has 23 corners, of which 10 are taken in first or second gear. It has an average speed of 170km/h 106mph), which makes it the second slowest circuit of the season after Monaco; but despite the relatively slow speeds, the race remains one of the biggest physical challenges for the drivers. Cockpit temperatures regularly exceed 50 degrees and there are few straights along which to cool down.
The track weaves its way through downtown Singapore and passes many of the city-state’s most famous landmarks. It’s narrow and there are some unexpected hazards to be aware of, such as the underground electrical current near the Anderson Bridge that can sometimes play havoc with the cars’ electrics. But it’s the unique nature of this race that makes it such an enticing challenge.
The asphalt around the Marina Bay circuit is slippery, so Pirelli is taking its two softest tyre compounds to the race – the Supersoft (Option) and the Soft (Prime). This combination was last used at the Austrian Grand Prix and provides rapid warm-up and good mechanical grip.
McLaren has won the Singapore Grand Prix once before, in 2009, and both of its drivers have enjoyed success through the streets. Fernando Alonso has won the race twice and Jenson Button has finished second on two occasions.gree heat and 70 per cent humidity make this race one of the toughest physical challenges of the year for the drivers.
Fernando Alonso: “The Singapore Grand Prix is a modern-day classic. The race hasn’t been on the calendar for long, but it’s already very prestigious. The heat makes it very demanding for the cars and the drivers, but we’re hopeful the McLaren-Honda package will perform more consistently there than in recent races. Singapore is an incredible place for a race. It’s really unique in every way, and as a driver it’s a privilege to be part of such an amazing night show under the spotlights. It’s a grand prix that many people look forward to and I’m really excited to go back there. The heat and humidity make it tough for the drivers and everyone in the garage. It’s a very challenging race physically, so it’s important that we train properly and prepare effectively to keep ourselves on top form all weekend. It’s a really fun circuit to drive, so I’m looking forward to getting to Marina Bay and soaking up the amazing atmosphere. I’ve won twice in Singapore and I love racing there, so with my engineers we’ll be focussing on setting up the car as best we can for this circuit as soon as we arrive. It’ll be interesting to see how our car responds to the high-downforce setup there and I hope we can have a more positive weekend.”
Jenson Button: “Every driver looks forward to the challenge of the Singapore Grand Prix. The heat, the artificial light, the bumps and the length of the race all add up to one of the biggest challenges of the season. Our car performs better on this type of circuit, so I hope we can have some fun this weekend. Singapore is always such a special race. It’s quickly become one of the most famous races on the calendar and it’s easy to see why. The whole setup is really special and racing under lights creates an amazing atmosphere that’s totally different from any other grand prix. There’s a real buzz about the place from the moment you step off the plane. There’s always a lot of anticipation in the build-up to this race, and for us it’s no different. We’ve had a couple of really challenging races, but we’ve said for a while that some of the circuits we go to towards the end of the season should be a bit better-suited to the stronger elements of our package. There’s no denying it’ll be hard work, and we aren’t expecting miracles overnight. But, Singapore is a fantastic circuit, it’s one of the longest races of the season in terms of time, and we quite often we see a Safety Car there. So, anything can happen; we’re hoping to learn a lot about how our car works in this configuration, and take as many positives from the weekend as we can.”
Eric Boullier – Racing director, McLaren-Honda: “Singapore marks the start of the final ‘fly-away’ leg of the season, and a set of new and different challenges for the whole team. It’s a relentless time of year which demands a lot from every team member, but we’re focussed on the challenge and working hard to complete the last third of the season on a more positive note. There is no denying that Spa and Monza were incredibly tough races for McLaren-Honda. We expected it, and it was no surprise when the results came, but it doesn’t make it any easier to bear. Saying that, we are entering a phase of the season where the circuits rely less on pure power and more on balance, characteristics that tend to suit our package better. Together, McLaren and Honda are constantly striving to improve our package and we have faith in our collective abilities to analyse our weaker areas and continue pushing forward. We won’t make any promises or predictions, but we love this circuit and hope to put on the best show possible under the incredible floodlights of Singapore. It is truly a spectacular location to host a grand prix and fully deserves its status as one of the flagship races on the Formula 1 calendar.”
Yasuhisa Arai – Chief Officer of Motorsport, Honda R&D Co Ltd: “From Singapore, we now start our second round of fly-away races. After the classic circuits of Europe, a night race on the complex street circuit of Singapore will be a big change for the team, in both the preparation for the race and adjusting our body clocks. Our engineers are preparing to reach the ideal power unit set-up for the track’s slippery and tight corners. The car’s overall balance between power unit and chassis will be the key to a good weekend, so we hope to provide a good package for the drivers for the race.”
Technical words of wisdom by Tim Goss, technical director: “Singapore has a quirky little technical problem that’s specific to the Marina Bay Street Circuit. Near the Anderson Bridge the cars pass over something underground – we’ve never ascertained what it is – that creates electrical interference on the cars. Sensors start showing some strange readings and the actuators that control the throttle position and the clutch start moving and are no longer under the control of the driver. It lasts for a very short period of time, but the worrying thing is that if we get that little burst of electrical interference just as the car is making a gear change, it can upset the delicate timing of the throttle, the clutch and the gear change barrel. It can actually upset the shift and cause a gear to break. The first time we went to Singapore it was quite a serious problem because we’d never experienced it before, but we now know what countermeasures to take, such as electrical shielding on the car and a few other software changes.”
McLaren at the Singapore Grand Prix
Wins 1 (2009)
Poles 2 (2009, 2012)
Fastest laps 1 (2011)
Our most memorable Singapore Grand Prix: 2009
The MP4-24 was the first McLaren Formula 1 car to use KERS. There were a few reliability issues early on, but the car came on song during the second half of the season and won twice – in Hungary and Singapore. The victory in Singapore was a masterclass by Lewis Hamilton: he took pole position by 0.3s and won the race by more than nine seconds.
At the start of the race Lewis got away well from the line to lead into Turn One. He immediately opened a gap over his nearest pursuer Nico Rosberg, and he defended that gap for the remainder of the race.
His progress was no doubt helped by his main rivals making errors in and around the pitstops. Rosberg earned himself a drive-through penalty for crossing the white line at the pitlane exit, while Sebastian Vettel was given a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pitlane. The end result was another emphatic victory for the reigning World Champion.