Hamilton: It’s not going to be an easy-breezy drive
Championship leader Lewis Hamilton is expecting a “big fight” in the forthcoming Singapore Grand Prix with the season suddenly on a knife-edge just as Formula One enters a new era under fresh ownership.
Hamilton, whose lead has been slashed to just two points, faces the prospect of a five-pronged assault led by team-mate Nico Rosberg, with the Red Bulls and Ferraris also pushing hard on the twisty street circuit.
Rosberg, breathing down Hamilton’s neck after back-to-back wins in Belgium and Italy, is gunning for a hat-trick in his 200th grand prix that would enable him to leapfrog Hamilton to the top of the standings with six races remaining.
It promises an engrossing start to the new adventure under US billionaire John Malone’s Liberty Media, which is buying out F1’s parent company in a deal which values the sport at $8 billion.
A close and unpredictable race – after Mercedes’ Hamilton and Rosberg won 13 of the 14 races so far this year — set against Singapore’s stunning night-time cityscape would be a welcome introduction for the incoming owners.
A year ago, runaway leaders Mercedes had their worst performance of the season at hot and sticky Singapore with Hamilton retiring after being off the pace all weekend.
Rosberg trailed home fourth, almost 25 seconds behind the winner, fellow German Sebastian Vettel.
“It’s not going to be an easy-breezy drive,” Hamilton said this week. “Even when we won in 2014 it wasn’t straightforward.”
“We didn’t have the greatest weekend there last year,” added Hamilton. “So hopefully we’re on top of that now.
“Ferrari and Red Bull will be on it I’m sure, so we’ve got a big fight on our hands if we are up at the front. I love a battle, so I’m excited.”
Red Bull and Ferrari, who haven’t won since Vettel’s Singapore victory last year, will fancy their chances at the city centre circuit which has 23 corners — the most of any F1 venue — and few high-speed straights.
Red Bull have only won once this season, with Max Verstappen in Spain when the Mercedes took out each other in a first-lap smash. But their hopes are high heading into Singapore.
“Singapore is definitely one of my favourites,” said Verstappen. “It’s very challenging. I enjoyed it a lot last year so I’m excited to go out there again.”
The 61-lap race has the second slowest lap of the F1 calendar after Monaco, but also has the longest race duration with safety car interventions highly likely.
It compromises Mercedes’ power and aerodynamic advantages to such an extent that Silver Arrows team principal Toto Wolff says his cars should not be regarded as favourites.
“Ferrari were mighty around this circuit last year and it will suit the high-downforce design philosophy followed by Red Bull, so we must not make the mistake of thinking we are favourites this weekend,” said Wolff.
Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene admitted it had been a disappointing season so far, but believed his team would be a force in the remaining races.
“Of course we had hoped for more,” Arrivabene said after Monza. “We’ve taken some action and my guess is that for the last races we should be on an upward trend.”
Away from events on the track, debate will centre on Formula One’s direction under its new owners, including the role of colourful supremo Bernie Ecclestone.
The diminutive 85-year-old, who has built F1 into a highly profitable global powerhouse over the past four decades, is staying on as CEO but he will be joined by 21st Century Fox vice chairman Chase Carey, who was named as the sport’s new chairman.
“It’s an exciting time for the sport and the future is looking bright,” said Wolff.