The Singapore Grand Prix Preview (18-20 September 2015)

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The Singapore Grand Prix is a fairly new addition to the Formula 1 calendar, but adds some real class, elegance and razzmatazz to the sport. This is the eighth time Marina Bay will host a Grand Prix under lights and Lewis Hamilton will be hoping to stretch his lead in the World Championship even further after cruising home to victory in Italy. It will be hot, sticky and the smog from forests being burned in nearby Indonesia have descended, but that will not be enough to stop these 20 drivers from taking on the gladiatorial battle that is the Singapore Grand Prix.

Headlines from Monza

Lewis Hamilton extends his lead at the top of the World Championship to 53 points after crushing victory. You often hear ex-drivers talking about whether drivers have ‘rhythm’ in a car and Lewis certainly had that in Monza. The Brit was absolutely unstoppable, taking his seventh consecutive pole position this year and winning comfortably, by the largest margin at Monza for a very long time. Hamilton had an upgraded engine in Monza and was expected to be quicker than the 0.23 gap he had over Kimi Raikkonen in qualifying, but come Sunday, he showed his pace and his class. Hamilton opened up a 1.5 second gap in the first lap, was 12 seconds ahead by Lap 20 and was 20 seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel when his team told him he had to go flat out. He eventually finished exactly 25 seconds ahead of the German, which covered all bases in case he got hit with a penalty post-race for tyre pressure issues. Luckily this dominant display wasn’t taken away from the deserving Hamilton.

Vettel and Massa make up the rest of a very popular podium. The Tifosi (Scuderia Ferrari fans) were vocal as ever during the race and celebrated a hugely popular second place for pinup Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, as well as much-loved, ex-driver Felipe Massa. Vettel qualified in third, unusually behind Raikkonen, but took advantage of his team-mate’s poor getaway and held off a late charge by Nico Rosberg. Felipe Massa qualified fifth, but made a great start, propelling himself up to third early on as Raikkonen didn’t move off the line and Rosberg got squeezed out. Although Massa ran well in the race, his podium was rather gifted to him as Rosberg retired so late on.

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Nico Rosberg’s Championship hopes go up in smoke. Nico Rosberg had a weekend to forget- one where everything that could go wrong, did and which provided him with the worst possible end result. Having had problems in Practice with the new engine that Mercedes gave him, it was decided that he would have to use the old spec engine for qualifying and the race- one which had already completed five races. It meant that Rosberg had a poor qualifying, starting on Sunday outside of the top three for the first time since the Chinese Grand Prix 2014. He was directly behind Kimi Raikkonen on the grid and had to take evasive action as Kimi’s car failed to get off the line. This had the knock-on effect of dropping him down to sixth by Turn 1 and meant he was in the dirty air for much of the race. After doing well to leapfrog the Williams’ boys in the pits, his engine finally gave up with three laps to go, leaving his car flaming on the side of the track.

Kimi Raikkonen’s bad luck continues, but he makes a credible recovery. After the Finn managed to claim his first front row start since the Chinese Grand Prix in 2013, he had the worst possible getaway off the line, dropping down from second to last in a matter of seconds. Raikkonen claims he did everything correctly and was completely bemused at why his car went into antistall instead of shooting off and challenging for the lead at the first chicane. It was another opportunity squandered for the Finn, but he did at least drive well to recover into sixth place, then grabbed fifth late on once Rosberg retired.

Senna vs Hamilton

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Images of Senna (left) and Hamilton (right) shared by Iwao and First Stop via the Creative Commons License.

It is well documented that British driver Lewis Hamilton has idolised the late, great Ayrton Senna for much of his life, even going so far as replicating his helmet design for races. And this weekend he gets the chance to emulate the Brazilian by competing in his 161st race- the same amount Senna achieved before his tragic death at Imola in 1994.

Their careers are intertwined by a romantic twist of fate that sees Lewis Hamilton have the opportunity to equal Senna’s 41 wins on the same day he matches Senna’s 161 race starts. If Hamilton were to win this weekend, then it would briefly see the drivers have the exact same race record and win ratio.

So we take a look at these two incredible drivers and see how their careers match up against each other so far. We cannot tell you which one was the better driver, that is a matter of opinion, but we can lay out the statistics to help you decide!

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*Statistics correct as of the 2015 Italian Grand Prix, Monza

As you can see, there really isn’t much in it between the two at this stage of their careers. They have both won every fourth time they have got into a Formula 1 car, they have both been on the podium every other race they have entered and they have both racked up a bunch of fastest laps.

One area that Senna is well ahead though is in poll positions- his tally of 65 poles in 161 races equates to a mighty 40.37%, whereas Hamilton is languishing behind on 49 poles from 160 starts, that’s a mere 30.63% of races he’s involved in he’s got pole. Nevertheless, Hamilton has racked up significantly more World Championship points at this stage, although one rather suspects that is due to being a product of his time and different scoring systems more than anything else.

Let’s not forget the elephant in the room here and the most important statistic of all; World Championship Titles. At the end of his life, Senna had won 3 world titles from 10 attempts. Although it is almost certain he would have gone on to win more, we can only deal in facts. At this stage of his career, with more races per season, Lewis has won 2 world titles in 7 completed attempts. Although it would take a minor miracle now for him to not make that 3 out of 8 in 2015, Lewis can only currently call himself a double world champion.

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Images of Senna (left) and Hamilton (right) shared by Instituto Ayrton Senna and ph-stop via the Creative Commons License

If you look into their individual achievements within the sport though, this sheds a little more light on the different journey’s their careers have taken. Lewis, for example has the most amount of wins (4, shared with J. Villeneuve), pole positions (6) and points (109) in a debut season, as well as consecutive podium finishes from debut (9)- highlighting how he burst onto the scene in 2007. Senna on the other hand still holds the record for most amount of consecutive front row starts (24) and pole positions (8), and highest percentage of front row starts in a season (100% in 1989).

Senna absolutely dominated some tracks and when he was on song, he was unstoppable, shown by the fact that he has the record for most pole-to-flag race wins in a season (5) and in total (19) in his career, as well as the most consecutive wins at the same Grand Prix (5x at Monaco 1989-93) and most poles (8) and consecutive poles (7) at the same Grand Prix (San Marino). Lewis, however has shown his consistency over the years, even when he did not have the best car, although over the dominant 2014-2015 period he did record 18 consecutive races where he held the lead. He has achieved most consecutive seasons with a pole and race win from debut season (9 and counting), as well as the most amount of poles at different Grand Prix’s (21), but he might well be most proud of being the youngest ever driver to lead the World Championship (22 years, 4 months, 6 days).

Lewis Hamilton has based his aggressive racing style on that of Senna, which has made them both so enjoyable to watch over the years. There are others who have tasted more success, Prost for example in Senna’s era and Vettel in modern times, sandwiched of course by Michael Schumacher whose career overlapped both. However, what has adorned them to the fans is their particular style, flair and panache. Senna was undeniably a great, robbed of more success only by death and Hamilton is adored by his fans and will surely go on to win more world crowns.

Who was the better driver? Well that’s just not a matter of fact.

The Singapore Grand Prix

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The inaugural Grand Prix in Singapore in 2008 made history as the first ever night race in Formula 1, providing a totally new dynamic for the viewers at home and a different set of challenges for the drivers on track. The circuit follows public roads around Marina Bay and is renowned for its safety cars, with at least one deployed in each of the seven races held there so far. Singapore is more than just a Formula 1 race, it is a festival of the senses.

The long 5.065km track has more corners than any other track on the current calendar, with 14 left handers and 9 right handers- that’s 23 corners in total. The race is extremely tough on the drivers who have to battle both the hot, humid conditions, alongside the glare from the floodlights and also the mental strain that a tight, street circuit demands.

This is not a normal racing track and the drivers tend to love the challenge, certainly Lewis Hamilton does, having won here twice (2009, 2014) in the seven races that have been held. Fernando Alonso has also won here twice (2008, 2010), but the King of the Circuit is Sebastian Vettel who won here three consecutive times between 2011-2013.

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The Singapore Formula 1 track as shared by Sas1998 via the Creative Commons License.

With a bumpy track, tight corners, heavy braking zones and close walls, the safety car is needed regularly, which can make planning a strategy difficult, but it also means that a large lead or deficit can be negated quickly. That might well mean the Mercedes cars cannot just speed off into the distance, but also puts more pressure on qualifying, knowing that overtaking on the track is both difficult and risky.

Predictions

Lewis Hamilton has obviously got form at Marina Bay, having won here last year and back in 2009, but we all know that Hamilton can be susceptible to mistakes when he puts too much pressure on himself. With all the pre-race build up focusing on his and Senna’s record, will the Brit try too hard to chase a statistic that at the end of his career will matter very little?

After the disastrous Italian Grand Prix, Nico Rosberg really needs a dominant display this weekend to have any slim chance of chasing down the deficit he has to his team-mate. If Rosberg loses even more ground here then we really are looking at only one possibility for the World Championship. However, luck in Formula 1 can change around pretty quickly and Rosberg will have a new engine on board for Singapore, so we wouldn’t be surprised if the German took to the challenge and got the win this weekend.

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Fernando Alonso has finished in the points in all seven Singapore Grand Prix’s so far and featured on the podium in five of them, but it would be an almighty effort for him to keep that record going this weekend. The Spaniard has said that his McLaren team would be hoping for a “miracle” in Singapore this weekend and are hoping to just finish the race, before thinking seriously about a points finish.

Sebastian Vettel can also boast that record and if he can find some form in qualifying with a much improved Ferrari, we could potentially see a shock on the cards. Further back, expect to see the Williams, Red Bull and Force India’s battle it out for midfield supremacy, and let’s also hope that the Lotus team can bounce back from an incredibly disappointing Italian Grand Prix where both their cars had to retire within the first two laps.

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