Singapore

After competing in the quickest race in terms of duration, we’re now heading to the series’ longest race – the Singapore Grand Prix on 17 September at the 5.065-kilometre (3.147-mile) Marina Bay Street Circuit.

When Singapore came upon the Formula One scene, it was more than just a new venue in a stunning location. It was Formula One’s first night race and the first street circuit in Asia. The Singapore Grand Prix has grown in stature since, with drivers eagerly anticipating the 23-turn layout despite its challenging nature.

Powerful lighting illuminates the track in such luster that drivers say it’s clearer than in daytime, as there is no glare. And with those lights shimmering off the cars’ sinewy shapes as they shoot down the straights at 320 kph (200 mph) while sparks flare from their underbodies, fans are treated to a sensory assault that can only be found at the Marina Bay Street Circuit.

The circuit’s walls are unforgiving, but in order for a driver to wring every ounce of speed from his racecar, he must dance with those walls while navigating the numerous bumps of the track’s surface.

If that’s not enough, Singapore in September is hot. Really hot. And for added measure, really humid. As much as the Singapore Grand Prix is run at night for aesthetic purposes, night time is the coolest time for drivers and spectators alike. Nonetheless, temperatures inside the racecar can reach 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit).

Despite the tough track and equally tough environs, the Singapore Grand Prix is embraced by drivers. The electric atmosphere of the city and the beauty of Formula One at night, where exhaust flames and glowing brake discs provide a technicolour display that goes unnoticed in daylight hours, are appreciated by the drivers. It’s a modern-day Monaco.

By jove, he’s back in the lead

 

Well, there we are then. The tifosi were fuming, hence the booing but Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton turned his record-braking pole position into his fourth win at Monza to take the lead in the Drivers’ Championship in Ferrari’s back yard. Team mate Valterri Bottas finished today’s Italian Grand Prix in P2 – his first F1 podium in Monza, with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in third.

Hamilton delivered a perfect weekend – from the impressive pole position to a faultless race drive. Bottas bounced back from the disappointment of Spa in a great way; racing hard against Kimi Raikkonen, then picking off Williams’ Lance Stroll and Force India’s Esteban Ocon, before pulling away from the field for a very strong second-place finish.

“We have made the most of our opportunity this weekend and it was important to do so because we know Singapore will be more like a case of damage limitation for us (where Ferrari is expected to dominate). We will approach the next race with healthy scepticism, leave no stone unturned and aim to deliver every bit of performance that we can. If the Team delivers another perfect performance like this weekend, that will be a very good starting point,” said Toto Wolff.

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo put in a cracking performance. Qualifying third but starting 16th after being given a grid penalty for using too many engine parts this season, he put in a brilliant recovery to 4th.

 

What a cracker

 

Lewis Hamilton claims the all-time record – beating Michael Schumacher – with the 69th pole of his career at Monza. Williams’ Lance Stroll starts in second, with Force India’s Esteban in third.

Conditions were terrible – the first session was stopped after just one lap for seven drivers and didn’t start again for more than two hours because of rain.

Lewis Hamilton: “It’s very hard to find the words to explain how I feel, I’m trying to figure it all out. It probably won’t sink in for a long time.

“It was an epic day, I feel truly blessed. The Red Bulls really made me work hard for the pole today, which I’m grateful for. The weather has obviously been incredibly tricky for us all. What a day to come here in this beautiful country with the English weather and to be massively challenged.

“It was very difficult to see out there, and very easy to make mistakes – as always in the rain. The second to last lap was OK at the beginning, but then I backed out of it, hoping that I’d get one more lap. There was a lot of pressure for that last lap – there could have been a red flag, there could have been a yellow flag. There was a lot of risk, but I gave it everything.”

 

The big one’s next

Italy’s Autodromo Nazionale Monza hosts Round 13 of this year’s Formula One World Championship and serves as the final stop on the European leg of the 2017 calendar.

The story of the Italian Grand Prix is also the story of Monza, even if statistics show that the first race was held at Montichiari, with the Brianza track ready a year later in 1922 and that the 1980 race was run at Imola.

The history of Scuderia Ferrari is inextricably intertwined with that of the “Autodromo.” It’s impossible to tell the tale in just a few lines: the triumphs and the tragedy of Ascari, the world championships with Hill, Lauda, Scheckter, the epic achievements of Schumacher…

Then there’s the 5.8 kilometres of track within the Park, the amphitheatre grandstand at the Parabolica, they have all witnessed and created the legend.

There was a time when there were 10 kilometres of track, when the layout included the high speed banked oval, which was a spectacle all to itself. The current track has few corners but a fair few hidden dangers. On paper it looks easy, but as it is the track where cars run with the least aerodynamic downforce of the entire season, it requires a particular set-up and a sensitivity from the driver, especially under braking when he has no drag to rely on.

Monza is often compared to Spa in terms of the effort it puts on the engines, but compared to the Belgian circuit, much more braking effort is required and the lateral loads, especially on the tyres, are far less. The long straights and little drag lead to high speeds, even if the 2017 cars will be hampered in this regard by the wide front tyres, when it comes to beating lap records from the past.

The rest is all down to the spectators who, year after year build on the tradition of a compulsive race.

A few words from the boys…

Lewis Hamilton: “It’s amazing to come back into the season and start on the right foot. The Ferrari was very strong today and they put on a fantastic fight. We were both pushing every single lap and there was no room for error or mistake. The safety car was driving so slow that keeping tyre temperature was very difficult. On the restart, Sebastian got a good tow, it was very close. It is fun to be racing against another team and Sebastian at his best and the car at its best – that’s what racing is all about.”

Sebastian Vettel: “If we had ended up ahead in qualifying, then we would have had a good pace to stay in front. I was surprised how close I could follow through the whole race. So I am a bit angry at myself, because, when the race restarted after the safety car, I was probably too close to Lewis out of Turn 1.

“I tried to open the gap down Eau Rouge but it’s a difficult compromise. You see the cars coming behind and you know that you need to defend, instead of focusing on attacking. At the same time I know that down the straights we are not as quick as Mercedes. So, I am not entirely happy, but after all it’s been a great weekend for the team.

“We don’t need to be afraid of any circuit, I believe we have the best car in terms of package. There’s still something missing but the guys in Maranello are very motivated. I think we have done the biggest improvement and a big step forward. Now we turn the page on and move on to Monza: let’s see what happens there.”

Daniel Ricciardo: “It’s always nice to get a podium. Especially after qualifying when you’re on the tail-end of that Top 6, then all you think of is moving forward, so I honestly believed we could be better than sixth in the race.

“Max had a problem and then Kimi made his mistake with the yellow flag so we gained a few positions but I think after the first stint our pace improved a lot. We showed a more respectable pace and then we had an opportunity under the safety car with the re-start and took the most of that, so I’m really happy with the result.”

What an astonishing performance

 

Not only did Lewis Hamilton claim his 68th career pole position – equaling Michael Schumacher’s all-time record – but also topping it off with his 58th career victory today – his third at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps and fifth of the 2017 season – this was the 200th race of his career.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel came second, with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo in third. Hamilton (213 points) has closed the gap on Sebastian Vettel (220 points) to seven points in the Drivers’ Championship, with Valtteri Bottas (179 points) in P3.

That must be a huge relief for Mercedes. No doubt a job well done by Hamilton, but perhaps unexpectedly he’s facing a rival in Vettel who arguably looked tougher on Sunday night than at any point so far this season.

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