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Ferrari cannot afford to squander golden opportunity in Singapore

Focus on... The title fight

The Singapore Grand Prix news agenda is likely to be dominated by McLaren's impending divorce from Honda and the various other parts of that complicated jigsaw puzzle set to be made official in the next few days. All of that is likely to overshadow the fact we are reaching another key moment in the championship battle -- Sebastian Vettel's golden opportunity to re-establish some breathing room over main title rival and new championship leader Lewis Hamilton.

Red Bull duo Max Verstappen and Daniel Riccirdo. Mark Thompson/Getty Images
Hamilton leads the championship by a slender three points after back-to-back wins in Belgium and Italy, but the smart money says it shouldn't last beyond this weekend. Strong showings in Monaco and Hungary showed Ferrari excels on high-downforce circuits and, on paper, Singapore looks like it should be Ferrari's strongest circuit in the championship run-in. As crucial as it was for Mercedes to convert Belgium and Italy into victories, Ferrari cannot afford to leave Marina Bay with Sebastian Vettel not leading the championship. Red Bull is expected to challenge but Ferrari could use that to its advantage if it is able to put the Milton Keynes-based team between itself and Mercedes in the race.

Mercedes has made little secret of the fact Singapore is its bogey circuit. Despite wins in 2014 and 2016, the team has always struggled to extract its full potential under the lights of Marina Bay since the start of the V6 turbo era it has otherwise dominated. Though Mercedes has done a lot of work to understand the performance fluctuations of the car Toto Wolff labelled a "diva" earlier this year, this weekend still has a 'damage limitation' feel to it. One intriguing sub-plot could be how Mercedes responds if Hamilton, who has sometimes found it difficult to master the W08's most extreme fluctuations, finds himself behind Valtteri Bottas on this ultimate weekend of damage limitations, given the fact he is the more likely of its two drivers to win the championship -- the world champions' reluctance to favour one driver could be tested once again.

In need of a win

Red Bull might not get a better chance to win another race this year than this. The team's restrictive engine should be less of a burden around the twisty and fast streets of Singapore and both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen have been talking about how big an opportunity this is for the team for a long while. With Verstappen and Ricciardo both recently telling ESPN their long-term futures at Red Bull hinge around its ability to deliver a race-winning car, and with Verstappen growing increasingly frustrated at his remarkable string of bad luck this year, a morale-boosting win for the team would be huge going into the final races of 2017.

In need of points

McLaren has consistently proclaimed it has one of the best chassis on the grid, something it has declared repeatedly during its struggles with Honda's underpowered engine. With divorce from Honda imminent, McLaren will want to prove that is the case at one of the least power-dependent circuits on the calendar -- especially as it is set to share an engine supply with the perceived kings of aero, Red Bull, in 2018.


Singapore 2015 was one of the best performances of Sebastian Vettel's career. Throughout that weekend the German looked to be at his unbeatable best and this year he arrives back at the street circuit with a car expected to be the front-runner again. Vettel has excelled throughout 2017 and, aside from the occasional blip, his performances have been back to the level we saw consistently when he was at Red Bull. It's hard to look past Vettel this weekend, but he might have a strong challenge from the hungry Red Bull pair - we're packing him to hold off Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen for his fifth win of the season.


The bookies share our faith in Sebastian Vettel, who is tipped to win as 11/8 favourite. Red Bull pair Daniel Ricciardo can get you 15/2 and 8/1 respectively, though 12/1 on Kimi Raikkonen might be worth a punt given that he will also be driving a Ferrari. The luckless Jolyon Palmer joins McLaren duo Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso as 9/1 favourites to be the first retirements.


One safe prediction for Singapore is that it isn't going to rain -- the sweltering city-state is one of the hottest on the calendar, just adding to the unique challenge of Sunday's two-hour slog at the Marina Bay circuit for drivers. Even though qualifying and the race should start once the sun has set, both will do so in forecasted temperatures of 29 degrees Celsius.


Compounds: Soft, super-soft and ultra-soft

The Marina Bay circuit from a tyre point of view, courtesy of Pirelli:

• With each session starting late and continuing into the night, the pattern of track temperature and track evolution is different compared to usual daytime sessions.

• With 23 corners, the tyres have their work cut out; it's one turn after another.

• While it's the circuit with the most corners of the year, it's also the second-slowest lap after Monaco: a unique combination

• Even at night, ambient temperatures remain high, leading to some thermal degradation.

• The rear left is the most stressed tyre,which will largely dictate the number of pitstops.

• Two stops won the race last year, but there were several three-stoppers as well.

Mario Isola, Pirelli's head of car racing: "Singapore is always one of the most exciting and unpredictable races of the year, in which pit stop strategy often plays a crucial role in the outcome: also because of the near certainty of a safety car at some point during the arduous two hours.

"Having said that, pole position has historically had a strong influence on the race win at Marina Bay, so qualifying will be crucial as well. In order to prepare, teams will have to pay particularly close attention to the free practice data as track temperature at night will evolve in quite a different way than it does at a conventional daytime race. Understanding this will be key to getting a good handle on wear and degradation rates, and so implementing an effective tyre strategy".

Author: Nate Saunders, ESPN UK
Source: http://www.espn.co.uk/f1/story/_/id/20699991/ferrari-cannot-afford-squander-golden-opportunity-singapore

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