Singapore GP preview: Questions, questions
Can McLaren maintain their revival? Will Lewis Hamilton finally reveal what he has in mind for 2013? Could Romain Grosjean return as a changed man? The Sky Sports F1 Online team of James Galloway, Pete Gill and Michael Wise look ahead to the first of the flyaways.
Last Updated: 10/10/12 5:14pm
The big talking points to be answered this weekend under the lights...
Can the kings of speed at Monza be the kings of the street in Singapore?
Given McLaren's title challenge effectively came off the rails at the start of the European season, it's been a brilliant effort by the Woking team to record three consecutive wins ahead of the final flyaways. The omens for that particular sequence are good considering they last achieved a hat-trick of wins in their only title-winning year of the 21st century in 2008 (with Lewis Hamilton claiming two of the three on that occasion as well). But while the stars may be aligning nicely, they can still afford very few errors from Singapore onwards with Hamilton's gap to Fernando Alonso still 37 points and the team's to Red Bull 29.
On a more cautious note, Martin Whitmarsh has admitted to Sky Sports F1 that, while in any other season he would expect momentum to be of significant value, the variables that have sent the pecking order haywire at so many times already in this campaign mean nothing can be taken for granted - particularly at a race in which all the big teams tend to bring sizeable upgrade packages. JG
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Who will be able up the rate of development?
Speaking of which, an interesting one-upmanish dynamic occurred at the close of last Sunday's press conference when Ferando Alonso revealed Ferrari will bringing "a lot of new things to Singapore."
"He's just given us the information that Ferrari are going to be bringing lots of parts to the next race, so I will go back to my team and push them too," retorted Lewis.
"It's not only Singapore," rejoined Fernando.
A F1 driver's competitive streak includes always demanding the final word...
But the pressing question of which driver will have the last word in this year's World Championship may ultimately be determined by which team is able to out-develop the rest. McLaren's big push for Germany successfully heralded their much-needed revival but Ferrari's powers of improvement shouldn't be under-estimated either: their upgrade for Spain was approximately worth one second in lap time.
According to Sam Michael, this year's development battle is so intense that only a two-tenths improvement per race is good enough for teams just to stand still. Question: will all the teams be able to sustain that pace as they enter a sprint-finish at the end of a gruelling seven months? PG
Will Hamilton be able to maintain his poker face?
It's an illustration of just how much uncertainty surrounds Hamilton that what some journalists perceived as a subdued demeanour after his victory at Monza others saw as a warm embrace for Martin Whitmarsh. People see what they want to see and right now every interpretation is legitimate because the only people who truly know what Hamilton is thinking for 2013 just aren't telling.
Hamilton will thus once again be subjected to a barrage of questions about his future whenever he addresses the press in Singapore. He dealt with the interrogations with an immaculate straight-bat at Monza but the situation is surely not sustainable for much longer. Even If Lewis doesn't crack, the truth will surely seep out sooner rather than later. PG
Will Romain return a changed man?
Watching on from the sidelines while your supposed junior takes your car off your hands for three days around one of the most thrilling Grand Prix circuits of them all would surely have been a pretty sobering experience for Romain Grosjean at Monza. But as well as giving him the chance to reflect on the Spa start-line inattentiveness which earned him the one-race ban, his Lotus team boss Eric Boullier suggests he will also "have learned a lot because being in your car you have only one radio in your head. When you are sitting in the garage and you have both cars then you can learn much more".
The stewards will hope that watching the field navigate Monza's notoriously tight first two chicanes without serious incident would have caught Romain's attention, and it's a reduction in his penchant for a first-lap scrape that will determine how successful a deterrent his suspension has proved to be.
Becoming the first driver to be banned for a race for 18 years is a stigma that he will struggle to shake for a while but if the subsequent careers of three of the previous four drivers forced to sit out events are anything to go by - Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen and Nigel Mansell - then it's a blot on his copybook that Grosjean's can certainly recover from. JG
And what about the rest of Lotus?
After all, it was teed up after Hungary, wasn't it? A first win of the season for Lotus, I mean. Momentum seemed with them at the time but then came the summer break; what use is momentum when you're forced to dig out a bucket and spade? Spa promised much, only for the team's much-vaunted 'not a double DRS' system to fall foul of atrocious practice conditions whilst Grosjean (see above) ended the weekend on the naughty step.
Kimi Raikkonen overcame a lack of grip to salvage a podium before scrapping his way to fifth in what proved another underwhelming weekend at Monza, yet somehow (actually it was because Red Bull conspired to produce an even worse performance) moving up to third place in the Championship in the process. Budapest seems a long time ago all of a sudden: on another tight circuit - and in a warmer part of the world than a forest in south-central Belgium - might Lotus find that momentum again? MW
Can Rosberg halt Michael's revival?
It hardly amounts to a significant landmark in his record-breaking career, but buried in the Monza smallprint was a detail that, during quieter periods of the season, would have garnered plenty of attention: Michael Schumacher is now ahead of Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes qualifying battle. Well, well.
Mercedes are thought to be waiting on an answer from Hamilton before deciding whether to extend Schumacher's contract for another year or two, but it's arguable that the old boy has never been more competitive during his comeback than he is at present. Under contract and under immunity following his win at China, Rosberg's position is not in jeopardy for 2013, but his response to Michael's mini-revival is overdue: since Monaco, he's not finished any race higher than sixth. PG
Can Red Bull rediscover their bite?
It was back to the bad old days on power circuits for Red Bull at Monza as the team's perennial Achilles heel, a lack of straight-line speed, saw Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel struggle throughout. Christian Horner cut a fairly dejected figure afterwards as he count the cost of the World Champions' first double DNF since Korea 2010, but, amid the general Red Bull gloom, Christian did offer one silver lining with the suggestion that the remaining circuits on the calendar should be far more favourable for the RB8.
Certainly Singapore is definitely one such layout and, while it may seem inconsequential given how the balance of power at the front has swung since then, the last 'street' circuit F1 visited in Valencia back in June saw Vettel outpace the field by a second or more a lap before the first of Red Bull's now infamous alternator problems intervened. The car, especially in race conditions, remains one of the fastest and Marina Bay may just be the venue that they remind a few people of that. JG
The European summer is over, it's back to flyaway races and bizarre sleep patterns
The passing of the Italian Grand Prix traditionally creates the feeling that the F1 season is on its homeward stretch: it's autumn chaps, we're almost there. Except that, this year, we still have seven races to run - a third of the season, in effect. It's like going to Cornwall on holiday, reaching Bristol and thinking Penzance is just up the road. All the remaining grands prix are well away from the sport's European hub and six of them are back-to-back. In short, it's going to be a hectic climax for all concerned, offering the potential for mistakes above and beyond simply sleeping through one's alarm...or not being able to sleep at all.
As a precursor to several weeks of bodyclock befuddlement, the Singapore Grand Prix requires all those taking part to stay on European time - meaning mid-afternoon alarm calls, nightcaps at breakfast time and sleeping through the best part of the day with the hotel curtains tightly drawn. How very Howard Hughes...let's hope such behaviours don't deteriorate beyond that. Of course, races in far-flung places also make demands of fans willing to go the extra mile but watching through bleary eyes whilst wearing a dressing gown is all part of the fun, right? And whilst we're on the subject, why is it that one of the races always falls on the day British Summer Time ends?
(In case you're wondering, it's the Indian Grand Prix on October 28...and the clocks go back an hour.) MW
James Galloway, Pete Gill and Michael Wise