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Singapore Grand Prix preview

Singapore Grand Prix preview - Feature - F1 | ITV Sport

Tuesday, 21 September 2010 00:00

After two of Formula 1's most historic and charismatic circuits in Spa and Monza, the championship's next destination is one of its newest venues - but a track that already looks set to earn a similar place in F1's pantheon of great events.

In a slightly intangible way, the Singapore Grand Prix organisers have managed to get everything spot on.

It's not just that it's a street circuit - so is the less fondly regarded Valencia.

It's not just that it's a night race - so is Abu Dhabi, and that has the extra assets of a sunset start and a background of hotels that look like spaceships from the future.

But something about Singapore's Marina Bay has made it a classic, with a layout that gives drivers plenty to think about and promotes action-packed races.

The scandal of 2008 - when Renault's then-bosses ordered Nelson Piquet to deliberately crash and prompt a safety car that would perfectly suit team-mate Fernando Alonso's strategy - seems to have added to Singapore's mystique rather than tarnish the track, giving it a place in F1 folklore as the scene of one of the sport's most memorable (albeit for the wrong reasons) incidents.

Alonso was cleared of any involvement in that piece of cheating, as was everyone still involved with the Renault team, and the partnership responded with a brilliant - and absolutely fairly earned - third place in last year's Singapore race (which Alonso then cheekily dedicated to the disgraced Flavio Briatore...)

This is a big weekend for both Alonso and Renault once again, though they're no longer a partnership.

Alonso is the man with momentum in the title-chasing group, having out-scored everyone else in the last four races (even with his awful Spa weekend) and won in style at Monza.

Any of the title contenders could make a claim to be the man to beat for Singapore: Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber each have a street circuit win under their belts this year already, Lewis Hamilton won at Marina Bay last year, Alonso is on a roll, and Jenson Button is fresh from his one of his strongest drives of the year at Monza.

However Alonso and Hamilton's 2008 and 2009 Singapore wins mean that so far this fledgling grand prix has never been won by a driver who was part of that year's title battle - which means Renault might be worth a bet this weekend.

Under partial new ownership and leadership, Renault has put its old era behind it in emphatic style, with Alonso's friend and replacement Robert Kubica leading an impressive resurgence.

There could be no more poignant place than Singapore for Renault to take a symbolic first win since the scandal - and it's not impossible given its form on the streets of Monaco, and the pace its updated car showed at Spa (though Monza two weeks ago brought a downturn).

Alonso's Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa is fired-up for Singapore too.

He looked set to blitz the inaugural race until a disastrous pit stop during the caution period caused by Piquet's crash.

He's since claimed that Renault's actions could have cost him the 2008 title - for his race than fell apart, and had it not, Massa would've had enough points to beat Hamilton to that year's crown.

His argument overlooks the fact that Ferrari's pit stop chaos just happened to occur in a stop triggered by the Piquet incident - there was the same chance of him being released with the fuel hose still attached had the stop happened in ordinary circumstances.

Either way, Massa feels Singapore owes him, and his form on his one previous visit to the venue was excellent.

Mercedes is the other team that was knocking on the door of wins for a while, but with its focus now on 2011 and many rivals bringing big upgrades for Singapore, it's hard to see this weekend being fruitful for Nico Rosberg or Michael Schumacher, who will be getting used to night racing in F1 for the first time.

He'll soon pick up the body-clock-torment of staying on European time because of the evening race slot, which gives drivers the unusual experience of carrying on debriefs and press commitments into the middle of the night but then being allowed to sleep for much of the day.

Speculation about Schumacher giving up on his comeback might at least die down this week now that Mercedes no longer has a ready-made replacement - Nick Heidfeld having moved even further away by returning to Sauber race duties in place of the disappointing Pedro de la Rosa.

As Tonio Liuzzi and Giancarlo Fisichella proved last year, returning after a testing sojourn and switching cars mid-season is not easy in an era of zero testing.

But Heidfeld is better-prepared than most: he's spent the majority of his F1 career with BMW/Sauber so is familiar with the team (and he was still on board during the car's gestation period late last year), and he has recent F1 test mileage from his Pirelli duties.

Plus he has a habit of surprising - pulling off blinding overtaking moves when it's least expected - and of quietly getting the most out of cars.

He could be just what Sauber needs, and with Singapore being the sort of event where crazy things happen, it's the ideal place for a level-headed and highly determined veteran to return.

This is going to be an incredible F1 run-in: we have the closest and most unpredictable title battle in decades, the epic Suzuka, brand new adventure of Korea, drama-filled Interlagos and potential five-way decider venue Abu Dhabi still to come.

It's been a relentlessly astonishing season so far, and now the pressure on the title contenders is going to get even greater.

There could be no better setting than Singapore for the start of an enthralling final chapter in this epic tale.
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