SINGAPORE - SEPTEMBER 15: Top three qualifiers Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP, Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing and Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari celebrate in parc ferme during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 15, 2018 in Singapore. (Photo by Will Taylor-Medhurst/Getty Images)

Lewis Hamilton is in pole position with Max Verstappen next to him on the front row. Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas are on the second row. Kimi Raikkonen the second Ferrari driver is on the third row with Daniel Ricciardo. The race on Sunday is expected to be dry but with high humidity levels as the night race is run around the Marina Bay street circuit under lights.

Singapore GP – What Lies Ahead?

The Marina Bay street circuit is one of the hardest tracks to overtake on in the Formula 1 calendar. The Pirelli tyre choices are the yellow-striped soft tyres, purple-striped ultrasoft tyres, and the pink-striped hypersoft tyres.

Hamilton took an unexpected pole poistion after a magical lap in Saturday’s qualification session. Title-rival Vettel will start third behind Verstappen.

The teams can opt for a one-stop or two-stop pit strategy. A one-stop strategy is most likely in dry conditions. But the lack of durability of the hypersoft tyres could result in mixed strategies.

The drivers in the top 10 will start on the pink-striped hypersoft tyres on which they set their fastest laps in Q2. But some of the drivers outside the top 10 will start on the more durable ultrasoft or soft tyres and go long in the first stint.

Vettel wanted to qualify on the more durable ultrasoft tyres in Q2 so he could be on a contrary strategy to the frontrunners on the grid. But the differential in lap time between the hypersofts and ultrasofts is huge and Ferrari did not want to risk seeing Vettel in the dropzone in Q2.

The night race will see the temperatures drop but energy-sapping humidity is predicted for the race on Sunday. It will be interesting to see how many laps the hypersoft tyres will last.

The Start

The start is going to be crucial, with the driver who leads into Turn 1 most likely ending up the race winner.  This could also be crucial for Hamilton with the Ferrari cars having good long run pace. Vettel and Raikkonen start P3 and P5 with the other Mercedes driver Bottas in between them.

Vettel might have to risk it all at the start to try to get ahead of Hamilton and Verstappen. This street circuit makes it hard to overtake and track position at the start is crucial. But the disastrous start that Vettel made from pole position in 2017 will weigh on his mind. On that day, with unlikely wet track conditions after rain, Vettel moved across to cover Verstappen in second position and a fast starting Raikkonen from third.

This resulted in a race-ending incident for all three drivers which paved the way for an unlikely Hamilton win. This was the beginning of the end of Vettel and Ferrari’s title fight in 2017. Vettel is now 30-points behind Hamilton and will have to weigh the risk vs reward strategy carefully.

Never discount Verstappen’s ability to make a daredevil move into Turn 1 to take the lead. Hamilton as the leader in the drivers’ championship might be less willing to risk any incident that will end his race and will be cautious. Under the circumstances will Vettel go for a high-risk strategy into Turn 1 because any incident will dent his title chances massively.

The Race

The hypersoft tyres might not last many laps. The top 10 drivers will have to make an early pitstop. Drivers like Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz starting outside the top 10 have a free choice of tyres. They will elect to start on the more durable ultrasofts or even soft tyres.

The leaders of the race who pit early will have to get past these drivers after the first pitstop. For Vettel or Hamilton to get stuck behind an Alonso after their first pitstop could ruin their race.

The top 3 teams are reasonably closely matched in race pace. So tyre strategy and track position that results from it will be crucial in clinching a race win and podium positions. A one-stop race could be hypersoft-soft tyre stints. Some teams might try a two-stop race with a hypersoft-ultrasoft-hypersoft tyre strategy risking track position.

The Safety Car and Virtual Safety Car have played a role in giving an edge to one or other championship contender in some of the races in 2018. At this narrow street circuit at Singapore, a Safety Car has come out every race in the previous 10 races. This could help one of the top drivers to roll the dice and take the lead.

The Winner

Sebastian Vettel needs a win at this race to cut into the 30-point lead of Hamilton in the drivers’ championship. If Hamilton wins and extends his lead in Singapore, it will help deliver a psychological blow against Vettel in the title fight. Vettel and Ferrari started as favourites at the Singapore GP.

Hamilton and Mercedes have struggled at this high downforce street circuit in recent years. To clinch a win at a race which was about damage-limitation for Hamilton would be a big boost. So it is vital for Vettel to win and cut into the lead Hamilton has in the title race.

Verstappen will take no prisoners at the start. The two championship contenders will be wary of risking a race-ending incident on the first lap. This could give the Dutchman the perfect opportunity to take a race win.

The heavy thunderstorms that normally fall overnight may be delayed and result in wet track conditions. This can change all the equations and throw up a major surprise. A lot is at stake in the championship battle on Sunday. Who among Hamilton or Vettel will emerge as the winner? Or will Verstappen or some other driver steal a win?

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