Key Questions Ahead Of The Singapore Grand Prix
In the latest episode of the Firstpost Pole Position, we termed the week after the mid-season summer break as the â€˜Lewis Hamilton weekâ€™ in Formula 1. It was a week in which he equaled and then created his own pole position record, won two races (also became the first back-to-back winner of the 2017 Formula 1 Season) and overtook Sebastian Vettel in the Driversâ€™ Championship.
But as a Formula 1 fan, here are the key questions ahead of the 2017 Singapore Grand Prix.
Can Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari Fight Back?
Hereâ€™s the strange thing, while Hamilton won in Spa and Monza, Vettel finished second and third respectively â€“ which arenâ€™t bad finishes altogether. In Spa, the Ferrari seemed the faster car that finished second, but in Monza, they manner in which Ferrari seemed defeated to finish third raised a lot of eyebrows â€“ they finished 30 seconds off Mercedes. Sergio Marchionne pointed out that his team had â€˜screwed upâ€™ and blamed the direction of the car set-up, but Vettel seemed surprisingly calm and sure that their Monza performance was only a blip in their otherwise season pleasing performance.
In Singapore, will Vettel be able to claim victory and re-take the lead in the championship? Or will he cede further ground to Hamilton, should the Mercedes end up not struggling as much as Ferrari would expect them to? The Driversâ€™ Championship might be decided by Mercedesâ€™ ability to adapt the W08 to the tighter, trickier circuits left of the calendar.
And what about Red Bull Racing? Theyâ€™ll certainly fancy their chances at the street circuit. Helmut Marko and Christian Hornerâ€™s support for Vettelâ€™s title bid might well be tested! (of course, neither Red Bull Racing driver would agree to offer support!)
The Force India Team Battle
Never before has Force India been in the news for their team-mate rivalry. In fact, during my time with the team, â€˜harmonyâ€™ would be one word to describe how the team built its way to 4th place in the Constructorsâ€™ Championship. At Monza, Sergio Perez was overshadowed by Esteban Oconâ€™s performance in qualifying and in the race.
In my view, Perezâ€™s actions in Spa were a result of Ocon matching him for talent and pace at every race meet this season. But Singapore has been a happy-hunting ground for Perez â€“ heâ€™s been in the points in every single year since his debut, will it be time for him to Feel the Force and shine again?
Letâ€™s remember, Perez and Ocon are in different lifecycles in their Formula 1 career. Perez is desperately seeking a manufacturer team to further his career and has used his PR abilities well to position himself as a potential replacement for Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari. Last season, he reportedly refused a long-term deal with Renault to keep his options open at Ferrari. But for next season, Renault might have Fernando Alonso, Robert Kubica and even Carlos Sainz Jr. as options to partner Nico Hulkenberg.
As for Ocon, heâ€™s a Mercedes junior driver and was given the Force India opportunity ahead of Pascal Wehrlein, his senior in the Mercedes program. With the backing of the current Constructorsâ€™ Champion team, Ocon knows that him driving for the Silver Arrows might only be a matter of time. Could the opportunity arrive in 2019?
Mclaren-Renault, Toro Rosso-Honda, Sainz-Alonso
Formula 1 wants Honda to stay in the sport, but obviously â€“ there are barely a few manufacturers remaining in Formula 1. Honda wants to stay in Formula 1, but preferably with Mclaren. But, Mclaren knows that persisting with Honda might lose them Fernando Alonso. Basis paddock talk, it is now known that Mclaren are trying to lure Renault for a supply deal and are suggesting that Honda supply to Toro Rosso from next season.
The deadline for such a deal was set to be Monza, but the deadline seems to have been extended. For Alonsoâ€™s sake, I hope that Mclaren-Renault is the short-term future for the Mclaren-Alonso partnership with the hope to build their own engines in 2021, once the new regulations come into play.
However, a Toro Rosso-Honda partnership might just mar the progress of the illustrious Red Bull Racing Junior Driver Program. But more importantly, it might mar the career progression of Carlos Sainz Jr. Maybe this is why him opting to switch to Renault and leave the Red Bull Racing stables might make sense. Luckily for him, Renault is using him as a pawn in the complex engine supply negotiations and rumours suggest that Red Bull Racing have released him to pursue Renault.
But would Red Bull Racing be loaning Sainz to Renault, or would be a complete transfer? Come 2019, thereâ€™s a good chance that at least one of Red Bull Racingâ€™s current drivers could leave the team for either a Ferrari or Mercedes opportunity, if not both. In which case, both Red Bull Racing and Sainz wouldnâ€™t want to miss out on the many years of partnership and investment in the young Spaniardâ€™s career. While the long term might be unknown for everyone, at least in the short term, Alonsoâ€™s problem (of the Honda engines blowing every other corner), wonâ€™t become Sainzâ€™s!