F1 takes on a fresh face in Singapore
Formula One is heading to Singapore this week as it begins its ever expanding fly-away finish to the season. The race is one of six left on the calendar that stretches all the way to Brazil at the end of November.
Amazingly, with so much of the season to go, Sebastian Vettel could wrap up the drivers' title on Sunday night. It is a mark of his superiority as a driver, and Red Bull as a team that this is a possibility. His second title is a matter of when rather than if and with the German promising not to coast through the rest of the season it won't take long.
The last European race of the season, in Italy, extinguished any lingering hopes McLaren (and possibly Ferrari) had of upsetting the odds. There was a brief moment of joy for the home Ferrari fans in Monza when Fernando Alonso managed to exit the first corner in the lead. Forget the fans in the stands, the marshals at their posts were jumping up and down.
Of course it didn't last, and Vettel was soon disappearing into the distance.
The truth of the matter is that Vettel is a true racer at the top of his game. He may have the best car, but you have to drive it near perfectly to be as far ahead in the championship.
His first title last year was a battle, but it has liberated him this season. While others have made mistakes, or been hamstrung by their cars he has made it look easy, which is perhaps the most difficult thing of all.
Being in Singapore shows the evolution of Formula One and the change of emphasis in the sport. The race at Monza was run on the fastest track on the calendar. It is also one of the oldest, with a proud history. Singapore is part of the march to expansion and new markets. The street circuit may not stretch the drivers, but, boy, does it look good at night for TV. The night slot also means a prime TV audienc in the European heartlands.
It's not that there aren't challenges for the drivers. The extremely hot and humid climate is one of them, amplifying the physical endurance needed. The time difference from Europe isn't a help either, and as it is a night race everyone opts to stay on European time, getting up at lunch time and finishing in the middle of the night
That suits Michael Schumacher just fine. On his website he tells readers 'surprisingly it worked out very well and somehow [it] was even fun to drive and have meetings in the middle of the night'.
While he is having fun, tyre technicians at Pirelli are scratching their heads. As with the other street circuits at Monaco and Canada, they will provide soft and super-soft tyres to the teams. It might be no lower than 28 degrees Celsius at the circuit, but unusually the track temperatures actually go down during each session, so teams will get progressively less grip from the tarmac.
After the fun and games in Monza, passing in Singapore will be much harder. The circuit has 23 corners - only Valencia has more with 25 - and that might be a relief to Schumacher. Recently he has benefited from stellar race starts, but it has meant he has had to defend his position from faster cars as the afternoon progressed.
This was no more apparent than at Monza, where he frustrated Lewis Hamilton for an age. His duel pushed him to go right to the edge of what was acceptable, with the odd chop across the bows of Hamilton and a fairly obvious 'double move' to defend his lead into a corner. Fearing a penalty for his transgressions, team boss Ross Brawn came on the radio to ask him to 'please leave room'.
He sounded like a driving instructor, but luckily he is probably the only man who could get away with talking to a seven-time world champion like that.