SINGAPORE: Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel will be looking to restore the Formula One championship lead at the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday. The night race on the Marina Street Bay Circuit is expected to favour the Italian team, whose strongest challenge could come from the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. Mercedes motorsport chief Toto Wolff has spoken of a damage limitation exercise for championship leader Lewis Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas in what is one of the most physically demanding races of the calendar in hot and steamy conditions. Although retired world champion Nico Rosberg won on the track last year for Mercedes, and Hamilton was victorious in 2014, the aerodynamics and the lack of long straights to maximise turbo power is expected to make life difficult for the team.
Hamilton, who has a seven-point lead over Vettel after winning in Spa and Monza, said nevertheless he was going into the race with “a positive mind-set that we are going to be fighting for a win.”
He added: “But if that’s not the case when we get there we’ll just take it at face value and try to get damage limitation, I guess.”
Bottas, who has just agreed a new one-year deal to stay with Mercedes until the end of 2018, said: “It’s going to be a challenge, and we don’t think we are favourites going to Singapore.”
“But in Monza we got a good balance and we did a really good job setting up the car, and found a different kind of stability that we haven’t had before.”
Vettel is a four-time winner in Singapore — three times with Red Bull — and knows the tight and twisty circuit offers him an opportunity with seven races remaining.
He also knows Red Bull could be strong, with the team having been on the podium 10 times in the past nine races in Singapore.
Red Bull took grid penalties in Monza following engine component changes with an eye on the Singapore race.
“I believe Singapore won’t be our only chance but is one of our best chances of a win in the second half of the season,” Ricciardo said.
He added: “I’ve started second and finished second at this track in the last two years, with fastest lap both times, so my aim this year is definitely to start on pole and try to go one better in the race.”
Verstappen will meanwhile be hoping his luck changes after a string of mishaps, which continued in Monza when he suffered a puncture in a collision with the Williams of Felipe Massa and eventually finished 10th.
A week earlier in Spa, Verstappen dropped out early after a loss of power in what was his sixth retirement of the season.
“The race has been a strong one for us in the past and I think we should be able to challenge for a podium this year,” the Dutchman said. — dpa