McLaren team ready to take on unique Singapore challenge

Marina Bay will be the setting for the night race,

The Formula 1 World Championship returns to Asia next weekend when the cars take to the Marina Bay street circuit in Singapore. It’s the only night race on the 2013 calendar; such is the unique mental and physical challenge of the Singapore Grand Prix that Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver Jenson Button calls it “a modern-day classic”.

(L to R): Jenson Button, McLaren; Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren Chief Executive Officer; and Sergio Perez, McLaren celebrate 50 years of McLaren as a constructor
(L to R): Jenson Button, McLaren; Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren Chief Executive Officer; and Sergio Perez, McLaren celebrate 50 years of McLaren as a constructor

Photo by: XPB Images

The race starts at 8.00pm (local time), two hours after darkness has fallen over the city-state, and it’s usually the longest grand prix of the year in terms of time – a consequence of the circuit’s slow average speed (149km/h) and the regular deployment of the Safety Car (statistically speaking, it’s been deployed for a minimum of four laps every year!). The fastest Singapore Grand Prix to date was in 2009, when Lewis Hamilton won for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes in 1hr 56m.

The challenging nature of the 23-corner Marina Bay layout, combined with the 30-degree heat and 70 per cent humidity of the Tropics, makes the 61-lap race one of the toughest for the drivers. They lose up to three litres of fluid during the race and some even get headaches due to the concentration required under the artificial lights.

The 5.073km Marina Bay circuit is the second slowest of the season, after Monaco, and the cars run with maximum aerodynamic downforce. There is a great emphasis on traction out of the slow corners, which is why Pirelli take their Supersoft and Medium tyre compounds to the race – as they did in Australia and Canada earlier in the year.

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes has won the Singapore Grand Prix once, in 2009, and Jenson is one of only three drivers on the grid to have completed every lap of every race in Singapore. Both he and team-mate Sergio Perez are aiming to score points in this year’s race.

Car 5: Jenson Button

“Just as it’s exciting to return to Europe after the opening races of the year, it’s always cool to pack your bags for a long-haul flight, knowing that you’re heading off for the flyaways that bring the curtain down on a long season.

“I remember the first time we raced at Singapore [in 2008]; it seemed incredible to think that we could hold a Formula 1 race at night. I must say, the thrill and novelty of racing through spotlit streets is just as intense for me today as it was when we first raced there – it’s a unique spectacle, and one that I think is brilliant for F1. In fact, the Singapore Grand Prix is one of the wonders of modern sport.

“I enjoy racing around the Marina Bay circuit. Although I’ve finished second there for the past two years, this year it’ll be interesting to see how our car behaves on a bumpy, high-downforce circuit.

“This is also a race where good fitness preparation really pays off: the race is usually close to the two-hour limit, so it’s the longest physical challenge on the calendar.

“I’m really looking forward to it.”

Car 6: Sergio Perez

“I’ve finished in the points in my two previous visits to Singapore, so, after the disappointment of just failing to get home in the top 10 at Monza, a points finish next weekend will clearly be my aim.

“Obviously, the fight at the sharp end of the championship means that the top three or four teams are still pushing hard to develop their current cars, whereas some of the others are looking more towards 2014. That means that it’s getting slightly harder to score good points in the remaining races. However, we’ve still got developments coming through – most with an eye to next year – and I hope that we can maximise our package for one of the toughest races of the year.

“Singapore is an unpredictable race – it’s tough on drivers and machinery, so we’ll be looking to get the best from our high-downforce set-up and see if we have a car that can ride the circuit’s many bumps.

“I like street circuits – you can really attack the corners! – so I’m really looking forward to the whole weekend.”

Martin Whitmarsh
Team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

“It was around 10 years ago that the idea of a Formula 1 night race was first floated. At the time, I remember thinking it was an incredibly imaginative and ambitious idea, but, given the scope and scale of such an endeavour, I also thought it an unlikely possibility.

“However, the organisers of the Singapore Grand Prix have shown huge determination and ambition to bring the idea to fruition, and, as we approach the sixth edition of the race, I think everybody in Formula 1 now regards the event as one of the cornerstones of the grand prix calendar. Indeed, it’s one of the miracles of televised sport.

“As well as the spectacle, this is also a very hard motor race: in hot and humid conditions, and on a circuit where there’s little opportunity to relax, the drivers will race for nearly two hours on Sunday night.

“Our focus next weekend will be to continue refining and improving the MP4-28. After a run of fast low-downforce circuits, this will be an opportunity for us to measure our car’s performance on a significantly different kind of track. As ever, to achieve points finishes with both cars is our priority.”

A #mclaren50 moment

Singapore Grand Prix, September 27 2009

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes’ MP4-24 – the team’s first F1 car to use KERS – proves difficult to tame early on in the year, but extensive development work turns it into a front-runner from mid-season. Lewis wins at the Hungaroring and he arrives at Singapore’s similarly tortuous Marina Bay circuit confident of being competitive.

The Singapore weekend starts well when Lewis takes pole position by 0.3s from Sebastian Vettel. But his main challenger in the race isn’t the Red Bull driver, it’s his former karting team-mate Nico Rosberg. The Williams star lines up third on the grid and he immediately gets the jump on Vettel away from the line. He manages to stay with Lewis during the early stages, but his challenge comes undone at the first round of pitstops. In his haste to rejoin the action, Nico crosses the white line at the exit of the pitlane and the stewards issue him with a drive-through penalty. He finishes the race in 11th place.

That leaves Vettel chasing Lewis, but he too makes an error in the pitlane and he’s given a drive-through penalty for speeding. That leaves Lewis unchallenged at the front and after leading from lights to flag he crosses the line 9.6s ahead of Toyota’s Timo Glock and Renault’s Fernando Alonso. Lewis’s Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team-mate, Heikki Kovalainen, comes home in seventh place.

Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jenson Button , Fernando Alonso , Lewis Hamilton , Nico Rosberg , Heikki Kovalainen , Timo Glock , Sebastian Vettel , Sergio Perez , Martin Whitmarsh
Teams Mercedes , McLaren , Williams
Article type Preview
Tags button, marina bay, mclaren, merceds, night race, perez, singapore, vodafone