Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull have, yet again, established their dominance over the rest of the field today in Singapore. The team’s shocking speed advantage to the tune of 6/10 of a second sings not only int one lap, but during long runs as well.
If this wasn’t enough to make the likes of Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus throw in the towel, then they need to take a look at the speed trap data from practice. Red Bull, not known for their straight-line speed, were 13 kph slower than the fastest cars at the end of the long, kinked back straight, yet their ultimate lap time is dominant.
Unlike in Monza, where Red Bull’s top-end speed was a hindrance, that 13 kph deficit is just as much an indicator of their dominance. Red Bull have so much downforce, and much of it natural and inherent to the general car design that the rest of the teams, no matter how talented they may be, have no answer to it.
In Singapore, lack of downforce is usually a team’s downfall. The only consolation the other front-runners can take from today is that the removal of the nasty turn-10 chicane, dubbed the “Singapore Sling”, has taken away a point of further dominance from Red Bull. One can only assume that chicane would have been another point on the track that Red Bull could have used to go faster than anyone else.
The fight for second place should ultimately be the most exciting of the weekend. Mercedes, Ferrari and Lotus all look relatively evenly-matched, with the Mercedes leading the way over one lap and Lotus, in the hands of Kimi Raikkonen, taking the advantage over the long runs, as expected in such a hot and tire-degrading environment.
Ferrari will have to rely on Fernando Alonso‘s staggering ability to extract 110 percent of the car to get ahead this weekend.
As usual, the midfield battle is close and hotly contested. The form of Esteban Gutierrez has been surprising. The young Mexican has said this weekend that he will take a more aggressive approach to his driving, particularly in qualifying. This ambition was underscored by impressive pace in FP1, as Gutierrez finished in the top-10.
His 16th place finish in FP2 may look less convincing on paper, but don’t be fooled. This weekend marks three in a row where the Mexican has backed up his impressive form from the 2012 GP2 season in which he finished the year in third.
Ultimately, though, this weekend will be heavily influenced by tire degradation. This weekend marks just the third from 2013 in which the SuperSoft and medium tires were paired together. Not since Canada have we seen this combination, and that race was dominated by tire degradation.
The SuperSofts are drastically faster than the Medium tires, and should provide lots of opportunities for interesting strategy, especially considering how quickly they lost grip. Starting the race on SuperSofts, as most who qualify in the top-10 will do, could mean stopping incredibly early in the race.
This opening the doors for the medium-shod drivers. However, considering how much faster the SuperSoft tires are than the medium ones, those starting on the latter could find themselves helpless in trying to stay with the others in the opening laps.
This will be a very interesting weekend indeed.