Formula 1 World Champion Max Verstappen could be celebrating more than his 25th birthday under the lights of the Singapore Grand Prix this weekend as the Dutch driver takes a first shot at securing his second title in as many years.
The Red Bull racer, whose birthday is on Friday, is 116 points clear of Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc and 125 ahead of Mexican teammate Sergio Perez after 16 of this season’s 22 races.
Defending champion Verstappen is playing it cool, however: “It’s a challenging circuit, the humidity is tough on the body and it’s very difficult to do a perfect lap because of tight turns and how close the walls are. I don’t really think about the championship, I just want to have a positive weekend on track and take it race by race, there’s no rush.”
There are five rounds after Singapore, offering a maximum of 138 points. Verstappen needs to score at least 22 points more than Leclerc and 13 more than Perez on Sunday – meaning he has to win and Leclerc finish lower than eighth for the title to be decided.
Mercedes driver George Russell and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz are also in mathematical contention heading into Sunday’s race but only just.
Verstappen trailed Leclerc by 46 points after the first three races of the season but then ran away with the championship as the Monegasque’s challenge imploded.
He has won 11 of 16 races, finished off the podium just once and heads to Marina Bay Street Circuit, a race he is yet to win and where Red Bull have not triumphed since 2013, on a streak of five successive victories.
Ferrari were dominant the last time Formula 1 visited the city-state in 2019
Since then the Singapore race has been absent from the F1 calendar for two seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In that last “wacky” race in the city, Leclerc finished a frustrated second behind then teammate Sebastian Vettel in 2019 and will be fired up to take his fourth win of the year.
It also marked the occasion of Vettel’s last victory in F1, which should stand as with Aston Martin points would be like a win a podium virtually impossible for the team in its current state.
Mercedes will also be eyeing their chances for a first win of the season after making huge strides in performance since March, with their car especially strong on tight and twisty tracks like Singapore.
Seven-time F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton, who has never finished a season without a win, and teammate George Russell will also be wary of the bumpy surface while safety cars and possible rain could throw all predictions out of the window.
Alpine’s Fernando Alonso will meanwhile set a record with his 350th start, one more than 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen managed.
This year’s race will be the first of a new seven-year deal agreed with Formula One this year, keeping Singapore on the calendar until at least 2028.
The race, staged in the heart of the city against a backdrop of glittering skyscrapers, has established itself as one of the sport’s most glamorous and popular.
A crowd of about 268,000 attended over the whole weekend in 2019 and organisers are expecting a sell-out this year. (Reporting by Abhishek Takle)
Singapore Grand Prix Facts & Stats
Round 17 of the 22-race 2022 FIA Formula 1 World Championship season
Lap distance: 5.063km. Total distance: 308.706km (61 laps)
No race since 2019
Race lap record: One minute 41.905 seconds, Kevin Magnussen (Denmark) Haas, 2018.
Start time: 1200GMT (2000 local)
Sunday´s night-time race is the 13th in Singapore since its debut in 2008.
Three current drivers have won at the 23 corner circuit — Fernando Alonso (2008, 2010), Lewis Hamilton (2009, 2014, 2017, 2018) and Sebastian Vettel (2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2019).
Mercedes have won the race four times, Red Bull and Ferrari three each. Ferrari, in 2019, were the first team to finish one-two in Singapore.
Hamilton and Vettel have each been on pole four times in Singapore. The race has been won from pole position on eight occasions.
The lowest winning grid position is 15th for Alonso in a now-notorious 2008 race in which Brazilian team mate Nelson Piquet crashed his Renault deliberately on team orders.
The race is the longest in terms of time to complete and runs close to the two-hour limit.
The safety car has featured in all 12 editions.
Four drivers are making Singapore debuts: Mick Schumacher (Haas), Nicholas Latifi (Williams), Guanyu Zhou (Alfa Romeo) and Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri).
2022 F1 World Championship Points
Verstappen leads Leclerc by 116 points.
Red Bull lead Ferrari by 139 points in the constructors’ standings.
Williams’ Nicholas Latifi is the only race driver yet to score this season.
How the 2022 F1 title can be won in Singapore
Verstappen will take his second title if he wins and scores 22 points more than Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, 13 more than Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez and six more than Mercedes’ George Russell.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz also remains in mathematical contention but would have to score 11 points more than Verstappen on Sunday.
It would be the first time the drivers’ championship has been settled in Singapore.
Grand Prix Victories
Red Bull have won 12 of 16 races and Ferrari the rest. Verstappen has won 11 and is on course to set a record for most victories in a season.
Ferrari’s Leclerc and Sainz have three and one wins respectively, and Perez one.
Verstappen is chasing his sixth win in a row and 32nd of his career, which would move him alongside Alonso as sixth-equal in the all-time winning list.
Mercedes’ Hamilton has a record 103 wins and 188 podiums from 303 starts. The seven-times world champion last won a race in Saudi Arabia in December and is now on the longest streak of his career without a win.
Ferrari have won 242 races since 1950. McLaren have 183 wins, Mercedes 124, Williams 115 and Red Bull 87.
Pole Position & Fastest Lap
Leclerc has had eight poles this year, Verstappen four, Sainz two, Perez and Russell one each. Hamilton has a record 103, most recently in Saudi Arabia last year.
Six drivers have taken fastest laps this season: 5 – Verstappen (Imola, Miami, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands); Leclerc (Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Australia); Perez (Spain, Azerbaijan and Italy); Sainz (Canada, France); Hamilton (Britain, Hungary); Norris (Monaco).
Alpine’s Fernando Alonso will become the first driver to start 350 Formula 1 races, breaking Kimi Raikkonen’s tally of 349. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin)