Formula 1 leader Max Verstappen will have to win where he has never won before to continue his record run in Singapore this weekend, perhaps the place of his toughest challenge of the season to date.
Marina Bay is not one of the 23 circuits where Red Bull’s double world champion has stood on top of the podium and past performances give hope to rivals eager to end his domination.
Verstappen is on an unprecedented 10-race winning streak but last year finished seventh on the streets of Singapore while Mexican teammate Sergio Perez triumphed ahead of the two Ferrari drivers.
“Singapore is probably going to be the most challenging weekend out of the upcoming races as the stakes are heightened on a street circuit and the field is usually very close, not to mention the heat and humidity,” said Verstappen.
“Last year we had a very unlucky weekend, hopefully this year it will go a bit better…” he added.
Perez can celebrate his 250th F1 start on Sunday by reducing Verstappen’s 145-point lead with eight rounds remaining at a circuit where passing is tricky, the walls are unforgiving and safety cars are frequently deployed. Qualifying is crucial and the weather reports also point to some rain.
Red Bull, winners of every race this year, can mathematically clinch the constructors’ crown if they finish one-two and Mercedes fail to score, a scenario that looks unlikely but not impossible.
“It’s a street circuit, it’s one of the toughest on the calendar. We saw last year how perilous it can be so we’ll just do our best to keep this momentum running,” said team boss Christian Horner.
Horner: One day we’re going to get beaten
“There are so many elements — whether it’s reliability, luck, strategy, a pitstop, pace, weather. You’ve got to stay on top of your game. One day we’re going to get beaten, that’s inevitable. It’s just a question of when, and obviously we want to make the when as far away as we can,” added the Red Bull boss.
The Marina Bay Street Circuit has been shortened and modified due to ongoing construction work, reduced from 23 corners to 19 with a longer straight that will make a quicker lap and faster race.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was on pole at the previous round in Monza while teammate Charles Leclerc started on pole in Singapore last year and they could be Red Bull’s closest challengers.
“Like all street circuits, the driver can really make a big difference here,” said Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur.
“We have done plenty of preparation work in the simulator and now the key will be for Carlos and Charles to do as many laps as possible in free practice, to extract all the potential from the SF-23.”
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton has won four times in Singapore and the team are hopeful of a good result.
Ahead of the action at Marina Bay, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff. “The battle with our nearest competitors is incredibly close. It’s hard to predict just how the order will shake out each weekend. Nonetheless, we typically perform better on high downforce tracks, so we’re hopeful of a competitive showing.”