Press and Journal

The major talking points ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix

Following the final European leg of the season in Italy, Formula One heads to the Far East as Singapore plays host to the 15th round of the championship.

Lewis Hamilton holds a 30-point lead over title rival Sebastian Vettel with just seven rounds remaining.

Here, Press Association Sport takes a look at the key talking points ahead of Sunday’s race.

Vettel must make Ferrari advantage count

Sebastian Vettel, right, is trailing Lewis Hamilton by 30 points in the title race (Martin Rickett/PA)

Vettel should have moved to within seven points of Hamilton by winning in Italy last time out, but the German’s clumsy collision with his rival on the opening lap saw him depart Monza trailing in the championship by the equivalent of more than a victory. The Singapore Grand Prix, however, will provide Vettel with an immediate chance to bounce back, and it is an opportunity that he must grab with both hands. The twisty, slow-speed Marina Bay Street Circuit is a track which has played to the strengths of the Ferrari car in recent years, and if Vettel wants to win the championship, nothing less than a victory will do on Sunday. There are still 175 championship points to play for, so all is not lost for Vettel, but there is little doubt that he can ill-afford a repeat of his start-line crash last year in Singapore, which, followed by mechanical failures at the next two races, enabled Hamilton to win the title at a canter. The pressure is on this weekend and Vettel must deliver.

Will Hamilton play the long game?

Hamilton will touch down in Singapore following a 21-hour flight from New York. After his remarkable victory in Italy, Hamilton flew to Shanghai before he headed to the United States, promoting his new Tommy Hilfiger fashion collection on both occasions. A distraction perhaps, but Hamilton has become the master of globe-trotting in recent years, with his extra-curricular activities seemingly having little effect on his ability to drive a Formula One car. As he switches his attention from the runway back to the track, Hamilton could be forgiven for pondering the championship long game given his healthy lead. Indeed, he can now afford to finish second to Vettel at the next four races and still be on top of the standings. Singapore, alongside Monaco and Hungary, has proven a bogey track for Mercedes, so it could be a case of damage limitation this weekend. That said, we did not think Hamilton had a cat in hell’s chance of beating the Ferraris in Monza, and look what happened there.

Leclerc in spotlight after Ferrari switch

On Tuesday, Ferrari announced that they were taking the bold step of dropping Kimi Raikkonen and hiring Charles Leclerc just 14 races into his grand prix career. Astonishingly Leclerc, 20, will become only the second youngest F1 driver in Ferrari’s history, and the youngest for the Italians in the best part of half-a-century. Ferrari hold high hopes for Leclerc, the protege of their driver academy, and his promotion is evidence of that. They didn’t want to risk losing him to a rival team. Raikkonen will be moved on, heading back to Sauber on a two-year deal which will take him beyond his 41st birthday. The Finn set the fastest lap in F1 history to put his Ferrari on pole position in Monza, yet his failure to hold off Hamilton and claim his first victory in more than five years was perhaps the vindication his team needed that a change of guard is necessary.

What next for Ocon?

There is now a real probability that Esteban Ocon, the highly-rated Mercedes junior driver currently racing for Force India, will be without a seat next year. Lawrence Stroll, the Canadian fashion billionaire who has recently acquired Force India, is set to take his son, Lance, with him from Williams to leave Ocon in the wilderness. Ocon’s links to Mercedes quite rightly turned McLaren off (why should they give experience to a rival team’s driver?) while Renault moved for Daniel Ricciardo instead of the Frenchman. There has been an outpouring of emotion within the sport over Ocon’s precarious future, not least from the 21-year-old after he vowed never to give up on his F1 dream. But while his talent certainly merits a seat, top-level sport is a cut-throat business, and although Mercedes may complain about the injustices of not being able to place Ocon on the grid for 2019, it should not be forgotten that they could also have freed him from his contract to make him a greater attraction to those not affiliated with the Silver Arrows.

Norris on simulator duty after McLaren promotion

Ferrari were not the only team to announce their 2019 plans between Italy and Singapore as McLaren also confirmed they will make Lando Norris, 19 in November, the youngest Brit to take part in an F1 race after handing him a seat for next year. Norris was given practice run-outs at the recent Belgian and Italian Grands Prix, and he did enough to convince the McLaren hierarchy that he was ready for next year. It’ll be back to normality, however, for the English teenager this weekend as he completes the rather less glamorous duties of simulator work at McLaren’s headquarters in Woking. Expect to see him back in the car during practice for the Russian Grand Prix though later this month, as McLaren continue to get him prepared for his full F1 debut.