Singapore GP: Mercedes expect a 'big challenge' to beat Ferrari
Will Marina Bay go the same way as Monaco and Budapest for Mercedes?
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 13/09/17 7:44pm
Mercedes head to Singapore in the lead of both world championships for the first time this season, have claimed four victories from the last five races, and won on F1's last visit to the streets of Marina Bay a year ago.
And yet you'd be hard-pressed to find many in F1 willing to make Mercedes the favourites for the 2017 edition of the Singapore GP.
Not the bookmakers. Not seasoned paddock sages. And not, it seems, even the world champions themselves.
"We will continue to see that certain cars perform much better on certain types of circuits," said team boss Toto Wolff before flying out to Asia.
"And certainly Singapore is more of a track that suits the Ferrari and the Red Bull and less us."
Why doesn't Singapore suit Mercedes?
Mercedes' Singapore concerns are legitimate and based on the evidence of the last two circuits which feature slow, technical corners like Marina Bay - Monaco and Hungary.
While the W08's strengths are best showcased at high speed, either in long, sweeping corners or a straight line, Ferrari's SF70-H comes to the fore in twistier, slower sections of track. And, being a circuit in the heart of a city, the barrier-lined Marina Bay layout is one such venue where Ferrari - and, in an added complication for Mercedes, Red Bull - ought to thrive.
Mercedes know it too.
"Both have shown strong performance on low-speed circuits demanding maximum downforce, and we have found life more difficult at those places in 2017," said Wolff. "Sometimes, characteristics like this are simply in the DNA of a car."
This is a car which caused Mercedes considerable angst in Monaco, with Ferrari in a different pace league all weekend at the Principality. They locked out the front row and then claimed a comfortable race-day one-two, with Mercedes also beaten by Red Bull into fourth. It was that lacklustre Mercedes performance which prompted Wolff to christen the W08 "a bit of a diva".
Two months on and Mercedes, armed with lots more knowledge about what had now become a more controllable W08, were more of a threat on the twisty Hungaroring, but Ferrari still finished in formation at the front despite steering problems for Sebastian Vettel making the race a closer run thing than it probably would have been.
Has Singapore always been bad for Mercedes?
When a team has racked up victories at such a sustained rate as Mercedes over the past four seasons - 59 out of the last 72 grands prix - it's hard to legitimately make a case for them to have a 'bogey' circuit.
But Singapore is probably the track that most closely fits that bill, even if the headline results in that period aren't nearly as bad as you might expect.
After all, Mercedes won with Lewis Hamilton in 2014. They won again with Nico Rosberg last year. But neither victory was a Monza-style walkover.
Then there was 2015. In terms of out-of-the-blue slumps of form, there has been little to beat it in recent F1 history after Mercedes, on pole position at all of that season's previous races, arrived in Singapore with the same car and lapped 1.5 seconds off Ferrari's qualifying pace. Race day was little better as one car finished fourth while the other retired. That sparked all manner of wacky conspiracy theories in an attempt to explain what had gone so badly wrong.
And although Rosberg's victory last year has laid some of those 2015 ghosts to rest, Mercedes haven't forgotten that curious particular struggle.
"In 2015, Singapore provided us with one of the most painful experiences in recent seasons, so we rolled up the sleeves, learned from it and managed to bounce back with a great win last year," said Wolff.
"But notwithstanding that success, this is a circuit we have found difficult to master with its combination of short, sharp corners, relatively short straights and bumpy surface. And we head to Asia this time round with the expectation that we have a big challenge ahead of us."
Can Mercedes win this year?
The form book from Monaco and Hungary suggests Mercedes will be hard-pressed to topple Ferrari this weekend, while Red Bull are also envisaging a strong weekend, but that certainly doesn't mean the world champions can't cause a mini-surprise on Sunday.
"I'm sure there is more we have learned to put us in a better position in Singapore," said Hamilton after a victory at Monza which saw him dislodge Vettel from the head of the Drivers' Championship for the first time this season.
"I still expect Ferrari to be better there in the slow and medium-speed corners but I'm going there with the attitude that we will be trying to win."
It's a mindset which has served Hamilton particularly well since the summer break, but it won't be until Friday practice that Mercedes truly begin to get a feel on whether the 2017 Singapore GP weekend is likely to be more about damage limitation or race-winning opportunity.
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