Formula One arrives in Singapore with the race representing the last-chance saloon for Sebastian Vettel's title rivals Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen. After dominating on the high-speed circuits of Spa-Francorchamps and Monza, the chasing pack are relying on the order being mixed by the return to a high-downforce circuit. The only problem is that the Red Bull is as devastatingly quick in high-downforce specification as it is in low-drag trim and Vettel has good form at Marina Bay after winning the race over the last two years. Fortunately recent developments in the driver market are providing a fascinating sideshow to the on-track action and there's no sign of any let-up this weekend.
In FormFernando Alonso may have lost 14 points to Sebastian Vettel at the last two races, but his performances have arguably been as impressive as the Red Bull driver's. With the gap in performance between the F138 and RB9 still significant he was the best of the rest in Spa and Monza, despite qualifying out of position. The next two races will be crucial for Alonso, however. If Ferrari is going to continue to plough resources into the 2013 car he needs to prove that the gap to Vettel is surmountable in terms of both points and pace. Realistically he needs the Red Bull to suffer a couple of DNFs, but if he fails to score the title race is surely over.
Out of FormApart from his boss Vijay Mallya, Paul di Resta has been the most vocal critic of Pirelli's mid-season construction change to the tyres. The facts back up his argument: On the original construction he scored at every round bar Malaysia (where he was on top form before a wheel nut issue ruined his chances) and since the 2012-style tyres have returned he has failed to score a point. Force India was one of the teams swapping tyres left to right to gain an advantage, and during pre-season testing it unlocked the secret to making the tyres last longer while still extracting performance. Now the underlying weaknesses of the VJM05 - fundamentally a lack of downforce - have been exposed, while the new tyres appear to have played to the strengths of rivals McLaren. Singapore has been a strong circuit for di Resta in the past but just scoring a point or two will be seen as a success this weekend.
One to watchKimi Raikkonen has had a turbulent few weeks. On track he's had two disappointments after failing to score at Spa and Monza, and away from the track he has re-signed with his old team Ferrari for 2014. Not that you'd know talking to him and not that you'll notice in his performance this weekend. One of his strengths, and part of the reason Ferrari signed him, is because he gets on with the job regardless of other distractions. This weekend should be no different, but his Lotus is likely to be more competitive this weekend so expect a return to form at the front of the field.
Talking PointsWhat now for Lotus?
With Kimi Raikkonen on his way to Ferrari next year, Lotus has a big pair of racing boots to fill. Everybody in the paddock will have their opinion but the consensus is converging on one man: Nico Hulkenberg. Long seen as a potential superstar, Hulkenberg has shown flashes of brilliance in every season he has competed in; not least last weekend with Sauber at Monza. He has driven for a different team each year he has competed, so should have no problem settling down at Lotus and has shown that he can deliver consistently at a high level. Felipe Massa, Paul di Resta and Pastor Maldonado will no doubt be in the running, but none offer the complete package that Hulkenberg does.
What's going on in New Jersey?
There was a genuine sense of disappointment at Monza when New Jersey did not feature on the provisional calendar. The prospect of racing across the river from Manhattan is enough to spark enthusiasm in even the most travel-weary paddock dweller, but when 21 venues appeared on the calendar and New Jersey wasn't one of them it seemed like the dream was over. However, the organisers have made clear this week that they are still on target with both payments and preparations and fully expect to be on the FIA's official provisional calendar that should be released in the coming weeks. Only time will tell.
McLaren's future drivers
With the driver line-ups at Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes all secure, the rumour mill's focus has narrowed in on McLaren. A few months ago it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Jenson Button and Sergio Perez will stay in 2014, but the question now appears to be how long they will stay. Button has an option for next year that he has not yet signed, presumably because he is negotiating over a longer contract beyond 2014. He has talked about his excitement at being part of the Honda project from 2015 onwards but has also said he does not want to be tied down to any team for too long. The team has promised an announcement soon, but even then it may take a while for the truth behind the delay to be discovered.
- The Singapore Grand Prix is one of only two races that utilise floodlights, with Abu Dhabi being the other
- The race is one of the longest on the calendar in terms of time; the quickest of the four races so far was won in a time of 1hr56m06s
- The Singapore Grand Prix was originally a Formula Libre race which took place between 1966 and 1973
- In all, it requires 1,600 light projectors, with a total power requirement of 3,180,000 watts, all fed by 108,423 metres of power cables, to light the circuit
- Fernando Alonso has won the Singapore Grand Prix twice - in 2008 and 2010 - while Sebastian Vettel has won the last two years and Lewis Hamilton in 2009
- Kimi Raikkonen holds the lap record around Marina Bay with a time of 1:45.599 set in 2008
- The average lap speed in the race is just 97.56mph. Only Monaco is slower
- The safety car is almost guaranteed to make an appearance - it has done so at least once during each of the five races so far and seven times in total
CircuitThe race provides a fantastic spectacle for spectators, but for the drivers it's a very tough circuit. On the whole, short straights are punctuated by low and medium speed corners, with only the run between turns five and seven allowing the cars to hit top speed. As a result, maximum downforce is required. The number of slow-speed corners does open up the possibility for overtaking, with the braking zones for turns seven and 14 the best opportunities. The bumpy road surface, humidity and workload - 23 corners and 80 gear changes a lap - make it hard work for the guys inside the cockpit. Changes this year include a high-speed corner at Turn 10 rather than the clumsy Singapore Sling chicane and two DRS zones - one along the kinked straight between Turns 5 and 7 and one on the pit straight.
FIA driver stewardDerek Warwick is this weekend's driver steward. He raced in 146 grands prix from 1981 to 1993, appearing for Toleman, Renault, Brabham, Arrows and Lotus. He scored 71 points and achieved four podium finishes, with two fastest laps. Warwick is a frequent FIA driver steward and is President of the British Racing Drivers' Club.
WeatherEach year the threat of thunderstorms hangs over the Singapore Grand Prix, but so far the sessions have dodged the worst of the downpours. Friday is the only day likely to be affected this weekend, but even then there is no guaranteeing a storm will actually coincide with a session. However, if the track gets wet it takes a long time to dry in the humid conditions and a storm a few hours in advance could result in a few tricky damp patches around the circuit.
BettingIt will come as no surprise that Sebastian Vettel is the favourite to win in Singapore and make it a hat-trick of wins from the last three races with odds of 6/5. Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, the only other two men to win here in the past, are both at odds of 7/2, with Mark Webber at 10/1, Kimi Raikkonen at 12/1 and Nico Rosberg at 14/1. Perhaps more tempting is Romain Grosjean at 9/1 to get on the podium in the Lotus or Valtteri Bottas at 6/1 to score his first point for Williams.