5 things to watch at the Sin­ga­pore GP

New Straits Times - - Sport -

AFP

l “FAR­CI­CAL” was the near-unan­i­mous ver­dict at the last race in Italy, where nine driv­ers were de­moted a to­tal of 150 grid places for of­fences such as changing en­gine com­po­nents and gear­boxes. Out of 20 driv­ers, only four started the race in the po­si­tions in which they had qual­i­fied. Small won­der that there are moves to ditch the pol­icy of hand­ing out grid penal­ties for tech­ni­cal in­frac­tions. “It needs a se­ri­ous look-at to see whether there is a bet­ter way of pe­nal­is­ing a man­u­fac­turer or an en­trant or a con­struc­tor as op­posed to mess­ing around with the grid,” said Red Bull team prin­ci­pal Chris­tian Horner. “I think it will only get worse and it would be a shame to see this cham­pi­onship de­cided on grid penal­ties.”

Time ap­pears to be up for Honda at McLaren with ex­pec­ta­tions high that the Ja­panese power unit sup­plier will be re­placed by Re­nault. It hasn’t been a happy time for Honda, who have been crit­i­cised for pro­vid­ing un­re­li­able and un­der-pow­ered en­gines since they re­turned to the sport in 2015.

As if to un­der­line the point, both McLaren driv­ers, Fer­nando Alonso and Stof­fel Van­doorne, failed to fin­ish this month’s race in Monza. Honda ap­pear likely to stay in F1, how­ever, with re­ports that they will wan­der the short dis­tance down the pit­lane to the Toro Rosso team.

Red Bull’s Daniel Ric­cia­rdo promised to un­leash his “hid­den honey badger” this sea­son and he has been as good as his word, stand­ing six times on the podium in­clud­ing his fifth ca­reer win in Azer­bai­jan. Across the garage, his teenage team-mate Max Ver­stap­pen has been strug­gling, with six re­tire­ments against a soli­tary podium fin­ish in China. The omens look good in Sin­ga­pore for Ric­cia­rdo, who has a pic­ture of the no­tably tough and tena­cious honey badger etched on his hel­met. The Aus­tralian has fin­ished sec­ond at the last two Sin­ga­pore races, and he was third in 2014. He is likely to cel­e­brate fur­ther suc­cess with his trade­mark “Shoey” – drink­ing cham­pagne from his sweaty boot.

Ap­proach Nico Hulken­berg at your peril af­ter Sun­day’s race. If he fails to fin­ish in the top three, he will set a new record of 129 grand prix starts with­out a place on the podium. Hulken­berg, who cur­rently shares the un­de­sir­able record with Adrian Su­til, doesn’t look likely to break his duck in Sin­ga­pore. The 30-year-old Ger­man’s best fin­ish with Re­nault this sea­son is sixth, and his soli­tary pole po­si­tion at Brazil 2010 for Wil­liams re­mains a ca­reer high­light.

Max Ver­stap­pen got a nasty fright last year when he was con­fronted by a large mon­i­tor lizard which slunk across the track in the fi­nal prac­tice ses­sion. The gi­ant rep­tile prob­a­bly came up from the depths of Ma­rina Bay, the stretch of wa­ter which lines down­town Sin­ga­pore. “You came face-to-face with Godzilla,” Ver­stap­pen’s en­gi­neer joked. At least it was bet­ter than 2015, when a con­fused-look­ing Bri­tish fan climbed through a gap in the fence and wan­dered onto the track, crossing in front of a flab­ber­gasted Se­bas­tian Vet­tel. Sin­ga­pore isn’t the only cir­cuit to have in­trud­ers: in 2011, a stray dog held up prac­tice for the in­au­gu­ral In­dia Grand Prix while stew­ards chased it from the track. AFP

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