Lewis Hamil­ton ar­rives in Sin­ga­pore as For­mula One leader and the sea­son’s first back-to-back win­ner, but Fer­rari ri­val Se­bas­tian Vet­tel could dash the Mercedes driver’s hopes of a third win in a row

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Sports -

MERCEDES say they face a dif­fi­cult task stop­ping Fer­rari’s Se­bas­tian Vet­tel re­tak­ing the cham­pi­onship lead in Sin­ga­pore on Sun­day. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamil­ton moved ahead of the Ger­man for the first time this sea­son with vic­tory in Italy. Hamil­ton led team mate Valt­teri Bot­tas in a dom­i­nant one-two at the Ital­ian Grand Prix two weeks ago to take his sec­ond suc­ces­sive win from a record 69th pole po­si­tion. Vet­tel trailed home in third place, more than half a minute be­hind the Bri­ton, and lost the over­all lead he had en­joyed all sea­son with Hamil­ton now three points clear and seven races re­main­ing. Now Mercedes are braced for a Fer­rari back­lash at the Marina Bay street cir­cuit.

“Sin­ga­pore will be a dif­fer­ent story but it’s bet­ter to go there in the lead than be­hind,” the team’s non-ex­ec­u­tive chair­man Niki Lauda told Reuters af­ter the Monza race. Hamil­ton also ex­pects a closer bat­tle.

“I think the learn­ing from these two weeks should hope­fully put us in a bet­ter po­si­tion for Sin­ga­pore,” he told re­porters. “But I think still Fer­rari are go­ing to be quick there. They’re rapid through the medium and low speed sec­tions of the cir­cuits.”

The tight twists of the Sin­ga­pore track, which has the most cor­ners of any cir­cuit on the cal­en­dar, should play to Fer­rari’s strengths. The Ital­ian team, now 62 points be­hind Mercedes in the team stand­ings, have been dom­i­nant this year at sim­i­lar venues like Monaco and Hun­gary, scor­ing one-two fin­ishes at both. Hamil­ton and Mercedes also have a che­quered his­tory in Sin­ga­pore, even if now re­tired 2016 cham­pion team mate Nico Ros­berg won there last year. The Bri­ton is one of only four driv­ers to have won the race since it joined the cal­en­dar in 2008 but Hamil­ton has only two wins there to Vet­tel’s four, ac­cord­ing to Reuters. The Ger­man, the most suc­cess­ful driver around the city-state’s flood­lit streets, scored the last of those for Fer­rari in 2015, when Mercedes failed to fin­ish on the podium.

“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 Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff.

“But not­with­stand­ing that suc­cess, this is a cir­cuit we have found dif­fi­cult to mas­ter...”

Red Bull, who took Vet­tel to three of his wins, boast the best record of all teams in Sin­ga­pore and see this year’s race as a real op­por­tu­nity.

“I be­lieve Sin­ga­pore won’t be our only chance but is one of our best chances of a win in the sec­ond half of the sea­son,” said Aus­tralian Daniel Ric­cia­rdo.

“I’ve started sec­ond and fin­ished sec­ond at this track in the last two years, with fastest lap both times, so my aim this year is def­i­nitely to start on pole and try to go one bet­ter in the race.”

All eyes will also be on McLaren, with a split from en­gine part­ner Honda and new re- la­tion­ship with Renault set to be an­nounced im­mi­nently.

Mean­while, Red Bull driver Daniel Ric­cia­rdo crushed his own lap record as he posted the fastest time in the first prac­tice ses­sion for the Sin­ga­pore Grand Prix on Friday. The Aus­tralian’s lead­ing time of 1 minute, 42.489 sec­onds was nearly five sec­onds bet­ter than the mark he set last year, al­though mod­i­fi­ca­tions and wider tires mean cars are faster now, ac­cord­ing to AP.

Sep­a­rately, the Sin­ga­pore Grand Prix is set to stay on the For­mula One cal­en­dar un­til 2021, the sport and race or­gan­is­ers con­firmed on Friday, af­ter agree­ing a four-year con­tract ex­ten­sion.

Sun­day’s race in the city-state would oth­er­wise have been the last. The race, which will re­main 60 per­cent funded by the govern­ment, costs some S$150 mil­lion ($111.58 mil­lion) to put on every year but In­dus­try Min­ist­try said that would be go­ing down to S$135 mil­lion a year.

It has also con­trib­uted S$1.4 bil­lion in tourism re­ceipts to Sin­ga­pore over the past decade and drawn over 450,000 in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors, in­clud­ing pro­jected ar­rivals for this year’s race, ac­cord­ing to the Sin­ga­pore Tourism Board. Ticket sales for this year’s race are 19 per­cent up.

For­mula One Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Chase Carey de­scribed the race as a “sig­na­ture” event.

Neigh­bour­ing Malaysia also hosts a Grand Prix but next month’s race at Sepang is set to be the last.

Red Bull driver Daniel Ric­cia­rdo crushed his own lap record as he posted the fastest time in the first prac­tice ses­sion for the Sin­ga­pore Grand Prix on Friday.

Mercedes’ Bri­tish driver Lewis Hamil­ton (R) cel­e­brates his pole po­si­tion next to sec­ond placed Fer­rari’s Ger­man driver Se­bas­tian Vet­tel af­ter the qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion at the Spa-Fran­cor­champs cir­cuit in Spa ahead of the Bel­gian For­mula One Grand Prix last month.

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