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Crunch time in Singapore for title contenders

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Jonathan Legard | 18:32 UK time, Friday, 24 September 2010

The point-scoring started in Singapore well before a wheel had even turned around the Marina Bay circuit.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner picked out Ferrari as their biggest threat.

Jenson Button wondered aloud if Mark Webber's experience would count against him because he'd be thinking too much about 2010 being his last title chance.

Fernando Alonso thought that a team-mate's help wasn't necessarily an advantage in the face of his rivals' two-pronged challenge.

Lewis Hamilton said Alonso was his main threat. And Sebastian Vettel was happy to be cast as the outsider in Formula 1's most thrilling championship battle in years, 24 points behind his Red Bull team-mate in fifth with five races remaining.

All good fun to prepare us for Singapore's night-time spectacular. But all five contenders know, like the rest of us, that this event in Singapore could become a turning point in the season.

This race will be the first indicator of the teams' relative performance since the FIA's new load tests on the front wings and the front part of the floor (known as the 'bib') were introduced to combat alleged flexing beyond the regulations.

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Highlights from second practice at Singapore

Red Bull and Ferrari had faced claims - which they strenuously refuted - from McLaren and Mercedes that they were gaining a downforce advantage from 'flexi-bodywork'.

After the two 'low-downforce' tracks in Belgium and Italy, where Red Bull were beaten, Singapore is a high-downforce layout.

That makes it more like Hungary, where Red Bull were 1.2 seconds faster than the Ferraris and 1.7 seconds better than the McLarens.

So Formula 1 is now looking for answers to some key questions.

How much, if at all, has Red Bull's performance been compromised by the new tests?

How much ground have Ferrari and McLaren made up on the grid's pace-setters?

And how much closer will the competition be than the eye-popping advantage Webber and Vettel enjoyed in Budapest?

Significantly the top five in the championship were the fastest five on the track after practice. As the stakes have risen, so has the intensity among the contenders.

Despite the tricky conditions in Friday practice, where the track was never properly dry after an afternoon rainstorm, Red Bull were again the headline act, "crazy quick" in both sessions, according to Button.

On both light and heavy fuel loads, they set the pace - suggesting the new load tests have made little, if any, difference to Red Bull's pace, just as Red Bull had always insisted would be the case.

Vettel's one-second advantage over the field in the second session was misleading, though.

Alonso was on his first hot lap on the faster softer tyre in the drier second session when he overshot a corner and the engine cut out.

The Spaniard had set the fastest time in the first sector and was about to split the two Red Bulls by the line.

Alonso is confident that he will be leading the challenge to them in qualifying and the race.

"We're close to Red Bull. They're about a couple of 10ths of a second in front, but hopefully we can fight with them," he said.

That said, Webber, in particular, has appeared like a man on a mission all week. I understand he's determined to prove a point this weekend to silence Red Bull's critics who insist the team's been bending the rules over the design of the RB6, most recently the controversy over front wings and floor.

Reading Hamilton's comments on Thursday would only have stoked the Australian's fire.

"They were gaining from two particular parts and that had to be changed," said the 2008 champion.

"We didn't have that advantage because we were playing to the rules and hopefully it's now closer."

Red Bull have another new front wing here and further modifications to the floor, including a revised 'bib'.

They've also done work on their starts, which have cost Webber crucial places in the last two races. They claim they've resolved the problem but only when the lights go out on Sunday will they know for certain.

McLaren believe they can be much more competitive than in Hungary, described by one engineer on Thursday as "a massive wake-up call".

I'm told the car is "vastly different" to Budapest as a result of their constant pace of development.

They tested their striking new front wing, with an extra curved element, and other aerodynamic developments.

Initial analysis was positive but the greater concern is their performance on the softer tyre, with which both Red Bull and Ferrari found much greater consistency.

By contrast, both McLaren drivers saw the performance drop away alarmingly - not encouraging for qualifying, which looks set to be a straight contest between Red Bull and Ferrari.

McLaren may have to make do with row three if Alonso's team-mate Felipe Massa gets the best out of his Ferrari as well.

As ever this season, McLaren remain more optimistic about the race, when they hope their F-duct-inspired straight-line speed will count on the straights.

They're encouraged by the shorter corners here, which they feel will suit their car more than Hungary's opening sequence, for example, which Red Bull just lapped up.

In Singapore, as Jenson Button put it, the corners are "point and squirt" - like Canada, where he and Hamilton finished first and second. So brake, get in and get out as quickly as possible.

To do that successfully, you need good braking stability and traction - both areas where Ferrari excel.

Alonso proved that in Montreal and clearly in the last race at Monza.

Remember, also, how he dominated the first two sessions of practice around the streets of Monaco - until his crash in Saturday practice wrecked his challenge. But he still finished sixth in the race from the back of the grid.

Alonso was on the podium, too, in Hungary.

Ferrari have brought a new front wing and a modified floor, and if they find the balance as effectively as they did in Monza - where I'm told that Alonso's experience was crucial in pointing the way - the 2005 and 2006 champion looks set to keep himself firmly in the hunt in 2010.

The great uncertainty is the weather. Six hours after Friday's rain, when qualifying would have been starting had it been Saturday, parts of the track were like black ice.

Button reported that water was coming up through the asphalt in second practice and he couldn't see if the surface was wet or dry under the lights.

All five title contenders know what it takes to win at street circuits because all of them have done it.

They also know that one false move this weekend could mean the end of the road for their challenge.

In the wall or in the points - we're about to find out.

UPDATE, SATURDAY, 2100 BST

No wonder Christian Horner felt Red Bull underperformed in qualifying - Alonso has been handed the perfect platform to try to 'break' Red Bull in the opening stint.

The Ferrari has shown impressive pace on long and short runs in Singapore and Alonso's experience of these sort of pressure races could be significant.

And with Webber at the back of the championship contenders, behind both McLarens on the grid, Red Bull could be in for a testing afternoon.

Hamilton will be a danger to Vettel at the start, where the first few corners on what is expected to be a damp track will be critical.

Overtaking opportunities will be at a premium but there's always the chance of a safety car on a street circuit so the intensity of this race within a title race should be immense.

Comments

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  • 1. At 8:13pm on 24 Sep 2010, Wokingboy92 wrote:

    I think the weather will be the major factor this weekend. It will be interesting to see if the lights are good enough if there is a major down pour as often happens in Singapore. If the rain is too hard I can see the race being delayed or possibly even stopped. The other factor is the safety car as I would have thought at least one crash will bring it out. I think this could be a very interesting weekend and I expect a couple of the title contenders to leave very disappointed.

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  • 2. At 8:49pm on 24 Sep 2010, Leroy wrote:

    Crossing my fingers for a Jenson win here. I've got a good feeling about the reigning champion this weekend. Vettel will be his biggest threat i fear.

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  • 3. At 8:49pm on 24 Sep 2010, gohavesometea wrote:

    Got a good feeling for Button this weekend, hope my feeling is right...

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  • 4. At 8:57pm on 24 Sep 2010, gohavesometea wrote:

    Apparently I'm not the only one ;-) Hope you're right too Spook.

    I really think consistency in the last few races may be key and apart from his engine problem and his 'Vettel' problem Jenson has finished better or equal to his starting position in every race this year, that is the performance of a true champion especially when you consider the quality of his opposition...

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  • 5. At 9:55pm on 24 Sep 2010, Kalma1212 wrote:

    If the same weather pattern happens as in the practice, where it was wet from an earlier shower, but didn't evaporate cos of the humidity, then that will be a determining factor in the race, deciding whether the slicks or inters is the best tyre. Of course a full shower during the race will make things exciting and unpredictable :D

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  • 6. At 10:30pm on 24 Sep 2010, Nickynak wrote:

    Experience of fighting for the title will start to tell this weekend, I expect Alonso, Hamilton, and Button to pull away from the Red Bulls in the last few races, and of the two Red Bull drivers I think Vettel will be the one who will be closest at the end, despite his bad luck and variable form this season so far.

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  • 7. At 10:45pm on 24 Sep 2010, VettelDRFC90 wrote:

    Good blog. This is a crunch weekend for Vettel. 25 points and he's in a good position. Retire and unfortunately, it's game over. I honestly believe he will win, especially in the rain. Webber needs to believe that Vettel is still capable of winning the WDC, or he will lose points and become complacent. Hamilton is prone to accidents (Italy 09 AND 10) and Button is an average driver at best. Singapore should show that Red Bull and Alonso are capable of putting their stamp on this championship. I just can't see Mclaren working well here.

    Good luck Vettel.

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  • 8. At 11:39pm on 24 Sep 2010, sadoldpedant wrote:

    Strenuously denied perhaps, but certainly not refuted.

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  • 9. At 00:31am on 25 Sep 2010, gohavesometea wrote:

    VettelManuwhatever "Hamilton is prone to accidents (Italy 09 AND 10) and Button is an average driver at best."

    Hmmm, maybe you weren't watching Turky and Spa this year?

    For Vettel's sake it would be better if it stayed dry, the wet will give Hamilton and Button a much leveller playing surface. Vettel is certainly talented when he manages to keep it together but your assessment of Button and Hamilton is a little myopic at best.

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  • 10. At 00:53am on 25 Sep 2010, strawballs wrote:

    I think Robert Kubica could be a fly in the ointment to one or more of the top 5 contenders this weekend esp if the race is a wet one.

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  • 11. At 07:57am on 25 Sep 2010, Krov Menuhin wrote:

    One correction. F1 is not the world's fastest sport. This weekend will see the Reno Air Races in Reno Nevada with even the smallest category lapping faster than any F1 car and the unlimited class lapping at more then 500MPH.

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  • 12. At 09:00am on 25 Sep 2010, TheMF8 wrote:

    Hmmm the fact that a few people want to fly in circles in a small desert in a remote part of the USA does not make it a global world sport exciting though I am sure it is.....

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  • 13. At 09:00am on 25 Sep 2010, AndyG wrote:

    Whilst Red Bull and McLaren look to be favourites I can't help but think Alonso will creep up and surprise them all - consistent point scoring will be the key and both Red Bull and McLaren have got both drivers in contention, Ferrari haven't and Alonso going for points with Massa's support will clinch it. But then this is F1 and I'll probably be proved wrong.....

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  • 14. At 09:40am on 25 Sep 2010, lewisbrakesthelatest wrote:

    If rain is a factor, shouldn't forget how good the British drivers can be in difficult conditions

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  • 15. At 10:08am on 25 Sep 2010, MrMinardi wrote:

    If it rains, Button will win.

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  • 16. At 10:24am on 25 Sep 2010, cealexander wrote:

    i think vettel will win wit alonso 2nd and that mean the championship it will be red hottt lol

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  • 17. At 10:30am on 25 Sep 2010, Andrew CJC wrote:

    I was very confused with how Webber is in second place and had a slower time than the top 5 - but i see the Beeb have transposed his time!

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  • 18. At 1:15pm on 25 Sep 2010, Lord_Lancashire wrote:

    After final practice, it looks very close between Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari. Alonso is still making mistakes (as seen in second practice). It's set up to be a thriller, and I cannot wait. If it rains, it'll be chaos, one feels.

    The pressure mounts...

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  • 19. At 1:26pm on 25 Sep 2010, maestro48 wrote:

    Now that Klien is returning as a driver, could I beg the commentators this weekend to pronounce his name correctly...? It is as in the English word "clean", not "cline". Thanks!

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  • 20. At 4:10pm on 25 Sep 2010, carryonvending wrote:

    Loved your GAFFE .............
    "Oh he's just split the VIRGINS"

    Perhaps from now you might consider pronouncing the name ALONSO correctly
    (NOT ALONZO)

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  • 21. At 4:30pm on 25 Sep 2010, Danny wrote:

    Does anyone else feel that BBC comentators seem to keep banging on about how good Alonso is and forget how good Hamilton is and how when using the same car how Hamilton beat Alonso in his first year, also controversy seems to follow Alonso around like a bad smell. Why is it we dont praise our own drivers, surely at the moment Hamilton is in the strongest position out of all the drivers at the head of the championship.

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  • 22. At 5:23pm on 25 Sep 2010, just4tom wrote:

    Racing under the lights sounds and looks like a great idea and is understandably being very 'hyped up' at Singapore. However, at a time when our sport is fighting uphill to try to make it just a little more environmentally friendly surely all those floodlights using all that electricity it really NOT such a good idea.

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  • 23. At 7:14pm on 25 Sep 2010, Crimanic wrote:

    I agree about the weather- if it starts raining during the race that will mean restrategizing in terms of pitstops as teams gets on the wets. Given that overtaking is hard on this course if the start is humdrum it will determine the nature of the race. I hope Webber can get a good start as opposed to the poor ones he's had in the previous 2 races and get up the field before the first corner... It would make for a more exciting race! So let it rain!

    I really hope that refuelling is back next season!

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  • 24. At 7:47pm on 25 Sep 2010, Jorge wrote:

    Alonso is driving impressively, bar none, in this final part of the championship, which is where one needs to show what he's made of.
    ...weather and safety cars apart, if his used up engine doesn't burn out, only vettel can challenge him.
    As Button said, and I agree, Singapour GP's outcome will be an important indicator of this championship's trend.
    ...and,frankly, Ferrari look very good now, and with Alonso at the driving seat, the only question mark being the fact that thay have no new engines left.

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  • 25. At 8:02pm on 25 Sep 2010, fastlane66 wrote:

    If Vettel was championship leader and then the team will back Vettel. Now the Red Bull has let down its driver championship chance and championship for construction was already damaged. Mark should not stay with Red Bull if he can find another top team. Interesting to wait and see how many cars Kamikaze Vettel will bring down and how many times short-cut master Nico Hulkenberg will cut chicane at Singapore GP.

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  • 26. At 8:53pm on 25 Sep 2010, maxwell wrote:

    SmokeyBandit

    Hamilton didn't beat Alonso , they finished on the same amount of points.

    Also, Alonso deserves all the praise he gets, 2 x WDC enough said.

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  • 27. At 9:17pm on 25 Sep 2010, helen cheshire wrote:

    If Vettel has not learnt and tries to squeeze Alonso, both the Macs could get through, leaving Webber(assuming he gets off the line)in a bad place. Hope Vettel does not screw up the start and ruin the race. Vettel aside may the best man on the day win. such an exciting season, and agree this race is crucial. BRING IT ON!

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  • 28. At 9:26pm on 25 Sep 2010, beautifulwalco wrote:

    crunch time for sure with Alonso in form

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  • 29. At 00:40am on 26 Sep 2010, Dave wrote:

    All eyes on Ferrari! It's funny how RedBull have always been the car to beat with mclaren chipping away and similarly ferrari doing the same.

    Alonso really deserves this. He had an okay car, then got upgrades and has fulfilled the phrase 'carpe diem'. Unlucky at spa though.

    I can see it ending how the line up is now. Thats going to really sort out the title contention. It's going to come down to some things such as engine failures etc. But its also who is able to sieze the moment. Webber has had the best car, but hasn't capitalised on this. Vettel has had the best car and has just thrown it away. Hamilton has not really had the car behind him, and button has always been second best.

    Think about it this way. If Webber wins overall, he won't have proved anything. He's had the best car the whole way. Sure Button had that last year, but the first 6 races he built a foundation on which he built his world championship. Webber is not the outright strong favourite.
    If Vettel wins, everyone will feel slightly robbed. Some spoilt brat getting lucky and managing to barge everyone off the track probably.
    If Hamilton wins, it will prove immense dedication and never giving up when things didn't look to be in his favour. 2008 he did have one of the best two cars, and he only just managed that due to some rain and tyre temperatures!
    But if Alonso was to win, its going to show he is really a force in formula 1. He got off to a cracking yet cheeky start with the first race, but was hit with bad luck and poor performance until germany. You've got to remember, Alonso was the person that finally stopped Schumacher.

    In terms of the sport, you'd want to see Alonso win surely? the comeback to level grounds. Nursing sick engines, doing 1 lap flyers like Vettel last year. And ofcourse, the prancing black horse of the skuderia ferrari leading the way.

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  • 30. At 08:30am on 26 Sep 2010, dyeyd11 wrote:

    if somebody thinks that lewis drives better than fernando way back in mclaren days,,its because mclaren was built for lewis and not for alonso.so i'm a bit worried about jenson at the team,so it should be "mclewis" and not "mclaren".

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  • 31. At 09:55am on 26 Sep 2010, ChelseaTex wrote:

    Dyeyd11 are you seriously asserting that McLaren built a car for Lewis in his rookie year, that is developed it for him when he was in GP2, which placed Alonso at a disadvantage.

    You will tell me next that Ferrari developed their car for Massa?

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  • 32. At 11:01am on 26 Sep 2010, Danny wrote:

    Exactly Chelseatex the minute things are against Alonso he throws all his toys, after all I think it was from his phone the text messages were being sent which ultimately caused mclaren to be heavilly fined for spying,something which happens in every industry and for sure ferrari do the same, remember mclaren broke no laws. The overtaking Massa across the grass when entering the pits race and also remember the Piquet incident that involved Alonso and finally the recent team order race at Ferrari, something that had mclaren done it would have surely involved massive penalties. Alonso is the dick dastardly of F1, Lewis in his first season equalled Alonso If your spanish support Alonso British Hamilton or Button.

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  • 33. At 11:19am on 26 Sep 2010, dyeyd11 wrote:

    ChelseaTex:i'm not asserting mclaren built a car for lewis,nor even ferrari built a car for felipe or redbull for vettel.all im saying is that lewis did'nt beat alonso..they finished on the same amount of points back in ron dennis days.

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  • 34. At 2:42pm on 26 Sep 2010, RaceFace wrote:

    Lewis Hamilton may be a good wet conditions racer but he can't odds A.N.Other who is no sportsman. In fact have THAT team got any?

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  • 35. At 3:46pm on 26 Sep 2010, hackerjack wrote:

    30. dyeyd11: its because mclaren was built for lewis and not for alonso

    33. dyeyd11: i'm not asserting mclaren built a car for lewis
    ---------------

    Err yes you did, make your mind up.

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  • 36. At 4:02pm on 26 Sep 2010, tothemaxuk wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 37. At 5:13pm on 26 Sep 2010, lester wrote:

    mark webber - has he got an F1 licence or is he still licenced only for the demolition derby, perhaps he did not see hamilton car, maybe he needs glasses

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  • 39. At 9:08pm on 06 Oct 2010, Ninja Hedgehog wrote:

    Hi Jonathan
    Sorry this is not about your blog, but could you please ask Andrew Benson to open his most recent blog for comments. He only posted it at 09:30 today & it is already closed before a single comment could be added.
    Thanks.

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