This weekend Formula 1 returns to action with what is becoming a bit of a welcome tradition, the Singapore Grand Prix. While racing on the streets of Marina Bay makes the circuit unique, being the only road race in Asia, the more enticing factor has been that it is held at night. Due to extreme daytime temperatures, the race starts at 8 p.m. local time, and yet even the late start does not mean that the drivers are able to avoid hostile temperatures as the cockpits hover around 140 degrees F.
The breaking story surrounding the race, however, is that Ferrari made a change to their driver’s lineup for the 2019 season. The fate of Kimi Raikkonen had been in question for much of the season, and even stretches back to last season, but the Finn had held on to the ride. Having finished on the podium in six out of the last seven races, Raikkonen had begun to look like a lock to return to Ferrari next year, playing the ever able competent wingman to his teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Instead, the Maranello outfit has decided to go bold, pushing Raikkonen to Sauber for next year. Taking his spot, in what is essentially a driver swap, is Charles Leclerc, currently at Sauber. The easy thing to note here is that Sauber, or Alfa Romeo Sauber, is basically a Ferrari junior program – which showcases the reality: Leclerc has been groomed to take over this seat. He has been raised as a Ferrari Academy driver and has bided his time.
For the 2016 and 2017 seasons, Leclerc served as a test driver for the Haas F1 program, another offshoot of the Ferrari web. During those same years, he won the GP3 championship. This year while driving for the underwhelming Sauber team he has notched five top 10 finishes and has hung tough with teammate Marcus Ericsson.
He has shown everything that Ferrari would hope that he should. This move is neither surprising nor unanticipated. The question had been whether or not Raikkonen’s performance would keep him behind the wheel of a Prancing Horse or if the organization would actually take the risk – as traditionally, they have not.
The move does not come without some concern. While Max Verstappen has shown that he has been able to handle the moved from Toro Rosso to Red Bull and play on the big stage, a driver like Stoffel Vandoorne never took to driving for McLaren after success in the lower ranks and rarely flashed any speed. .
The desire to embrace bringing drivers to the fore is fraught with all kinds of elements, from the support they receive to the cars they drive to the expectations on their time. Personality, talent, performance, communication, maturity, expectations, marketability, adaptability – the list goes on, but these are just some of the factors that feed into the success of both a driver and a team.
Leclerc, however, it should be noted, is moving to a team that is on the upswing, having finally found the performance that is expected of them. Ferrari are a clear frontrunner and should hold that position in 2019, and it’s an enviable position for the 20-year-old Leclerc to have found himself in. He only has to deliver.
Odds & Sods
– Lost in the shuffling of seats of silly season is Esteban Ocon. The French driver, currently with Racing Point Force India, looks like he is getting lost in the mix. It is not his talent that it is in question, as Renault, Red Bull/Toro Rosso, and McLaren have all expressed some interest in him, it is that he’s tied to Mercedes. His contract with them makes him less appealing, or better stated, harder to move to a different team.
As Force India looks committed to Sergio Perez and bringing on Lance Stroll, Ocon becomes the odd person out. Toro Rosso is unsettled for next year; Williams is looking for drivers that can bring financial backing; McLaren already determined their drivers for next year.
Ocon, then, could become a bit of a sad story – an excellent driver, who has rarely done anything wrong, and also deserves to be in the paddock – but now finds himself without a home. And his future, at least for next year, looks bleak. That’s the funny business of F1.
– The race this weekend favors… no one. As it is a track with similarities to Monaco, flat out speed is not as much of a consequence as braking and handling. While the expectation might be that Mercedes, with its longer wheelbase, might be at a disadvantage, that is not the case as the track gives a little more space than Monaco, which has allowed Mercedes to dominate the past few years. Ferrari and Red Bull, however, are equal to the task at the Marina Bay Circuit.
The Singapore Grand Prix came to fruition in 1961 as the Orient Grand Prix. Subsequent iterations were called the Malaysian Grand Prix, until 1965 when Singapore earned its independence. A 35-year gap divided the running of the race beginning in 1973. Negotiations to hold the race again began in 2006 with Formula 1 going lights out in 2008 in what was the sport’s first night race. The street circuit is the slowest track on the F1 calendar and features 23 turns and is 3.14 miles in length. The humid conditions mean that the temperatures in the cockpit can often reach 140 degrees, while running at night also provides a different challenge – aspects that have contributed, along with the tight confines, to the safety car making an appearance in every race thus far. Lewis Hamilton won the race last year, while Sebastian Vettel leads all drivers with 4 victories at the track.