It looked like the drivers might need night vision heading into this weekend, after the images of the smog haze brought on by Indonesian farmers engulfed the Singapore skyline. Residents were being told to avoid outdoor activities for extended periods of time, the air quality reached “unhealthy” levels of consumption, the track was barely visible and it got worse at night.
For a moment it looked like the Singapore Grand Prix wasn’t going to happen this weekend, but when have you ever heard of a Grand Prix being cancelled? At least not on Bernie’s watch. It seems the skies have cleared enough for the circus to start the first of the flyaway races that we go to at the tail end of the season, with the Singapore night race often being the business end of the championship.
The first bit I want to talk about is Alexander Rossi replacing Roberto Merhi for five out of the seven remaining races this season, including the US Grand Prix later this month. This is the first time an American has raced in F1 since Scott Speed in 2007, with Rossi being the first American to race in Austin since its inauguration on the calendar in 2012.
Admittedly I think I’d rather see him in the car for both Sochi and Abu Dhabi instead of fighting for the GP2 title, which is effectively over now that Vandoorne has stretched the gap to make Racing Engineering only mathematically in contention. But I guess Rossi has commitments to the team contract-wise, and anything can happen in motorsport.
What’s interesting from Manor’s point of view is how they’ve said putting Rossi in for these races is good for the long-term of the team. He has already hinted at sponsors coming onboard for the US GP, however with the Haas driver decision still an unknown we could see Rossi in at Manor next year if he generates enough interest for 2016.
As for Merhi, I don’t think he should go underrated. He’s beaten Will Stevens on most occasions so far this year, and in 2014 those two were the drivers to beat in Formula Renault 3.5. Merhi’s drive at Pons perhaps hasn’t flattered him too much, particularly after his antics in Austria, but he does have pace and consistency that could benefit teams like Manor going forward.
Moving on to Sauber who have brought their first major updates to their car since Australia this weekend. The new nosecone along with updated bodywork is the most standout element, taking a leaf out of Red Bull design wise. Felipe Nasr said in todays drivers press conference that Sauber are looking to understand their package more heading into 2016, where they hope to be stronger.
Perhaps a big thing holding them back this year is the lack of power coming from the engine. They are on the 2015 Ferrari Power Unit, however the updates have still not filtered down to them which could give them crucial horsepower to make up for the deficit to Toro Rosso and Force India. Even Lotus are now ahead of them in terms of track position, and they looked as dire as they did last year.
Red Bull also look interesting this weekend. The team have been strategically changing their engines over the past couple of races in order to maximise their chances around the Singapore circuit, where they believe they can grab a podium or two like they did in Hungary, where Renault’s horsepower deficit was negated by the circuits tight layout.
This is of course amidst the ongoing divorce that both parties seem to be going through, after Autosport reported that Red Bull will not be using their engines from 2016 onwards. In a separate report Autosport also said earlier that Renault are looking to buy out Lotus, who this weekend secured sponsorship with the Four Seasons chain of hotels. With Grosjean also saying he’s decided on his future in todays press conference, its looking like such a deal might be getting closer to announcement.
Finally changes to the circuit down at turn one see a Monza-style slip road added for those who are found to be cutting the corner. Turns 10, 11 and 12 are also different, with the drivers now using the left-hand side of the Anderson Bridge on the run down into turn 13 in order to produce more overtaking in that area.