This is already a huge year in Formula 1. At the front of the grid, sparks are flying again as Mercedes and Ferrari lock horns, with Red Bull Racing already re-joining that headline skirmish. There are new races, new faces and new-look F1 cars, care of cockpit-protection device Halo.
But it has got a lot to live up to. Last year was a great one for the sport, bordering on a classic, with Mercedes’ superstar Lewis Hamilton becoming a four-time F1 World Champion. The Brit defeated title rival, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel with a strong run through the season’s second half for nine wins overall and points at all 20 rounds. But he’s already looking ahead.
“Four is a great number, it is part of my racing number 44 but I want five now,” said Hamilton, his aim to equal the great Juan Manuel Fangio.
“Just the other day, I was reminiscing about growing up in Stevenage [England] and watching TV and dreaming about being in F1. Here we are, 25 years on and I’m four-time world champion.”
And while there’s no doubt Hamilton earned his fourth crown, putting him level with F1 icon Alain Prost and Vettel, the latter and Ferrari cost themselves a better shot at it with a series of reliability issues and errors of judgement… sure to be a source of pain for a long time to come in Maranello.
Vettel’s meltdown during a chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix made world headlines, after he drew alongside Hamilton, and deliberately bumped into him to retaliate for what he thought was brake testing under the safety car. He was handed a 10-second stop-go penalty for it and, while many felt it wasn’t enough, the incident weighed heavily on the German.
“The worst feeling I had was after Baku, because I think ruined the race with something unnecessary, so I struggled with that,” said Vettel.
Then came Singapore and the most dramatic moment of the season, with Vettel causing a huge startline crash that left not only his title bid in tatters, but also took both Ferraris out of the race at a first corner – a first in F1 history.
And the shockwaves were felt all over the world.
“The race that made me jump out of my chair was Singapore,” exclaimed Nigel Mansell, the 1992 F1 World Champion.
“That was the defining moment of last year. Mercedes wasn’t favourite to win that GP and it was handed to Lewis on a plate.”
No doubt a wet start for the 10th edition of the race – the first-ever at the famed city-state since 2008 – contributed. But polesitter Vettel moved too far left at the start to protect his lead against Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen, sandwiching the Dutchman with his teammate Kimi Räikkönen. The multi-million dollar pile-up immediately ended the race for the three drivers.
And Singapore will continue to feature in the minds of the drivers ahead of this year's event in September.
For the fans, it’s an epic experience with constant racing action care of F1 and other exotic machinery, trackside parties, race-themed activities, and loads of live performances from some of the world’s biggest music acts.
Last year’s decade edition line-up was one of the best ever, with headline acts including global DJ sensation Calvin Harris, pop superstar Ariana Grande, synth-pop veterans Duran Duran, US pop rockers OneRepublic, American DJ duo The Chainsmokers, British singer-songwriters Seal, and Lianne La Havas, and spoken word performer George the Poet. This year’s line-up is yet to drop.
For the drivers, on the other hand, it’s a brutal test of human endurance with cockpit temperatures reaching 55 degrees Celsius at racing speeds, made only worse by three layers of fireproof clothing and a helmet. So it’s no surprise the drivers will lose up to 3kg in fluid over a two-hour period.
“It’s the one race where the drivers look battered when they get out of the cars,” said F1 commentator Martin Brundle, an ex-driver of 158 Grand Prix starts.
One Singapore specialist is Australian F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo, with the Red Bull Racing driver having stood on the podium every year since 2014.
“The past few years I’ve put emphasis on Singapore with my training and my preparation before that,” said Ricciardo.
“So that’s an area of the sport that I feel like I thrive off. I’m not saying I’m the fittest guy on the grid, or the only guy that trains, but when it comes to the kind of specific training I feel like I am definitely putting in what I have to, and making sure I’m prepared as well if not better than anyone.
“But, if a driver does not quite take some of those really physical races seriously, if they’re out enjoying their weekends more than they should, then I definitely feel it will show.”
Drivers and fans alike will also need to adjust to the new-look F1 cars, in the form of new cockpit-protection device Halo, which has been designed and tested by the sport’s governing body, the FIA, to deflect debris away the car and further protect the drivers.
And while the Halo divided the sport even before its race debut, the safety benefits it’s bringing are huge. For not only is it able to withstand 15 times the static load of the full mass of the car, but it also significantly increases the net protection against small debris. Incredibly, the visibility for the drivers is unaffected.
On-track, 2018 is already intense; frontrunners Mercedes and Ferrari are having their heels nipped by now Aston Martin-backed Red Bull Racing, with Monaco winner Daniel Ricciardo sitting tight in fourth place, close behind Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas.
It’s a crucial campaign for the Perth-born driver, who is in the final year of his contract with Red Bull. He must show strongly against his teammate Max Verstappen, who outquaified him 1–3 last season, as the next contract he inks is crucial to his world title hopes.
“I feel that I’ve been ready [for a world title campaign] for a few years, so I want it to happen soon,” Ricciardo said. “Ideally it happens in 2018, but if it doesn’t, I’ve got to try and make it happen.”
Behind the top three, a brutal midfield bloodbath is being fought by Renault and McLaren. Force India, and its combative pairing of fiery Mexican Sergio Pérez and highly rated young gun Esteban Ocon are yet to find their form, stuck further down the race ladder than would have been expected at the beginning of the tournament.
American squad Haas has retained Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen for stability in its third year, while Swiss outfit Sauber has a new title partnership with Italian marque Alfa Romeo, and will run F1’s top rookie prospect Charles Leclerc alongside Marcus Ericsson.
All of it is ensuring F1 2018 is one of the sport’s best seasons yet, the next event to be held in France on 25 June.
The 2018 FORMULA 1 SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX will be held from September 14-16, with more information at singaporegp.sg