The Formula 1 question marks over Hamilton vs Verstappen in Singapore

Red Bull's Formula 1 form usually improves dramatically at the Singapore Grand Prix, but the prospect of another fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen rests on two unknown factors

The Formula 1 question marks over Hamilton vs Verstappen in Singapore

Hamilton and Verstappen went wheel-to-wheel for victory in Hungary after Verstappen qualified on pole, and a second straight battle between the pair is expected this weekend after two races in Belgium and Italy with no Red Bull challenge.

Singapore suits Red Bull's chassis prowess and while Mercedes and Hamilton were on pole last year, there was still a gain on Red Bull's side that continued an important trend at the Marina Bay circuit.

Using our favoured supertime method, we can take the seasonal average of each team's fastest lap from a grand prix weekend, expressed as a percentage of the outright fastest, and compare it to the teams' respective supertime from Singapore.

The last three years gives a decent enough spread of data to eliminate potential anomalies.

In that time, Red Bull has enjoyed an average performance swing against Mercedes of 0.62% in Singapore.

So far in 2019, Red Bull's average supertime trails Mercedes' by 0.65%.

Simple maths based on simple data analytics would therefore suggest Red Bull will at least be a match for Mercedes in Singapore this year.

However, for that to happen two significant questions need to be answered in Red Bull's favour.

Will Red Bull's step trump Mercedes' own gains?

While the supertime data is a useful starting point for any performance analysis, in insolation it can be misleading.

For example, while Red Bull does enjoy a big gain in Singapore, Mercedes turned around its 2017 horror show at Marina Bay in style with Hamilton's pole and victory.

Mercedes was also 0.12% better compared to its own seasonal supertime, which means Singapore was one of the team's strongest weekends.

In doing so, Mercedes reduced Red Bull's performance swing in 2018 to just 0.35% - considerably less than the 'average' gain Red Bull has made at the track in recent years.

Supertime data for the last three seasons can also not account for Mercedes' continued improved low-speed corner form this year.

Mercedes had the fastest car in Monaco for the first time since 2015, and while Verstappen/Red Bull set the pace in Hungary, Verstappen said that Hamilton's charge to victory showed how much Mercedes had in reserve.

Assuming Mercedes' strong low-speed performance continues in a similar vein, Red Bull's 'normal' step in Singapore may not actually be enough.

What difference will Honda's latest spec make?

Clues regarding the step Red Bull-Honda might make this weekend can be found in two places: its Hungary performance and Honda's latest engine upgrade.

First, in Hungary, Verstappen was able to unleash incredible one-lap pace - as indicated by his pole position.

This was at odds with Monaco this year, where he was 0.644% off the pace, and was a bigger step than Red Bull had made for Hungary in the last three seasons.

Part of that was the enduring progress being made with Red Bull's chassis but it was also in part due to Honda's Spec 3 engine at maximum capacity, which has helped turned Verstappen into a completely different competitive prospect since Austria.

Verstappen and Red Bull arrive in Singapore armed with an upgraded Spec 4 Honda engine, one that has been targeted to improve its qualifying performance further and appears a more competitive prospect than the Renault engine it had this time one year ago.

However, we do not know how good the upgraded Honda is, because a combination of incidents and grid penalties made for weird weekends in Italy and Belgium, where the Spec 4 was introduced.

There were flickers of the package's true potential: Verstappen's one-lap pace in final practice was very good, within a tenth of Ferrari's eventual poleman and race winner Charles Leclerc, and his race simulation on Friday left Honda's F1 technical director Toyoharu Tanabe "very much" encouraged.

However, given Mercedes also introduced an engine upgrade in Belgium, Red Bull needs Honda's progress to be significant.

Verstappen or Hamilton may make the difference

Mercedes' ability to turn circuits like Singapore into a potential stronghold bodes well for Hamilton - and his team-mate Valtteri Bottas - in their bid to keep Red Bull at bay this weekend.

Friday practice will offer important indicators for the two key unknowns, which can be broadly summarised as Mercedes' strength and the true potential of Red Bull-Honda's latest package.

All that is certain is Singapore should mark a return to a track that favours both cars, after Ferrari intervened on power-sensitive circuits that suited the car.

Unless either of the questions posed here are answered in a way that swings the advantage wildly to one team, Red Bull and Mercedes should be well-balanced.

That would put the emphasis on Verstappen and Hamilton to make the difference, and spark the battle everyone is hoping for.

shares
comments
Pirelli using secret new indoor test process for 2020 F1 tyres

Previous article

Pirelli using secret new indoor test process for 2020 F1 tyres

Next article

F1 needs new gravel trap/asphalt approach, says GPDA chairman Wurz

F1 needs new gravel trap/asphalt approach, says GPDA chairman Wurz
Load comments
The six critical factors that could hand F1 2021 glory to Hamilton or Verstappen Plus

The six critical factors that could hand F1 2021 glory to Hamilton or Verstappen

The 2021 Formula 1 title battle is finely poised with six races remaining, as just six points separate championship leader Max Verstappen from seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton. In such a closely-fought season, the outcome could hinge on several small factors playing the way of Red Bull or Mercedes

Can Whitmarsh appointment help Aston succeed where its F1 rivals failed? Plus

Can Whitmarsh appointment help Aston succeed where its F1 rivals failed?

Aston Martin owner Lawrence Stroll is determined to make the group a billion-dollar business. MARK GALLAGHER analyses his latest play – bringing former McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh into the fold

Remembering Switzerland’s first F1 winner Plus

Remembering Switzerland’s first F1 winner

Stepping up to F1 in 1962, Jo Siffert shone with Rob Walker Racing Team and BRM before his career was abruptly ended in a fatal crash at Brands Hatch in 1971. Kevin Turner looked back at the life of Switzerland's first F1 winner on the 50th anniversary of his death

Formula 1
Oct 21, 2021
What Verstappen is risking with his current stance on 2021 F1 world title defeat Plus

What Verstappen is risking with his current stance on 2021 F1 world title defeat

OPINION: Max Verstappen is back in the lead of the 2021 Formula 1 drivers’ championship, with the season’s final flyaway events set to get underway in the USA this weekend. But a defensive stance he’s recently adopted could have a lasting impact for the Red Bull driver when it comes to his chances of defeating Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes

Formula 1
Oct 21, 2021
The hidden Ferrari struggle that Sainz’s recent charge put to rest Plus

The hidden Ferrari struggle that Sainz’s recent charge put to rest

Despite appearing to adjust to life as a Ferrari driver with relative ease, it was far from straightforward under the surface for Carlos Sainz Jr. But, having made breakthroughs in rather different routes at the Russian and Turkish races, he’s now targeting even greater feats for the rest of the Formula 1 season

Formula 1
Oct 20, 2021
The final throes of Brazil's fleetingly successful F1 team Plus

The final throes of Brazil's fleetingly successful F1 team

Emerson Fittipaldi is better remembered for his Formula 1 world championships and Indianapolis 500 successes than for the spell running his eponymous F1 team. Despite a hugely talented roll call of staff, it was a period of internal strife, limited funding and few results - as remembered by Autosport's technical consultant

Formula 1
Oct 18, 2021
Why McLaren's expanding agenda will benefit its F1 resurgence Plus

Why McLaren's expanding agenda will benefit its F1 resurgence

In the 1960s and 1970s, McLaren juggled works entries in F1, sportscars and the Indy 500 while building cars for F3 and F2. Now it’s returning to its roots, expanding 
into IndyCars and Extreme E while continuing its F1 renaissance. There’s talk of Formula E and WEC entries too. But is this all too much, too soon? STUART CODLING talks to the man in charge

Formula 1
Oct 17, 2021
How Tsunoda plans to achieve his F1 potential Plus

How Tsunoda plans to achieve his F1 potential

Yuki Tsunoda arrived in grand prix racing amid a whirlwind of hype, which only increased after his first race impressed the biggest wigs in Formula 1. His road since has been rocky and crash-filled, and OLEG KARPOV asks why Red Bull maintains faith in a driver who admits he isn’t really that big a fan of F1?

Formula 1
Oct 15, 2021