"THIS IS THE ORIGINAL!" Old hands and young hopefuls share the Singapore thrill

Old hands and young hopefuls share the Singapore thrill

14 September, Singapore – More overtaking opportunities, an extra lap: the Marina Bay Street Circuit has changed, but drivers young and old are still as excited as ever as the Formula 1 roadshow roars into Singapore for the 14th time.

Old hand Nico Hülkenberg has been there, done that, but the 36-year-old German cannot wait to hit the Singapore streets again: “Formula 1 has integrated a few night races into the calendar now,” says the Haas driver, “but this is the original, and with that comes some added excitement.”

Red Bull driver Sergio Pérez took an outstanding win here last year, but facing his 250th Grand Prix the 33-year-old Mexican is under renewed pressure to perform in the ‘other’ RB19. The changes may help: “The new track layout is going to make things quicker,” says Checo, “and there will be rain, so it could be fun!”

A two-year extension to his Mercedes contract means four-time Singapore winner Lewis Hamilton will be racing at the pinnacle past his 40th birthday. He has no plans to slow down in pursuit of that elusive all-time record eighth world title.

“We have never been hungrier to win,” says Sir Lewis, who hasn’t won a race since round 21 in 2021. “We have learnt from every success but also every setback. Our story isn’t finished, we are determined to achieve more together, and we won’t stop until we do.” Singapore may be his best chance of victory number 104.

Already well past 40 is Fernando Alonso, whose switch to Aston Martin paid instant dividends with podium after podium early in the year. The top step in Singapore may be a stretch, but the 42-year-old Spanish cavalier still breathes fire and has the memory of two Singapore wins in the first three years to keep his own hunger alive.

At the other end of the F1 scale, three Singapore rookies will be on the streets this year. Logan Sargeant needs a strong finish to the season to keep his place at an improving Williams team and for him it couldn’t start at a better place. “I’m really excited to be driving under the lights at Marina Bay for the first time,” says the 22-year-old American. “It’s a track I’ve wanted to race at since I was a kid.”

Same feeling for 21-year-old Liam Lawson, deputising for the injured Daniel Ricciardo at AlphaTauri: “When I was a kid it was my favourite circuit,” the New Zealander recalls. “I think because it was a night race and just looked really cool – I used to play it on the Formula 1 games all the time.”

Meanwhile, over at McLaren, 22-year-old Australian Oscar Piastri has five top-ten finishes and a fastest race lap in his debut year, a clear sign that F3 and F2 champion Piastri is a star in the F1 making – but Marina Bay is another major test.

And what of F1 icons Ferrari? The scarlet team already boasts three Singapore wins, six poles and 10 podiums; they come fresh from a three-four finish and pole position at their home race in Monza. “A really cool place to race,” Carlos Sainz calls Singapore,” a really cool city.” But the Spaniard also knows the challenge: “the warmest, the longest, the toughest!”

Keep an eye on the Alpine pairing of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon, who has his 27th birthday on Sunday. Might Singapore be one of the ‘ups’ in an up-and-down year for the French team? Gasly thinks so: “I do enjoy the track,” says Gasly, also 27. “I’ve scored points at the last two races there and intend to make it three in a row.”

As always, qualifying will be crucial, a one-stop strategy is what tyre-suppliers Pirelli say is “the clear way to go”, and Singapore waits to see if it will have its sixth different race-winner.

Which brings us to Max Verstappen. F1’s serial record-breaker has never won in Singapore in six previous attempts: could this be lucky number seven for the Flying Dutchman? With 12 victories so far, Max has got most things right this season, and he also ‘gets’ Singapore. Forget the high temperatures and the heat of battle, says Verstappen: “Marina Bay is a cool circuit!”