Formula 1 will make history this weekend when the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix becomes the first race in the sport's 58-year history to be held after dark.
The top flight's second of four Far Eastern appearances of the season – and round 14 of the 18-meeting calendar – is being hailed as one of its most significant landmarks ever, as 20 F1 drivers and cars will take to the challenging Marina Bay Street Circuit under floodlights in what is being billed as a real venture into the unknown. And whichever of them crosses the chequered flag first after 61 laps of competitive action on Sunday will take away a little bit of history to boot.
World Championship leader Lewis Hamilton is hoping that man will be him, and the McLaren-Mercedes star has an extra incentive to go for glory in the city-state, after the FIA International Court of Appeal controversially threw out his team's effort to get the British star re-instated as the winner of the Belgian Grand Prix earlier this month – a race in which Hamilton triumphed on-the-road, but was subsequently penalised 25 seconds and demoted to third place after stewards deemed he had gained an unfair advantage by cutting across the grass at the Bus-Stop chicane during his frantic closing laps scrap with Ferrari adversary Kimi Raikkonen.
Looking towards Singapore, however, Hamilton does possess two advantages over chief title rival Felipe Massa. To begin with, he has been near-peerless in the rain this season – and wet weather is seen as almost a given over the course of the weekend – and secondly, he is sure to have the uncompromising support of team-mate Heikki Kovalainen as he endeavours to lift the drivers' world championship laurels having come so agonisingly close twelve months earlier, at the end of what was incredibly only his rookie campaign in the top flight.
Whether Massa can rely on the backing of team-mate Raikkonen, by contrast, is anything but clear, with the Brazilian underlining that he is fighting his own battles and the Finnish defending world champion adamant that until he is mathematically out of contention – which should his current form continue he soon will be anyway – he will push on to retain his hard-won crown. What's more, the Ferrari has been invariably ill-at-ease in wet conditions this year, meaning it is arguably advantage McLaren as the race weekend dawns.
The fourth man still in realistic title contention is BMW-Sauber's Robert Kubica, who presently sits 14 points adrift of Hamilton in third place in the drivers' standings. The Pole has been a consistent thorn in the side of the leading two teams season-long, out-performing the limitations of his car wherever possible and keeping himself in the hunt by rarely putting a wheel out of place.
Moreover, the challenging nature of the new track in Singapore could just play to the 23-year-old's advantage and allow him to keep in touch with Hamilton and Massa ahead as the championship showdown approaches apace. Team-mate Nick Heidfeld's form, though, remains unpredictable, with the experienced German scoring strongly in each of the last two grands prix at Spa-Francorchamps and Monza, but still struggling to make an impression in qualifying – an issue that could cost him dear around what is a tight and twisty street circuit.
Beyond the established leading three teams, one of the major points of interest this weekend will be to see whether Scuderia Toro Rosso's Italian Grand Prix form was a genuine mark of improvement or merely a weather-aided flash in the pan. Either way, the small Faenza-based squad has been coming on in leaps and bounds in recent weeks, and Sebastian Vettel's Monza triumph was without doubt one of the finest performances in F1 memory, as the young German drove like a seasoned pro to see off all challengers and consummately triumph behind the wheel of a car that prior to the weekend few members of the paddock would have tipped to fight for the podium, let alone the win.
What Vettel can achieve in Singapore will be fascinating to observe, whilst under-pressure team-mate and namesake Sébastien Bourdais is similarly featuring ever-more strongly as the 2008 campaign nears its close, the French record-breaking Champ Car king displaying vastly improved pace – if still being in desperate need of a change of luck.