Formula 1 leaves Europe and heads to Asia for the first race of the flyaway leg of the 2019 season with the prospect of a tight battle on the streets of Singapore.

Mercedes arrives in Singapore as pre-race favourites, with Red Bull tipped to emerge as its closest challengers due to the tight and twisty nature of the Marina Bay Street Circuit.

Both team’s 2019 cars have performed strongly at tracks with slow speed corners thanks to their strong aerodynamic packages and downforce levels produced by their respective W10 and RB15 challengers.

If the form book at races at similar track layouts seen at Monaco and Hungary are anything to go by, then the signs would point towards an epic scrap under the lights between Mercedes and Red Bull.

Lewis Hamilton goes in search of a record fifth victory in Singapore and will be keen to continue to assert his authority in the championship over teammate Valtteri Bottas in his quest to seal a sixth world title, while Max Verstappen - who has been one of the standout drivers this year – is hunting for more wins after a pair of forgettable races in Spa and Monza.

While recent power unit upgrades from Honda have helped Red Bull narrow the gap to Mercedes in terms of engine performance, the Silver Arrows appear to maintain a marginal advantage on the straights.

Despite being billed as the team to beat, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff remains cautious about the German manufacturer’s chances, saying: “For a long time, Singapore used to be one of our weakest tracks, but we've made some inroads into that and performed well last year.

“However, there are no home runs at a track like Singapore: we need to understand this car and this year's tyres on a very particular track layout and take absolutely nothing for granted in our approach to the weekend. We are looking forward to a tough battle.”

Ferrari braced for “more difficult” weekend

After ending its victory drought with back-to-back wins at Spa and Monza courtesy of Charles Leclerc, Ferrari is not expecting to maintain its fine recent form into this weekend’s race in Singapore.

The circuit characteristics, on paper at least, do not favour the Scuderia’s complex SF90 package, despite some recent aerodynamic improvements. Instead, Ferrari’s major strength this year lies with its engine – which has proved to be the class of 2019 – although it has struggled to match the level of its rivals at high-downforce tracks like Singapore throughout the campaign to date.

“After two positive weekends in Belgium and Italy, the race in Singapore doesn’t look as good on paper for us, because of the very different circuit layout, featuring lots of slow corners and fewer straights,” Leclerc explained.

“It might be a more difficult weekend for us, but we will give our all to have a good result.”

Response needed from under-pressure Vettel

Sebastian Vettel’s season is in danger of spiralling drastically downhill after the latest in a long line of mistakes across the past 12 months capped off a nightmare race in Italy.

Vettel spun his Ferrari all by himself while running in fourth place during the early stages of the Monza race and ended up collecting Lance Stroll’s Racing Point in his rush to return to the circuit, leading him to be slapped with a 10-second stop-and-go penalty.

He ultimately crossed the line in 13th and a lap down on his winning teammate, Leclerc, who with his second straight victory, moved ahead of Vettel in the championship for the first time this season.

Vettel now finds himself under pressure to bounce back quickly from his latest disappointment. The German has an enviable record around Singapore as a four-time winner, though he has not won at the Asian venue since his maiden season with Ferrari back in 2015.

Speaking about the challenge of the circuit, he added: “Singapore is one I really enjoy.

“It’s a street circuit, bumpy and with no room for errors and it’s one of the few races run under lights.

“We have seen before that anything can happen in this race, so the final result is hard to predict.”

Vettel must also tread carefully at the next three events with him sitting on nine penalty points and dangerously close to the 12-point marker that will trigger an automatic one-race ban.

If he can avoid picking up three more penalty points before October 19 then he will successfully reach the one-year deadline that will see his points wiped clear.

Since the penalty system was introduced, Vettel has amassed a total of 24 penalty points for 10 separate incidents, the most of any driver.

 

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