Lewis Hamilton and his McLaren team have come to Singapore to play hardball, and yesterday the 2008 world champion rubbed his hands as he surveyed inclement weather which could assist his determination to regain the points lead he lost when he crashed out on the first lap if the recent Italian GP.
"That's one of those experiences that happens in motor racing sometimes," he said of the brush with Felipe Massa's Ferrari in the second chicane during the opening lap at Monza. "It's always so disappointing, because your adrenaline is really flowing and then, immediately, it gets cut short right when you're in the heat of battle. But it's not the first time my race has ended on the first lap, and it probably won't be the last, unfortunately."
Paddock wisdom suggests that this is the race at which Red Bull will regain their aerodynamic advantage that was missing in the last two races, at Spa-Francorchamps and Monza, which required only low downforce. Singapore is a street race, and therefore requires high downforce, the area in which Adrian Newey's Red Bull RB6 has been spectacularly dominant this year. Ferrari, too, have high hopes of repeating their Monza success as their car is competitive in either guise. Historically the McLaren has lacked ultimate downforce, but even that may change here.
Their chief race engineer, Phil Prew, said that the team are confident their latest aerodynamic upgrade will result in a significant improvement in high-downforce performance.
"This is a big weekend, particularly big after the difficulty we had with a lack of pace in Hungary, which is our reference for high-downforce, slow-speed tracks," he said. "And the regulations now in place over bodywork testing means it should be a level playing field," he added, referring to the belief that Red Bull and Ferrari have had to make changes (which they strongly deny) to their cars after a tightening of the rules on front-wing flexibility.
"We have some quite big upgrades but also our understanding of our car and how to exploit it, how to get downforce from the car, has improved since Hungary. So we're optimistic."
Hamilton said he had been encouraged by team principal Martin Whitmarsh's support and belief that he should not fundamentally change the attacking style that has won him races in the past but which got him into trouble at Monza. "It's always nice to hear about the support you get," he said. "But, in other ways, it actually goes without saying as I couldn't really ask for more support from my team – I know they're always behind me. You feel like you've let them down when you have a bad result, so I'll be fighting harder than ever for the rest of the season.
"I've had two non-finishes and one win in the last three races – and, while that's not bad, it does mean that I lost points to some of the other drivers in the hunt for the title. And those results aren't enough to get me the title. I'll keep pushing. I'll take each race as it comes, but I'll also be making sure I get to the finish of the next five races – that's more important than anything."
But the competitive spirit reared up again as he added an important distinction: "I'm in Singapore to win."
Singapore could be as important to F1 as Monaco
The man in charge of the Singapore Grand Prix said yesterday that he wants his race to be up there with Monaco as one of the Formula One calendar's blue riband events.
"I want to see this race institutionalised, so that we are a Monaco, and an absolute must for Formula One," the executive director Michael Roche said. "We got very flattered in recent years when people used terms like a 'Jewel in the Crown' or the 'Monaco of the East' and things like that, but you cannot be complacent about it. You are only as good as yesterday gave you." Roche stressed, however, that the ultimate aim was not to challenge or emulate the Monaco race, but to create a unique position for Singapore in its own right.
Although Singapore was at the epicentre of motor racing's biggest scandal when the former team principal of Renault, Flavio Briatore, was instrumental in rigging the outcome of the inaugural race in 2008, the Singapore Grand Prix is one of the Formula One teams' favourites.