From Schumacher’s Wreckage to Raikkonen, Vettel & Verstappen’s Triple Crash—Why Singapore GP Is Among Most Dreaded F1 Races
The Singapore GP at the Marina Bay Circuit. Following its official entry into the Formula 1 calendar, the circuit didn’t take too much convincing to become a favorite among drivers. A street circuit with predominantly slow- and medium-speed corners, it has a very Monaco-esque feel. So, every year, as F1 heads to the sunny, tropical Southeast-Asian island, there’s a certain (humidity-rich) air of excitement. But that excitement of racing in Marina Bay is usually followed by a feeling of dread.
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It makes sense that drivers enjoy the challenging nature of the circuit. But because it’s so difficult to navigate through the narrow streets, tight corners, and the too-close walls, Marina Bay has become notorious for playing host to many freak accidents. From Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes nightmare to Max Verstappen stuck in a Ferrari sandwich, here’s a trip down the crash lane.
Michael Schumacher, Mercedes, and Marina Bay weren’t a good combination (2010-2012)
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After retiring from the sport following the 2006 season, Michael Schumacher made his F1 return in 2010 with Mercedes. Spending three seasons with the team before retiring for good, Schumacher’s trips to Singapore never went according to plan. In 2010, he crashed with the Saubers of Kamui Kobayashi and Nick Heidfeld, which ensured his race wasn’t one to remember. The following year, the German went into the back of Sergio Perez’s Sauber, ending his race. But his accident in 2012 is one of the most notable ones in Singapore.
When the 2012 race restarted after a Safety Car period, Schumacher—with depleted tire pressures after the SC—locked his brakes after out-braking himself and went into the back of Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso. However, Vergne didn’t hold it against Schumacher, saying, “Even an experienced pilot sometimes makes a mistake.” While the German faced no consequences for the two crashes preceding 2012, the third time didn’t go unpunished. Having done the same thing in 2011 with Perez—absolute misjudgment—the seven-time champion received a 10-place grid penalty for the following race in Suzuka, Japan.
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Verstappen in a Raikkonen-Vettel Ferrari sandwich (2017)
Since Max Verstappen joined Red Bull midway through 2016, he’d been proving his potential every time he stepped out on track. Sebastian Vettel jumped from Red Bull to Ferrari in 2014 to achieve his dream of winning a title with Ferrari. In 2017, he got the opportunity to do it, but his crash in Singapore was the first nail in his dream’s coffin. After relinquishing the lead to eventual champion Lewis Hamilton in Monza, the previous race, he ideally should’ve converted his pole position to a win in Singapore. But it wasn’t meant to be.
The odds were in Vettel’s favor, with Verstappen in P2, his Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen in P3, and Hamilton in P5. After a good start by Verstappen and an even better one by Raikkonen, they were almost three abreast going into Turn 1. But they never made it that far. Seeing the Dutchman’s flying start compared to his, Vettel moved left to cover Verstappen off. By then, Raikkonen was almost alongside Verstappen. When the then-19-year-old moved left to steer away from Vettel, he made contact with Raikkonen, who then crashed into Vettel.
By the end of the first lap, the top three were out, and it was evident Vettel was at fault. Speaking after the race, as quoted by Motorsport.com, Verstappen said, “When you’re fighting for a world championship, you shouldn’t [squeeze someone so much]. It was not very clever. I was in the middle without doing anything wrong. I was just trying to have a clean start.” In typical Kimi fashion, Kimi said, “I don’t think I could have done anything to change the end result apart from doing a bad start and not being there. And that’s not really my fault.”
What went down during the 2008 Singapore GP wasn’t dreadful in terms of the degree of the crash that happened. Instead, it was dreadful because it highlighted one of the darkest moments in F1 history. It all came down to a scandal whose masterminds were then-Renault figures, Engineering Director Pat Symonds and Managing Director Flavio Briatore. The incident involved Renault devising a scandalous plan to give Fernando Alonso his first win in over a year.
After starting in P15, Alonso was asked to pit on Lap 12 for fresh tires and refueling. A stop that early in the race seemed odd, but it all made sense two laps later. On Lap 14, Renault asked Alonso’s teammate, Nelson Piquet Jr., to crash deliberately. Resulting in a Safety Car, Alonso capitalized on having already pitted, took the lead, and won the race.
The scandal—infamously called Crashgate—was investigated only in 2009, much after the 2008 season’s conclusion. Based on the findings, Flavio Briatore was suspended indefinitely, and Pat Symonds was given a five-year ban. After an agreement with the FIA, both returned to F1 post-2013. Crashgate has come to light recently because 2008 runner-up Felipe Massa believes the incident seemingly robbed him of a championship.
The extreme conditions during the Singapore GP
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One of the most dreadful things about returning to Singapore is how physically grueling the race is. While it may look like Monaco on the surface, it’s a longer and tougher version. With 19 slow- and medium-speed corners in quick succession, the drivers barely get any time to rest. The fact that it is a night race would make you think the conditions would be cool, at least. Well, that’s not the case.
With ambient temperatures of around 30 degrees Celsius and close to 80% humidity, drivers are usually hot and uncomfortable even before entering their confined cockpits. Per a YouTube video by WTF1, Daniel Ricciardo revealed, “It’s the only race of the season where you crack open your visor to let in some cool air and instantly wish you hadn’t because it’s hotter outside. By the warm-up lap, your chilled drinks bottle is the temperature of a freshly-poured cup of tea.”
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F1’s trip to the Marina Bay Circuit is dreadful for multiple reasons. Despite its notorious crash history and torturous conditions, it’s still a venue every driver looks forward to racing at. As they prepare to lose almost 4 kilograms on Sunday, are you ready to experience Marina Bay in all its glory?