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18 September 2017 |

F1 Business Diary 2017: The Singapore Grand Prix

The 2017 Singapore Grand Prix, raced under the neon lights at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, threw up more drama in its first 300 yards than the entire 78 laps of this season’s soporific Monaco Grand Prix, Formula One’s flagship street event.

After a claiming a stupendous pole position on Saturday, Sebastien Vettel was the red-hot favourite to claim a fifth victory on a track that favoured his Ferrari’s superior downforce. Nevertheless, with torrential rain potentially neutralising the Prancing Horse’s dominance and the circuit holding a unique record of having a safety car appearance in every race - 17 deployments in ten races - nothing was certain. 

What followed was one of the most aggressive opening corner wheel-to-wheel battles in the sport’s long history. Vettel, teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen all enjoyed excellent starts but, with Verstappen the meat in a Ferrari sandwich and no driver willing to yield position, a flashpoint became almost inevitable. 

Vettel - seemingly channelling his childhood hero, Michael Schumacher - drove aggressively to defend his lead going into the first corner. The German pushed Verstappen towards the pit wall where, unbeknown to both, the other Ferrari was going like a tracer bullet. The unavoidable coming together resulted in all three cars crashing out and taking the unfortunate Fernando Alonso with them.    

Christian Horner, Red Bull’s team principal, suggested that it was his former charge, Vettel, who was at fault for the unseemly incident. “Sebastian came aggressively left, Kimi went right, Max held a straight line,” he said. “He was just desperately unlucky.”

Needless to say, if Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne had felt that the Maranello team “screwed up" at the Italian and Belgian Grands Prix, it is certain that he will be apportioning the blame for this calamity squarely at his drivers’ doors.    

Hamilton, who is a genius in the rain, did not need to be asked twice to extend his drivers’ championship lead despite being in “shock” at emerging unscathed in first position after starting from fifth place on the grid. The Briton credited his 60th career win, his third in a row this season, to a new approach that he believes is “a perfect balance of being aggressive but cautious”. 

The audible cheers from the 86,800 spectators - a 19 per cent rise on last year's attendance - when Hamilton took the chequered flag spoke volumes as to who the Asian Formula One fans were supporting on race day.     

A race that many at Mercedes had conceded was to be an exercise in damage limitation ended with the imperious Hamilton moving 28 points clear of his German rival. Although the momentum is now firmly with the Mercedes man, it would be naïve to assume that Vettel - whose 2017 points tally has hitherto exceeded the overall quality of his car - will not come back stronger. 

Formula One pens four-year extension with Singapore

On the Friday of the race weekend it was confirmed that the Marina Bay Street Circuit would continue to stage Formula One races until 2021.

The Singapore Grand Prix, which was added to the race calendar in 2008, is one of the highlights on the series’ annual global turn. The renewal was negotiated with Singapore GP Pte Ltd, the owners of the circuit, and the Singapore Tourism Board.

Chase Carey, chairman and chief executive of Formula One, said: “The Singapore Grand Prix is a signature Formula One race and therefore we are very pleased that it will continue to feature on the calendar for a further four years. 

“The first ever night race in this sport is one of the most thrilling events of the year, taking place against the stunning backdrop of Marina Bay.”

McLaren and Honda confirm split

As Socrates put it, even “the hottest love has the coldest end”.

The end of McLaren-Honda was confirmed ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix, with constructors McLaren switching to Renault power from next season while engine supplier Honda has agreed a multi-year deal with Toro Rosso.

Between 1988 and 1991 McLaren and Honda won four consecutive drivers' and constructors' championships together. The two parties once again joined forces at the start of the 2015 season but the 53 races since have not brought a single podium. 

While the blunt outbursts of premier driver Fernando Alonso have provided viewers and pundits with comic relief, senior figures at Honda and McLaren have been less amused about the faltering engine. 

McLaren executive director Zak Brown conceded that the partnership “has not flourished” and it was time “to move ahead in different directions”. Masashi Yamamoto, Honda's head of motorsport, was less diplomatic when labelling the Woking constructors a "systematic" outfit who "find it hard to adapt to change". 

Yamamoto, who had previously remained publicly tight-lipped during the increasingly fractured relationship, went on to compare his outgoing team and his new partners to international cuisine.     

“Let's say McLaren is a very sophisticated French cuisine, that's the way it is,” said Yamamoto. “Then Toro Rosso is more like a countryside, homemade delicious stew where you can add new ingredients. We're excited to do that. It is a company that is growing. It is very important for us to work in partnership together, heading towards the same goal.”

As part of the agreement, it was announced that Toro Rosso driver Carlos Sainz Jr will move to the Renault F1 Sport for the 2018 season. The 23-year-old Spaniard, who is the son of former double world rally champion Carlos Sainz, will race for the French works team as part of a loan deal where he will partner Nico Hulkenberg. He replaces Briton Jolyon Palmer, who finished sixth at the Singapore Grand Prix.

Red Bull rumours

McLaren are not the only team who are apparently unhappy with their engines. The paddock has long been awash with rumours of Red Bull’s displeasure with engine supplier Renault, which will join up with Red Bull’s junior team Torro Rosso from next year.  

In a recent interview with the BBC, Red Bull principal Christian Horner criticised Formula One’s hybrid era, calling it "frustrating", but added that Renault’s engines had "always fallen short" during the period. 

When questioned about a possible move away from the French manufacturer the Briton said that the team would honour their contract, which runs until the end of the 2018 Formula One season, and "anything after that is at this point in time just paddock rumour" or “purely speculation".

Nevertheless, gossip coming out of the pit lane in Singapore was that Aston Martin is looking to expand its commercial agreement with the Milton Keynes team. According to industry outlet Autosport, the luxury carmaker will become the new title sponsor of the Red Bull Formula One team from the beginning of the 2018 season

The enhanced sponsorship would be similar to Red Bull’s previous Infiniti deal and would see the team renamed as Aston Martin Red Bull Racing. There is also speculation that Aston Martin could one day look to secure an engine supply deal should technology and costs be reined in by the International Automobile Federation (FIA).   

Horner told Autosport that “you can speculate all you like but I'm not going to confirm anything” but did say that “there will be news to follow in weeks to come”. 

Four-time constructors’ championship winners Red Bull have carried Aston Martin branding since 2016, and the automotive company has also worked with Red Bull Advanced Technologies on the development of its Valkyrie hypercar.

Andy Palmer, chief executive of Aston Martin, did, however, confirm that to have “a presence in Formula One is interesting” for the prestigious brand and that he was present at the Singapore Grand Prix “to discuss what next season looks like”.

Palmer continued: “Within that context, do we or don't we provide an independent engine in 2021? And then join the dots. We like the sport and we are a company that aspires to be as valuable as Ferrari. That doesn't mean that we have to copy Ferrari in every way, shape and form. 

“We're stronger in the World Endurance Championship (WEC), but having a presence in Formula One is interesting.”

Lewis Hamilton to save the planet

Not content with being a multiple Formula One world champion, Lewis Hamilton is bidding to make the world a better place. Hamilton - who stopped eating red meat two years ago = has now eradicated all meat and fish from his diet. 

The 32-year-old told the BBC that he is now a committed vegan after watching the What the Health Tonight documentary, claiming that “animal cruelty, global warming and our personal health is at stake”.

Despite traveling across the globe in private jets and working in an industry with an extremely large carbon footprint, Hamilton garnered the understanding from the broadcast feature that the methane produced from cows “is incredible" and “more than what we produce with our flights and our cars, which is kind of crazy to think”.  

“The cruelty is horrible and I don't necessarily want to support that and I want to be healthy," said Hamilton. “I want to live a healthier life.”

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