Red Bull, Lotus look to resurrect seasons
Red Bull and Lotus are counting on a change of continent and racing styles to re-ignite their fading Formula One title chances at this weekend's Singapore Grand Prix.
With Ferrari's Fernando Alonso sitting atop the drivers' championship standings, and McLaren winning the past three races, the 2012 season is beginning to shape as a showdown between those familiar protagonists.
But with the European section of the season at an end, Red Bull and Lotus still remain in title contention, and have reason to expect yet another shift in the dynamic of a very open season.
Gone are the high-speed circuits and sweeping bends of Spa and Monza, where McLaren pair Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton respectively recorded comfortable victories. They will be replaced by the tight and twisty confines of Singapore's Marina Bay circuit for F1's annual night race.
Red Bull was exposed for sheer speed in Belgium and Italy, and the team's title chances took a significant hit when neither Sebastian Vettel nor Mark Webber finished in the points at Monza.
The straight-line speed deficit of Red Bull and Lotus will be not be a major factor at Marina Bay, though they will have fingers crossed that engine supplier Renault has sorted out the alternator problem that seems to be occurring in hot ambient temperatures; something they will encounter in steamy Singapore.
"We've had some good results in Singapore," Webber said. "It's a very, very challenging circuit and one that the car should work well on. We've been solid on street circuits this year, so that gives us some confidence that the car will be toward the sharp end again."
Lotus' Kimi Räikkönen remarkably remains in title contention, third in the standings, despite not having won a race in his comeback season. Though the Finn has finished out of the points in both his previous starts in Singapore, he is encouraged by the team's most recent performance on another street circuit, Valencia, where he finished second.
"There is no reason why Singapore should be any different compared to Valencia," Räikkönen said. "Like at every street circuit, it's very difficult to pass other cars there, so starting the race as high as possible on the grid is a very important factor to get a good result.
"The podium is a target again. We have had six podiums so far and scored as many points as the top guys in the last few races. We have managed to get everything out of our package."
McLaren goes to Singapore as the form team, having won the past three races, even if more headlines have been on the future of Hamilton, who says he is in no hurry to sign a contract for next season amid reports of a lucrative offer from Mercedes.
The fact McLaren won both on the high speed circuits and the stop-start Hungaroring indicates it has a car to suit all conditions.
"I head to Singapore full of positivity and optimism that we can take the title fight to Fernando," Hamilton said. "I enjoy the Marina Bay circuit the same way that I like racing at Hungaroring; it's a darty track that requires you to really be on top of the car to get the best from it."
Another man whose future is at the centre of constant speculation is Ferrari's Felipe Massa, who has put in more encouraging performances in recent races but is still widely expected to be moved out of the second seat. The Brazilian says the uncertainty is not affecting his form.
"I have so many things to do to concentrate on the job that you don't think about it," Massa said. "You're not in the car thinking about your future."
(Mercedes is out of the title picture, but could provide a challenge to the top teams in Singapore. The team successfully used a new exhaust system during young driver testing last week, and should it be confident enough to apply the new parts in Singapore, it could provide a major boost to traction - crucial at Singapore due to the number of tight corners.)
This is the final year of the existing contract for Singapore, with negotiations ongoing about the terms of a new deal and the country's government eager to reduce the price of hosting rights.