Talking points ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix

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The Formula One circus heads to Singapore following the conclusion of the European leg of the season at the Italian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton’s Monza victory moved him to the summit of the championship for the first time this year, but will Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel strike back under the lights of the Marina Bay street circuit?

Here, we look at the key talking points ahead of the 14th round of the campaign.

Hamilton’s Mercedes team braced for difficult weekend

It has been non-stop for Hamilton since his win at Monza took him three points clear of Vettel in the race for this year’s title. First, the Briton was needed at the Paul Ricard circuit in the south of France for a Pirelli tyre test before heading to America for New York Fashion Week. On Monday, he touched base at Mercedes’ Northamptonshire HQ, and then on to Frankfurt to launch Mercedes’ £2.4million Project One hypercar. On Tuesday, Hamilton jetted out to the Far East for the first of three races in Asia, and he will have done so well aware that he could be in for a tough weekend. The slow nature of the Marina Bay street circuit is one expected to suit Vettel’s Ferrari car, and play against Mercedes’ strengths. Hamilton’s record in Singapore is poor in recent years, too. He retired from the race in 2014, and was only third last season. Hamilton has been in outstanding form since the summer break, but Sunday’s race could be a case of damage limitation.

McLaren’s engine future to be resolved

McLaren are set to announce their separation from beleaguered partner Honda this week. The British team have run out of patience with the Japanese manufacturer following three years plagued by an under-performing and unreliable engine, and are poised to be powered by Renault next term. Honda are expected to remain in the sport and team up with Red Bull’s sister outfit Toro Rosso, while Carlos Sainz is likely to join Renault as a sweetener for the French manufacturer. McLaren’s move to Renault is also set to be enough to persuade Fernando Alonso to remain with the British team for at least one more year, and the announcement of his new contract is likely to be revealed in Singapore. McLaren have endured a miserable year, and are last but one in the constructors’ championship. They hope a switch to Renault engines will provide them with the necessary muscle and reliability to compete with Red Bull, also powered by Renault, next year.

The end game for Palmer?

Sainz’s heavily-mooted move from Toro Rosso to Renault would see him replace Englishman Jolyon Palmer, with reports indicating that the switch could be triggered in time for the Malaysian Grand Prix. With Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly in the frame for Sainz’s vacant Toro Rosso seat, Sunday’s race in Singapore could mark Palmer’s last in the sport. The 26-year-old Englishman is one of only two drivers yet to score a point this season, and he has been out-qualified by his Renault team-mate Nico Hulkenberg at every round this year. Hulkenberg has also scored 34 points. Palmer’s father Jonathan Palmer – the former F1 driver and circuit owner – could yet find the funds to secure Palmer a seat for 2018 – but with most drives rubber-stamped for next term, his options could be running out.

Red Bull ready to pounce

While Ferrari will start the Singapore Grand Prix weekend as favourites, do not be surprised to see Red Bull in the mix, too. The former champions impressed at Monza with Daniel Ricciardo voted Driver of the Day following his charge from 16th to fourth. The twisty surroundings of the Marina Bay track will also suit the Red Bull, as Ricciardo proved last year when he split the Mercedes cars to finish second. Red Bull took a series of engine penalties at the last round in Monza to ensure they are in the best shape for Singapore. Now they must make it count.

Hulkenberg set for unwanted record

Hulkenberg is set to become the new holder of a rather unwanted record following Sunday’s race when, barring a miracle, he will move above his German countryman Adrian Sutil as the driver with the most F1 starts yet to record a podium. The Renault driver, who won the famous Le Mans 24 hours race in 2015, has finished fourth on three occasions, but has failed to step on to the rostrum in his previous 128 F1 starts.

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