Formula 1 has said goodbye to Europe for 2022 and the final six-race stretch begins in Singapore this weekend.
The F1 circus has not visited the city-state since 2019 when Sebastian Vettel took his final win for Ferrari, and Charles Leclerc will be hoping that is a good omen as he seeks to keep his faint championship hopes alive.
But Max Verstappen is a heavy favourite for a victory which could see him seal his second world title if Leclerc fails to finish in the points.
Can anyone stop Verstappen?
Flying Dutchman Verstappen arrives after the three-week break since the Italian Grand Prix on a five-race winning streak. The Red Bull ace started three of those races outside the top six on the grid but still took dominant victories in Hungary, Belgium and Italy.
Ironically, Verstappen’s hardest fight for victory during his current run came in front of his home fans in the Netherlands where he started from pole position. There, a late safety car saw Red Bull outfox Mercedes and end Lewis Hamilton’s slim hopes of a first win of the season.
But while Verstappen is hard to oppose in terms of the race win he could be vulnerable in qualifying. The Dutchman has won 11 races this year but taken only four pole positions — though he was also fastest in qualifying in Belgium before taking a penalty.
It is also worth noting that in previous visits to street circuits this season in Saudi Arabia, Miami, Monaco and Azerbaijan, Verstappen has qualified no higher than third.
Leclerc is the obvious man to back in qualifying — the Monegasque having taken a fine pole position for Ferrari in Italy last time. He was also on course to upset the crowd at Zandvoort the week previous before a mistake on his final lap cost him around half a second.
Mercedes still searching for first win of the year
Mercedes’ hopes of extending their run of eight consecutive constructors’ titles is over, but they will not have given up hope of picking up at least one win before the season is out.
It would certainly mean a lot to the drivers. Hamilton has won at least one race every year since he entered F1 in 2007, while his young team-mate George Russell has taken seven podiums this season but is still chasing his first career victory.
On paper, Singapore should suit their car. The track is a tyre-eater and average speeds are low, however a lack of qualifying pace could hamper them in their quest for a win, and they may get a better chance in Japan next weekend.
It is hard to argue against Verstappen claiming a sixth win in a row, but Leclerc could well outshine the world champion on Saturday and take his ninth pole position of the year.
Vettel has just six races left in an illustrious career that has seen him collect four world championships. The German’s best days are long behind him, but his Aston Martin has performed well on street tracks and he is an interesting prospect to finish in the points.