Formula One returns to the track this weekend and — likely — back to reality.
Ferrari wunderkind Charles Leclerc won the last two times out, in Belgium and Italy, but few would bet on a hat trick at the Singapore Grand Prix.
That’s down to the nature of the track more than anything else — a twisty street circuit that rewards nimbleness over brute power.
In other words, Mercedes arrives at the Marina Bay Street Circuit as the favourite at this spectacular night race, with perhaps Red Bull best poised to play spoiler.
Not that Ferrari is writing off its chances, this weekend or beyond. Nor should it.
Even before the two victories, the Prancing Horse had shown signs it’s not strictly a one-trick pony.
There were other near wins — notably in Bahrain, Austria and Montreal — and it’s reasonable to expect more opportunities this season.
But some venues suit the characteristics of the red cars better than others, and expectations are muted this weekend.
“Singapore might be a bit more difficult for us on paper,” Leclerc tweeted, “but we’ll give everything, as always.”
Of course. But for him, it’s already mission accomplished, having effectively displaced Sebastian Vettel as lead driver in his first season at the scuderia.
The team won’t say this, of course, but the stats speak for themselves.
In the last seven races, the 21-year-old F1 sophomore has not only scored Ferrari’s two wins, but also five podiums, three poles and 110 points, overtaking Vettel for fourth in the drivers’ standings.
And the kid has out-qualified the veteran all seven times.
In that stretch, only Lewis Hamilton — the runaway championship leader at Mercedes — has put up more points (122), along with three wins, five podiums and two poles.
After 14 races, Hamilton leads the drivers’ standings with 284 points, ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas (221), Red Bull’s Max Verstappen (185), Leclerc (182) and Vettel (169).
In Italy, Leclerc delivered Ferrari’s first win on home soil in a decade, and the delirious celebrations that followed made clear to what extent he has won over tifosi hearts.
In my preview, I stated a win by Leclerc at Monza could be seen as marking a definitive shift in the balance of power in the garage, and it’s hard to deny this has happened — whatever the team might say, or not.
Of course, Vettel has been complicit in his own misfortune, with one unforced error after another. Never has a four-time champion looked so fragile.
Italy was more of the same, as the German spun off while chasing Bottas for third, then clipped Lance Stroll’s Racing Point in his clumsy attempt to rejoin the track.
Vettel was given a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for unsafe re-entry, and he ended up finishing the race 13th — nothing short of disastrous on Ferrari soil.
It’s been a sad decline for a driver who seemed invincible during his championship years with Red Bull, and even some of his rivals have come to his defence, saying a return to form should not be ruled out.
“He’s a four-time world champion, and the difference between the great ones and the good ones is that the great ones are able to get up again,” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said. “And I have no doubt that he can do that.”
Whether he will or won’t is one of the stories to watch in the remaining seven races, though Vettel is not the only driver looking for redemption in the home stretch.
There’s Bottas, for one, who in his fourth year at Mercedes has yet to mount a serious title threat, and admits he’s “still far away from what I believe I can be” with only two wins this season versus eight for Hamilton in an equal car.
Hamilton, meanwhile, is well on his way to securing his sixth drivers’ crown, one short of Michael Schumacher’s record, and his fourth in the last five years with Mercedes.
Then there’s Stroll. His move from the sad sack Williams team was expected to allow him to shine brighter this season, but the Montreal native has been largely invisible at Racing Point.
Well, there was that surprise (lucky?) fourth place finish at the chaotic German Grand Prix, but otherwise Stroll has struggled to keep pace with teammate Sergio Perez — particularly in qualifying, his Achilles heel since joining F1.
If you’re keeping score, Stroll has been outgunned by his teammate 13 out of 14 times. He finally put an end to ignominious streak in Italy — but only after Perez’s session was cut short by an engine failure.
Now that’s a harsh bit of reality.
AT A GLANCE
Singapore Grand Prix live coverage. Qualifying: Saturday at 8 a.m. on TSN5; 8:55 a.m. on TSN1; 8:45 on RDS. Race: Sunday at 6:30 a.m. on TSN5; 7:30 a.m. on RDS.