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Can Red Bull and Ferrari dethrone Mercedes again in Singapore?

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Focus on... History repeating itself

F1 needs a touch of deja vu this weekend. Last year, for a crazy weekend, logic was flipped on its head and Mercedes looked absolutely ordinary for reasons the world champions have never properly explained. Though Toto Wolff thinks the team has solved those issue, the team has also been careful to play down expectations. Nico Rosberg even went as far as to say Singapore should be considered "a Red Bull track" this weekend.

And maybe he had a point. For Red Bull, this race poses a perfect opportunity to capitalise. There has been a Red Bull driver on the podium every year since 2010, with Sebastian Vettel winning on three of those occasions (2011, 2012, 2013). Though Red Bull's prowess on the aerodynamic side is legendary there are other reasons the team excels here year on year. The team's ability to find the sweet spot on set-up is a large part of its success over the years. Good traction and stable braking are essential and, while Mercedes struggled to get the most out of the softest compound last year, Red Bull also seems to be better at pushing the tyres on the quicker end of Pirelli's scale.

During Red Bull's horrible 2015 campaign, one of the few glimmers of light was its strong performance in Singapore. Ricciardo narrowly missed out on pole and may well have taken the fight to Vettel out in front were it not for a fan running on the track at mid-distance, one which brought out the Safety Car and neutralised the race in Vettel's favour. This year Red Bull has been notably stronger and has moved past Ferrari in the championship, suggesting it will be even stronger this time around.

Monaco is a good case in point: Red Bull was a genuine challenger for Mercedes and Ricciardo claimed his maiden pole position. Victory would have been his, too, were it not for a botched Red Bull pit stop. Monaco has obvious parallels to Singapore and, unlike the calendar's other street circuit, Baku, does not lean heavily on outright engine power. Singapore is perhaps the middle ground between Monaco and Baku, requiring a good compromise between good downforce and a good drag configuration -- in other words, being good in corners without compromising too much on top-line speed. It is a compromise Red Bull has excelled at finding at Marina Bay in the last six years.

Another part of this weekend's narrative will be Ferrari, the team that won in 2015 in dominant circumstances, with Vettel rolling back the years for his third win of the campaign. This year promised so much for the Maranello outfit but it is still searching for its first win of 2016 -- Singapore might be its most realistic chance of ending that wait before the end of the season.

However, unlike Red Bull, Ferrari appears to have taken a step backwards on the chassis side, with president Sergio Marchionne recently admitting the team had "failed" on the development of its 2016 car. That is supported by the fact it slipped behind Red Bull in the constructors' championship before the summer break despite Ferrari's engine providing a bigger power output than Renault's.

In need of a win

This is Ferrari's best chance to put something in the win column this season, and realistically could be its last. It was strong last year but will need to be wary of Mercedes, with the team ominously confident it has solved last year's problems, and a Red Bull team which has traditionally excelled at Singapore.

In need of points

This section hasn't changed much in recent races: Jolyon Palmer and Esteban Gutierrez are still yet to be confirmed to a seat next year and both have zeros next to their names. Points around the challenging Marina Bay street circuit would be a timely boost.

Betting

The bookies are clearly not paying too much attention to last year, with Lewis Hamilton still favourite for victory at 7/2. However, for the first time this season, another driver has better odds than the second Mercedes driver, with Daniel Ricciardo backed at 11/4. Sebastian Vettel is 9/1 for a fifth win at Marina Bay. If you share Fernando Alonso's optimism about McLaren, there are odds of 10/11 for the Spaniard or teammate Jenson Button to make the top six.

ESPN prediction

A lot depends on whether Mercedes has solved last year's problems, but we're going out on a limb here and saying both are kept off the podium again this weekend. It might be out of hope more than genuine expectation, but we are calling a Daniel Ricciardo-Sebastian Vettel showdown like last year - only this time with the Australian coming out on top to avenge the Monaco victory he lost earlier this year.

Weather

F1 weather service Ubimet warns of "the presence of the SouthWest monsoon" when assessing the weather for this weekend, though it looks unlikely this weather will hit in the evenings, when the majority of sessions take place. Ubimet also predicts the chances for dry weather conditions are "rather high", though thundery showers early on Friday and Saturday could make the opening session of either day interesting from a strategy point of view.

A lap with....Esteban Gutierrez

"You arrive into turns one, two and three and it's basically a sequence of corners. It's a medium-speed corner entering into turn one, and at turn two it's important to prepare the line for turn three. Turn three is more of a hairpin, so the exit is very important. You arrive down into turn five which then sends you onto a long straight which is flat out.

"You arrive into high braking which is around turn seven, fairly straight, 90-degree corner. You have the track closing in as the walls get very close. It's important to keep the car in good traction, not to overheat the rear tires a lot. Then you have three corners before the hairpin where it becomes pretty challenging. You cannot lose the line. Everything is about getting the right sequence. Exit of the hairpin you have a long straight and you go downhill into another 90-degree corner. It's pretty challenging because by this point the tires are getting a bit overheated.

"All the rest becomes sector three. You arrive into the first chicane and take all the curbs very aggressively, then you go left into the tunnel and into a very short chicane. On the last chicane, you use all the track on the outside, close to the wall. The last corner is a pretty fast corner. It's important to make it right and then get going into a straight line for start/finish line."

Tyres

Available compounds: Soft, super-soft, ultra-soft

Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director: "Singapore is probably the most spectacular circuit that we visit all season, and this year we hope to make it even more special with the arrival of our rapid ultrasoft compound, in order to maximise the speed and grip available at the Marina Bay track. This is one of the most unpredictable races of the year - it's the only track with a 100% safety car record - so all the complex variables inevitably throw up opportunities for teams to do something creative with strategy. In terms of competition, it looks set to be one of the closest races we will see all year, where tyre management will make a big difference."

Tyre facts:

• Singapore has the highest number of corners of any circuit all year (23) but is the second-slowest lap after Monaco: placing demands on tyres in terms of cornering, braking and traction.

• The surface is typically bumpy, also with street furniture such as painted lines and manholes.

• Being run at night, track temperatures don't evolve in the usual way seen at a daytime race.

• Ambient temperatures still remain high though, meaning drivers have to manage degradation.

• A long race and high safety car probability open up many different tyre strategy opportunities.

•Low downforce means all the mechanical grip comes from tyres: the left-rear works hardest.

• Pit stop time is long due to a lower speed limit and long pit lane: a key strategic consideration.