Mercedes Formula One team driver Lewis Hamilton (right) visits his team garage yesterday ahead of Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix. (AFP)
Nico Rosberg trails Lewis Hamilton by 53 points and has no option but to go for broke in Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix despite the threat of smog in Formula One’s only full night race.
The German’s engine caught fire in the closing laps of the last race in Italy, forcing Rosberg to retire as Mercedes team mate Hamilton wrapped up victory to extend his overall lead.
But Rosberg refuses to believe it is inevitable the Briton will retain the title. “I approach the final seven races with the attitude that there’s nothing to lose. It’s maximum attack and I won’t be giving up the fight, no way,” he said.
Rosberg says Singapore is one of his favourite races but his chances look as gloomy as the smokey haze which has covered the island nation for days. He has never won here while Hamilton has triumphed twice, both times from pole.
Hamilton is targeting a third world title and breathed a huge sigh of relief at Monza last time out when a stewards’ inquiry into incorrect Mercedes tyre pressures decided no action was necessary.
His confidence is therefore high for this weekend. “It won’t be easy to make it three - far from it. But I’m riding high right now and I’ll be pushing for that hat-trick,” Hamilton said.
This time last season it was the other way round with Hamilton behind Rosberg in the standings. The former McLaren driver then won in Singapore, the start of a run of five wins in the last six races, to clinch the championship.
Whether Rosberg can copy such a feat hinges on the unpredictability of the Marina Bay street circuit. Hamilton, who will equal idol Ayrton Senna’s tally of 41 grand prix wins with victory and in the same number of races (161), may have prevailed twice here but he has also retired twice in Singapore since the race was added to the calendar in 2008.
Rosberg can at least look back at his Singapore runners-up spot in 2008 and thinks he had a moral victory, given race victor Fernando Alonso was unwittingly involved in an infamous fix by his then Renault team.
But there is another German with much better record in Singapore who is also not out of the world championship battle.
Ferrari’s four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel is third in the standings, 74 points behind Hamilton, but has triumphed on the street circuit in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
The Singapore race is one of the most testing for the drivers because of the night time lights and the street layout but this year it could be even more challenging.
High smog levels have led to the cancellation of several outdoor events in the city state, leading to fears the grand prix could be disrupted.
But organizers have said there are no plans to make any changes.
The haze, which is also hitting neighbouring Malaysia, has been caused by farmers in the Indonesian provinces of Sumatra and Kalimantan burning forests to clear land for agriculture. Sales of face masks have rocketed with eyes and airways affected.
Rain cleared the air for a time on Wednesday but the pollution remains a major problem.
The street circuit also means the race has never taken place without the safety car intervening at some point, which could benefit Rosberg if Hamilton is leading and it bunches up the pack. However he does it, Rosberg needs something special to reopen the championship.