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MAKING HIS MOVE: Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg taking a corner during the first free practice session of the Singapore Grand Prix on Friday.

The silly season?

As the F1 season enters the final stretch, what's happening off-track seems more interesting than the on-track action.
17/09/2016 - 05:50

WHO says Formula One is predictable? That definitely does not apply to the 2016 season as it heads for the final corner.

At about this time of year, the Marina Bay Street Circuit would usually be abuzz with complaints about the haze or which driver/team is turning F1 into a snooze fest.

True, forest fires in Indonesia are still a problem, and the Mercedes team has been doing its darndest to cure insomnia.

But this weekend at the Singapore Grand Prix 2016, there's a hotter topic and it's neither Pokemon Go nor the disappearing retail scene. It's Zika.

The Zika outbreak has led to soaring sales of mosquito repellents and overnight fame for self-styled experts of home remedies ranging from Chinese herbs to civet cat poop.

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As far as can be ascertained, race promoter Singapore GP will not be using either. Besides, the intense "fogging'' from the blasting exhausts around the track could be just as effective.

One thing is for sure though; Singapore GP assures race-goers that the necessary preparations "are on track and are proceeding as per normal".

A spokesman says: "The comfort and safety of all our visitors, participants and staff within the Marina Bay Street Circuit are always our No 1 priority. We will continue to work with all relevant government agencies and implement any recommended precautionary measures as directed or deemed necessary."

More importantly, Zika has not hurt ticket sales, especially to the corporate crowd in the hospitality suites.

So it looks like all that economic gloom hasn't slowed F1 down. What might, though, is the continuing domination of the Mercedes team.

Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton is currently in the lead with 250 points and chasing his third straight championship. His Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg is just two points adrift and hungry for his very first drivers' title.

With the best of the rest, Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, a massive 87 points behind Rosberg, that about sews up the drivers' and constructors' championships for Mercedes, given that there are only a maximum of 175 points left with 14 races over and seven more to go.

Hopefully, F1's new owner can spice things up.

Unless you have been confined to the parc ferme in the past month or so, you would know that the business of Formula One has a new owner.

With the £6 billion (S$10.8 billion) takeover by American corporation Liberty Media, F1 supremo and stakeholder Bernie Ecclestone will not only be £72 million richer but also get to stay on as chief executive.

Even so, some things will change in F1. Like how what was essentially a one-man show will transition to a new corporate entity. And whether Formula One can keep up with the times and attract a new and younger audience. Or how a less-than-sexy 85-year-old man will attract women a third his age now that he doesn't own an empire called the most glamorous sport in the world.

But for race-goers and other motorsport fans in the region, perhaps of more interest than the love life of an octogenarian is the fact that the Malaysian Grand Prix will follow the Singapore Grand Prix in a fortnight's time, instead of being held in March as it has been for the past 15 years.

Its end-of-the-year fixture means it has come full circle since the inaugural Formula One World Championship race in 1999 at the Sepang International Circuit.

Questions remain though. Does that ensure torrential rains will no longer interrupt the race? Will the safety car not be replaced by the safety boat after all? How much will the resident bomoh get as his golden handshake?

Not to worry, all will be revealed very soon.