Sebastian Vettel stormed to a dominant victory at the Singapore Grand Prix yesterday, taking advantage of the shock lack of pace from World Championship leaders and season dominator, Mercedes. The German four-time World Champion returned to the extreme levels of dominance he displayed during his peak at Red Bull, leading former team-mate Daniel Ricciardo by over three seconds by the end of the first lap. Meanwhile, Championship leader Hamilton’s fifth place start deteriorated into a DNF – his first since the Belgian Grand Prix last season.
Saturday’s Qualifying session had sprung a surprise when the Mercedes’ true pace was uncovered, showing that the Silver Arrows’ slow pace was not mere sandbagging. Both Ferrari and Red Bull had shown some unexpected pace during practice, and Ricciardo’s optimism about his teams speed proved well founded when he lined up on the front row of the grid, just ahead of fourth placed Daniil Kvyat. But it was Vettel who stole Hamilton’s pre-reserved slot at the front of the grid when he clocked in a lap 6-tenths clear of any opposition with a flawless lap around the tight streets of Singapore. His Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen took third, with Mercedes slotting into fifth and sixth for Hamilton and Rosberg respectively.
On the start, Vettel left the grid far behind him as he sped into the distance, while Raikkonen, the two Red Bulls and two Mercedes jostled through the first corners but essentially retained their qualifying position. Further down the grid, Hulkenberg had made strong gains from eleventh while Verstappen stalled his Toro Rosso on the grid. The Dutchman was left stranded and in need of a push from the marshalls, who returned him to the pits before he rejoined the race a lap later. Further down the lap the drivers, with the exception of the mechanical Vettel, were struggling for grip on the slippy circuit, with a number of close calls including Perez losing control under breaking and narrowly avoiding contact with his Force India team-mate.
Almost immediately the grid settled down into the traditional procession which gave the race it’s ‘Singabore’ nickname, opting to preserve brakes and tyres rather than challenge for position early into the long race. Romain Grosjean was the first man to duck into the pitlane for a new set of boots, spurring the first round of stops in the process. Alonso and Ericsson suffered long delays, McLaren struggling to get Alonso’s front-left tyre off his car, and then both men having to wait until Maldonado and Ericsson breezed past them in the pits before they could be released. Grosjean took advantage of Alonso’s slow stop, the first of many to suffer blunders, to jump the double World Champion on track.
Massa was one such driver who suffered a long pit stop and it proved costly when he emerged from the pitlane into the path of Nico Hulkenberg who, unable to see the Brazilian from his angle, unwittingly closed the door on the Williams and was sent airborne as a result. While the German spun into the barriers and clambered from his cockpit, Massa was able to continue until a gearbox issue would end his race prematurely in the latter stages.
The Safety Car was deployed for several laps to clear the debris from Hulkenberg’s crash which bunched the grid up, and the second time round saw Vettel kept far more honest by the drivers behind him. Indeed, fourth placed Hamilton (having passed Kvyat by pitting before the Safety Car came out) took to his team radio to claim Vettel was purposefully holding Ricciardo up. Ironically, the Briton soon took to the radio to say he was losing power. With the team’s suggestions proving useless for Hamilton, he dropped further down the grid until the team finally told him to retire the car. Not before Alexander Rossi, in his F1 race debut, had the chance to pass the slow car on track, undoubtedly giving the American a smile. Alonso followed Hamilton into the pits to retire with yet another mechanical issue.
As Grosjean spurred the second round of pit stops, the yellow flags came out in Sector 2, and then a Safety Car. A 27-year-old man had somehow gained access to the circuit and was leisurely walking along the track taking photos on his mobile phone while walking against the cars. Eventually the idiotic invader decided to clamber back over the track lining barrier where he was tackled by security and arrested.
The Safety Car eventually pitted, with Rossi tangled up in the top three and holding Kimi Raikkonen up. Further down the order, a slow moving Sainz saw Maldonado hesitate on the restart and drop behind Alonso on the grid. The Lotus driver was subsequently left open for attack and when Jenson Button attempted to pass the Venezuelan, the Lotus inexplicably slowed out of the corner with Button running into the back of him. As his front wing shattered and showered the cars behind, Button hopped on the radio to criticize Maldonado, with the 2009 World Champion eventually retiring. Maldonado subsequently dropped four places with the two Toro Rosso men and two Sauber drivers promoting themselves at his expense.
Up front, Ricciardo had closed Vettel’s lead to only 1.4s but could not close the gap before the maximum race time of 2 hours clocked out, leaving the Aussie bemused and blaming the second Safety Car for missing out on the win. Kimi Raikkonen crossed the line for third to seal a double Ferrari podium, with Nico Rosberg claiming fourth. Valtteri Bottas finished fifth for Williams with Kvyat crossing the line in sixth ahead of Perez. The Toro Rosso drivers crossed the line in front of the two Saubers and the two Lotus’, with the Manor drivers keeping their head down and finishing the race – Rossi beating team-mate Stevens on his debut.
Despite his retirement, Hamilton maintains his grip on the World Championship with 41 points over closest rival Nico Rosberg, and Vettel 49 behind. But the question now is, can Ferrari throw in a last minute challenge for the title?
- Sebastian Vettel
- Daniel Ricciardo
- Kimi Raikkonen
- Nico Rosberg
- Valtteri Bottas
- Daniil Kvyat
- Sergio Perez
- Max Verstappen
- Carlos Sainz
- Felipe Nasr
- Marcus Ericsson
- Pastor Maldonado
- Romain Grosjean
- Alexander Rossi
- Will Stevens
- Nico Hulkenberg
- Felipe Massa
- Lewis Hamilton
- Fernando Alonso
- Jenson Button
Image courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari.