Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor James Parker
Under the night sky in Singapore, Red Bull man Sebastian Vettel stormed to a confident pole position 1 tenth ahead of a storming Nico Rosberg, with the Lotus of Romain Grosjean rounding out the top 3. Having threatened all through the weekend that pole position was going to be an easy task, Vettel came through and delivered in a session that looked all too easy for the German.
Q1 took some time to get going. The track was evolving quickly and with a track temperature of 31 degrees there was certainly grip to be had. After promising to be more competitive in Singapore, both Mercedes cars looked quick on the early runs with Hamilton topping the timesheets with a 1.47.0. Alonso, after admitting that Ferrari need to find more speed this weekend went 2nd early on behind Hamilton – his lock up into turn 1 however proved the Ferrari was still a bit of a handful on the bumpy streets.
The main question of the session however was who could get through solely on the slower medium compound and who was going to throw the dice and take a chance. From the first runs the Red Bulls and the Lotus of Grosjean looked to be playing the card.
Nico Hulkenberg was the first man to bolt on a set of the super soft tyres, and the pace advantage was quickly evident as the German went top with a 1.45.3 and this triggered the likes of McLaren, Mercedes and the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen onto the faster softer compound too.
A driver who was struggling was Alonso’s team-mate Felipe Massa. Sitting in 18th and in the drop zone with 1 minute to go, he had 1 lap with heavy traffic to get the job done. As the chequered flag dropped the Brazilian went up to 13th and into Q2.
The gamble to stay on the medium compound tyres paid off for the bold Lotus team as well as the more comfortable Red Bulls, with Grosjean managing to squeeze through in 14th place.
It was yet another miserable qualifying session for Paul Di Resta and the Force India team. For the 5th time in 8 races the Scotsman was unable to break into Q2 and fell at the first hurdle. Joining him in the bottom 6 was Maldonado as well as the two Caterhams and Marussias. Caterham is once again looking to be faster than both Bianchi and Chilton.
From the early runs in Q2 it was clear that track evolution was continuing to play a big factor in the qualifying session. Both the Mercedes boys posted lap times of 1.43.8 and 1.43.9 respectively on a used set of super soft tyres. Hulkenberg was once again showing strong pace to go up to 4th, whilst Massa was still struggling to get to grips with his Ferrari and was over a second down in 6th place on a set of used super soft tyres.
The big shifts started happening right up at the sharp end however. Both Red Bulls decided to go out for their first runs deep into Q2 and immediately showed their hand. Vettel stormed straight up to the top of the timesheets with a 1.42.9 with his team-mate, Webber, going 2nd a full 8 tenths down on the German!
The final 2 minutes became a frantic affair and there were a couple of high profile casualties out in Q2. Kimi Raikkonen had been struggling all day with a bad back before getting into the car for Qualifying. Whether or not this was a determining factor is another question, but the Finn was horrendously off the pace and finished the session down in 13th.
Hulkenberg, after showing such promising pace earlier on in Q2, unfortunately found himself down in 11th and therefore out, whilst his team-mate Gutierrez pulled out a storming lap to go 7th and progressing into Q3 for the first time this season.
McLaren’s strategy to only run both drivers once with 2 minutes to go in the session also backfired. Button managed to scrape through into Q3 in 10th however Perez was not so lucky and could only manage 14th.
Q3 was very much a slow burner with a fast paced finish. Only 5 men decided to run early on in the session and it was here where Vettel set the timing screens alight. Becoming the first man out on track, he set an incredible lap time of 1.42.8 to go 6 tenths clear of Rosberg, Webber, Hamilton and Grosjean in 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th. Ferrari chose not to run and only attempt 1 flying lap, whilst Button opted to set sector times only on his first run.
The confidence of Vettel and his team really showed when it came down to making a decision of running a second time in Q3. Whilst the rest of the top 7 opted to run a second set of super soft compounds in the chase for pole position, Vettel and the team decided to stay in the garage and meaning Q3 was over for the German.
It was a bold move as the previous 2 sessions showed that the track was evolving and getting faster as the qualifying hour wore on. Massa was the first to cross the line and went 6th. Webber then went 2nd slotting in behind his teammate.
However Rosberg pulled out a phenomenal final sector to go 2nd only ninety one thousandths of a second behind pole man Vettel. Grosjean then displaced Webber to go 3rd while Hamilton could only manage 5th.
At Ferrari a poor qualifying session by Alonso was compounded by the fact he could only manage 7th… behind Massa! It will require a herculean effort from him tomorrow to get close or even beat Vettel. At the moment it does not look good for Alonso, has he lost the championship already?
But all eyes were on Red Bull. The bold move to not go out for a second time by Vettel looked to have almost backfired when Rosberg crossed the line, but the Mercedes man could just not get close enough. With the long run pace looking so strong it is surely Vettel’s race to lose tomorrow.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery said: “From the start of the weekend it was clear this race was going to revolve around tyre strategy, but the decisions about that strategy affect qualifying as well. So really it all starts from here, with the race strategy already at work as we saw from Q1. Historically, it’s always been important to qualify well up the grid in Singapore, because it’s not the easiest place to overtake, and with the time gap between the two compounds the supersoft was the way to go during qualifying. However, these tyres need to be considered for the race as well.
The fact that qualifying, like the race, is run at night means that there is a different pattern of track and temperature evolution than we see at other venues. While it’s not a particularly hard track in terms of wear, thermal degradation can be quite high and the fact that there are no long straights and the highest number of corners of any circuit of the year, does challenge the tyres. The heavy braking that is another characteristic of this track also increases the heat going through the tyres.
Tomorrow we would expect between two to three stops, but a lot will depend on outside factors such as temperature and safety cars. Because of all the opportunities for strategy, this race looks to be wide open.”
The Pirelli mystery strategy predictor
Singapore is one of the hardest races to predict a strategy for, because of the statistically high chance of safety cars. Theoretically, the quickest strategy is a three-stopper but in reality, because of the traffic and likely race conditions, most teams will adopt a two-stopper. So one likely strategy is: start on the supersoft, then change to medium on lap 16 and supersoft again on lap 39. An alternative is exactly the same strategy, but using the medium instead of the supersoft during the final stint.
|1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||01:42.8||11|
|4||Mark Webber||Red Bull||01:43.2||12|
|9||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso||01:44.4||16|
|10||Esteban Gutiérrez||Sauber||no time||14|
|12||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||01:44.6||14|
|15||Adrian Sutil||Force India||01:45.2||14|
|17||Paul di Resta||Force India||01:46.1||8|
|20||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham||01:48.3||6|