Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
The Singapore GP opened to light raining down through the dank, humid, tropical night air from 1500 fixtures, its vivid artificiality bouncing off the gleaming surfaces and creating hyper-realistic colors, emphasizing the surreal nature of the F1 circus amidst the swirl and swarm of the start line. Rumors abounded in the paddock of Alonso’s denouement with Ferrari coming in Suzuka, geographic location being destiny in their telling. All was forgotten as the more immediate drama of Rosberg’s electrics issues stole focus and saw him receive a new wheel and system reset before the formation lap. Mercedes was unable to get him off the line and it was no doubt a somewhat a surprised Hamilton who pulled up to the grid with an empty slot to his left with Rosberg consigned to a pit lane start. But it wasn’t just Mercedes, Caterham, too, lost a driver and sadly it was the ever so much quicker Kobayashi who parked his ride on the formation lap, due to oil pressure issues.
The result of the night had to be Vergne, passing Hulkenberg, Raikkonen and Bottas in the last laps to stay clear of his stop and go penalty and claim 6th. Vettel would give him a run for his money, stretching a pair of soft tyres to their utter limit to claim 2nd and extract a measure of satisfaction, finally ahead of the ever smiling Colgate Kid in 3rd. Alonso finished in 4th, also a victim of old tyres and unable to make a pass on Ricciardo at the end. Bottas was the big loser as a nagging steering issue and dead tyres sent him sliding 5 positions down and out of the points on the very last lap. Despite the handful of drama at the end and a frisson of excitement as Hamilton ran the Merc full on for a handful of laps post safety-car, it was not a particularly exciting affair. An excruciating period behind the safety car and Rosberg’s early retirement put paid to much of the fun and it may well be time for Safety Car arrangements to be rethought, as well as procedures for clearing debris from the track.
Early drama as Rosberg suffered an electrics complaint that saw his car swarmed by Mercedes engineers with less than 20 minutes giving him a new wheel and resetting the system, all to no avail. AS he sat and attempted to roll away executing a complex manual start procedure, the rest of the field poured round him leaving the camera lingering on a lonely shot of him waiting for the mechanics to wheel him off to the pit lane. Further up the road Kobayashi in the Caterham became the first abandon as his oil pressure decided to have a nap, forcing him to bail. With the field rolling back onto the grid, shots of a desperate Rosberg accepting a new wheel at the end of pit lane graced the screen. Across the radio he was told he had no clutch but the shifters worked and he would have no other info on the display.
As the lights turned red, one by one, all eyes shifted to the empty slot at the front of the grid, wondering whether a blazing start from a Ferrari or Vettel would see Hamilton with unexpected company through Turn 1.
Lewis made it a good start, but it was Alonso who provided the fireworks through the first turn, flying up the outside but hopelessly missing his braking and going fully off after claiming the apex of Turn 1 from Vettel who went in side by side with Ricciardo. Having taken full advantage of the run off area he emerged well ahead of Vettel, though he was quickish to yield the spot when Sebastian caught him up a turn or two later, though his charity stopped there and he showed no signs of yielding to Ricciardo and the stewards agreed. Further back Button and Magnussen had already gotten into it, with both smoking tyres into every turn and Button swinging wide to avoid the rear end of his teammate into Turn 7. Not so lucky were the Force Indias, both of whom reported contact.
The next lap saw Alonso officially cleared of naughtiness as Hamilton continued building a lead on Vettel and Alonso. Further back, commentators faced an unusual situation as they reported on Rosberg lining Chilton up for a pass. Nico’s car appeared to be ailing as instead of catching up to Ericsson who was next up the road, the Caterham actually started to gain ground. It turned out his car was stuck in harvesting mode so a recovery drive ala Hungary was looking less and less likely with every passing lap.
The start replay made Alonso look very, very guilty of being sneaky, though it was much less so at full speed. Ricciardo seemed again not to have the best start, seemingly an Aussie trademark. Back to real time and Daniel was on the radio being warned of high rear brake temps and being told to avoid the tow if possible. Was this coaching? Legal? Who knows, certainly Whiting appeared to have no clue.
Lap 4 saw the leaders settle into steady gaps with the only chance of racing being in P9-11 with Magnussen and Kvyat being trailed by a rather impatient Vergne, on a different strategy to his teammate and in a hurry to get on with it as his chances of scoring a ride for next year were diminishing with each passing lap. Told to hold station and give Kvyat 2 laps to get past he was dutiful. Once Danii was unable to get it done Vergne was past him and on his way. Otherwise there wasn’t much drama on track as runners circulated trying to optimize position and fuel for the coming stops.
In the pits it was a different matter as by the seventh lap, Williams was vacillating heavily between Plan A and Plan B as tyre degradation due to the green track at the start was playing hob with their predictions.
Sutil kicked off the pit stops somewhat early on lap 9, as an unusually slow Kvyat was ordered to get out of the way and let the racy Frenchman by. Hulkenberg boxed and emerged behind a Marussia the following lap as Rosberg’s engineer gave him his pit stop procedure since he would have no pit limiter and would have to stall the car in order to get the stop accomplished. Massa and Kvyat boxed Lap 11 with Massa back out on the option tyre. Shots of the stop included urgent conversations at Mercedes’ pit box as the preparations for Nico’s stop continued. Rosberg was duly informed he would be changing wheels as well as tyres and would be dropped from the jacks as he had no clutch. Button was target plus one as everyone waited to see if the stricken Mercedes could make it into and out of the pits.
Two laps later, Vettel went for the undercut on Lewis with a fantastic stop marred only by his getting a little boggy on the way back out. Still, he emerged ahead of Alonso who trailed him into the pits. Raikkonen, who had come in the previous lap, continued to track Massa as they both passed Gutierrez. Hamilton received his call to come in as the Merc wisely decided to hold off bringing Rosberg in till after Hamilton was done. No dramas for Lewis and as he emerged intact in what was not the surprise of the century, Vettel was told the undercut had failed and he should save tyres and fuel for the end. Magnussen also pitted and emerged on the Soft tyre. Kvyat executed a smart move on Perez, seemingly happier with his new set of tyres.
Rosberg came into the pits at the end of his lap, achingly slow into his box. The car was expertly stalled and up it went, the new wheel being handed over as the tyres were replaced. The car dropped and went nowhere. Like doctors at a code blue, the mechanics worked frantically but it quickly became clear that the patient was beyond saving and despite Nico’s entreaties, the plug was pulled and he was wheeled into the garage.
Back on track the dramas were few and far between, with Vergne being investigated for track limits violation but otherwise it was racing for position at the end as the drivers got down to it inside their own little bubbles. Shots of Wolff apologizing to Rosberg were interspersed with the call of Vergne getting a 5 second stop and go. Ricciardo set fast lap on their 17th trip round, just to give the announcers something to do as Hamilton was 8 seconds up the road on Vettel and coasting. The thoughts of the crowd no doubt turned to the possibility of a safety car to enliven the spectacle as the commentators were already comparing fuel levels so as to have something meaningful to discuss.
Vergne meanwhile was getting on it and his capture of Button promised some action. Chilton picked up a slow puncture which did his race no favors and Gutierrez chucked it in on lap 21. Vettel was told to ignore the upshift tones and drive into the revs as Alonso had begun to close in on him and the fuel saving mode was not helping his lap times at all. Hamilton helpfully picked up some track litter with his front which bothered his engineer but didn’t seem to put him off that much
The next round of stops was led by Massa on the 23rd lap as Gutierrez turned out to be unable to recharge his batteries. Alonso has crept into Vettel’s DRS, but he was not really close enough to make a move. Ricciardo hung back, either saving for the end or just enjoying the show. Bottas came in and Raikkonen stayed out to try a few fast laps.
Alonso came in the next lap and Maldonado livened things up by having an unsafe release. Vettel stayed out the extra lap and he was put back out on the Soft tyre, coming out behind Alonso who had stayed on the Super Softs. Bottas turned up the wick with a fast lap as Hamilton came in on lap 27, with a worried Lowe looking on, no doubt concerned about the effect of his development program on the reliability of the Mercs. 4.7 seconds for Lewis, which included a complimentary front wing cleaning and he was back out behind Ricciardo who was moving very slowly on his aging set of tyres, which problem he solved by pitting on the next lap. He was kicked out on the Softs as well, he and Vettel having satisfied the tyre regulation.
Lewis wasted no time going fast, turning into the 1:51’s and setting a new fast lap. Grosjean and Perez had a bit of a dice and while they were busy playing Kvyat snuck up and dispatched Perez, who responded by pitting 2 laps later on lap 31.
Sergio emerged behind Sutil and quelle surprise, lost his front wing in spectacular fashion after contact, bringing out the safety car. Hamilton stayed out and complained of not being warned quickly enough to watch for debris, but Alonso took advantage, along with Button and Raikkonen. Vergne had a strange lockup as he did his best to get in front of Kimi on pit out.
Ricciardo confirmed his car wasn’t 100%, complaining of power loss and being told to avoid kerbs on exit, another apparently overlooked radio indiscretion.
8 laps later the Safety Car came in, with the end of the race looking to be Father Time rather than 61 laps. Mercedes were under pressure as Lewis had yet to run the Prime tyre and with a pit stop delta of 27-29 seconds it was not clear if he could run up the gap before he ran out of tyre. Being Lewis, however, he was going to give it a good go. Pulling out 3 seconds over the first lap, he was clear of 6 by the end of the second. He would continue to knock 3-4 seconds a lap off until his tyres disappeared a lap or two before he was brought in, when he was back to gaining just a second or so a lap.
Once the rest of the field picked their jaws up off the floor they set to racing amongst themselves. Button took on Bottas and got past and by lap 43 there was a 3 way for 6th-8th between Bottas, Button and Raikkonen. Two laps later Vergne caught up to Perez and Alonso tracked down Ricciardo to start applying pressure. Hamilton’s lead increased, but by lap 47 Alonso was still in his pit window. Button remained trapped by Bottas, getting ever closer but not close enough to get by. Perez pulled a cheeky move on Vergne in their fight, using Ericsson as a pick to get by. Amidst all the action, Sutil had quietly retired lap 41, another double for Sauber
By lap 51 Hamilton was slowing significantly with Alonso right on the bubble. Mercedes encouraged him to hang in but he was clearly nervous about his tyres, reporting an odd stripe developing on his rears. In he came next lap for a 2.9 second stop, out on brand new Softs ahead of Ricciardo but behind Vettel, who was looking at completing his first lap in the lead all season. It was not to be as Hamilton ruthlessly tracked him down and Vettel, looking at the long game, just gave Lewis a little squeeze as he came past. 2 laps later the Mercedes was comfortably up the road and it was all eyes on the Alonso, Ricciardo, and Vettel group as they were all in DRS for the race to second.
They weren’t the only game in town as the Safety Car had thoroughly booted Williams’ strategy. Complaining of Power steering issues, Bottas in 6th was going slower and slower and developing quite the train, collecting Raikkonen, Hulkenberg and Vergne behind him. There was cruel disappointment for Button as he was forced to park his car on lap 54 with a total loss of power
Magnussen continued to dish out the pain as he kicked Maldonado out of the points on replay during lap 56 and word filtered down that Vergne was facing another 5 second penalty for track limits. Raikkonen was stuck as Bottas straight line speed was too much, but an aggressive and increasingly desperate Vergne decided to force the issue on lap 59 as the trio at the front were unable to make any headway. First picking off Hulkenberg for 8th, Vergne then made short work of both Raikkonen and Bottas as it dawned on Kimi that it might be possible to actually pass the cars in front of him. Vergne disappeared up the road and both Hulkenberg and Raikkonen decided to make Bottas’ life worse as the lap count disappeared and the race officially switched to the 2 hour limit.
AS Hamilton made his way past the start line for the last time, Perez caught up to Hulkenberg and did him in, Nico’s tyres being in no real shape for a fight. With the three of them breathing down his neck on the last lap, Bottas tyres lost their last ounce of grip and as he plowed straight on, he lost 5 places and Williams their rather sizeable strategy bet. With no change at the front the race finished Hamilton, Vettel, and Ricciardo for the podium, Alonso and Massa rounding out the top 5. Just behind were Vergne, incredibly keeping his 6th despite the penalty, Perez and Raikkonen with Hulkenberg and Magnussen filling out the positions through 10th. Bottas limped home 11th, no doubt to be consoled after the race for his heroic efforts, doomed to failure though they were.
Vettel gets a much needed restorative, Vergne finally gets the good result the WDC needle swings back to Hamilton and Bernie will get his much desired championship race. Rosberg’s woes will doubtless bring out the conspiracy theorists and with Mercedes ham-handed efforts thus far it’s no wonder. Surprises on and off track no doubt await at Suzuka, along with a massive pot of coffee for those on the wrong side of the world
|2||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||1:55.569||13.500||2|
|3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||1:55.448||14.2||2|
|6||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||1:59.330||56.5||2|
|7||Sergio Perez||Force India||1:57.022||58.7||3|
|9||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India||1:58.814||61.3||3|
|14||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||1:59.752||71.2||2|
|17||Max Chilton||Marussia||1:58.617||1 lap||2|
World Drivers Championship
World Constructors Championship