Editors note: Many thanks for the stand in by Thea, Matt had musical commitments but he’ll be back next time.
Well, we’ve had a groundhog, cat, seagulls and now a giant lizard on F1 tracks this season. I wonder what else the nature has in store for the remaining races?
The Singapore GP was set to be an interesting race, even before the drama of qualifying. With this track not being so power dependent, Mercedes did not have their usual speed advantage for this race and with Ferrari making a bit of a comeback in Monza and the Red Bull chassis known to be well suited to this twisty track, (and having an engine upgrade) it looked as if there could have been six potential pole sitters for this race. That was quickly reduced to five in Q1 when Vettel suffered a rear roll bar failure on his out lap, leaving him driving on three wheels. His time of 1:49.116, left him in P22 and out of the remainder of qualifying. Last year’s winner started from the back of the grid. (One wonders if he and Kvyat are having a private battle for worst season of their career so far.) The ‘good’ news is Vettel had a new engine and gearbox without any additional grid penalties (exploiting the same loophole as Hamilton in Monza) and lots of sets of new tyres. The Tifosi had their hopes pinned on this being a good race for them, as Vettel had won there four times already, thrice for Red Bull and once for Ferrari. Now all their hopes lay with Raikonnen.
The drama didn’t end with Q1. Perez edged ahead of both Williams drivers and made it into Q3 in controversial fashion by not slowing down (enough) and overtaking under waved double yellow flags, which lead to him incurring (retrospectively) two penalties totaling eight grid places and starting from P18 (but , as I understood it, without the luxury of being able to choose his starting tyres i.e. having to start on the tyres he set his fastest time on in Q2, as he would have done if he’d started in P10.)
Rosberg unleashed a great lap in Q3 to take pole ahead of Riciardo, Hamilton, Verstappen and the remaining potential pole sitter, Raikonnen. The two Toro Rosso drivers (Sainz and Kvyat) both put in better than expected laps and started from P6 and P7 respectively, ahead of Hulkenberg, Alonso and the newly promoted Bottas.
It is really difficult to overtake on this track, and with 6 out of 8 of past races having been won from pole, provided Rosberg got himself off to a good start, all he had to do was sit tight, lead the procession for a couple of hours and he’d
a) win the race and
b) retake the lead in the championship, right?
Read on, readers, read on.
In the light of past experience, there was a 100% chance of being (at least) one safety car, a fact which was by no means lost on any of the team or drivers, so they were all banking on strategy as being key to winning this race, or at least being able to move up through the field (from, say, P22.)
There has never been a crash on L1 in Singapore, at least not until today. Rosberg did get off to a pretty good start, unlike the Wonder Kid Max Verstappen, who did not. Sainz pulled out from behind Verstappen straight into the path of Hulkenberg (who had probably made the best start of his career to date) damaging his own car and sending The Hulk spinning into the nearest wall and out of the race. (Is this the shortest distance ever travelled by a F1 driver before retiring from a race?) Out came the first safety car and with so much debris being on the start finish straight, the drivers were told to drive through the pit lane to avoid it: handy if you were planning a trip there any way, not so great if you were hoping to use the safety car periods to gain the jump on your rivals (from, say, P22.) There was almost another crash on L1 as Bottas who had made an actual pit stop was released (unsafely?) into the path of Vettel, who, being a four times world champion and winner of some 42 GPs, deftly managed to avoid him. The incident was ‘investigated by the stewards but no further action taken.’ Crucially, Force India took this opportunity to change Perez onto fresh soft tyres. Grosjean was out of the race, having lost his brake pedal and felt unable to continue without it.
So keen were the organisers to re-start the race that they forgot to check the marshals were off the track before bringing in the safety car on L3. The one remaining marshal showed a surprising turn of speed as he saw the front runners hurtling up the track towards him (again, no further action taken, except possibly the creation of the nickname Marshal Bolt and the frantic waving of more yellow flags.)
A great double overtake on Ocon and Wehrlein by Vettel saw him reach P15 by L6.
Sainz was shown a black and orange flag indicating he was in possession of a dangerous car and he should get into the pits to have it sorted out at his earliest convenience (which he promptly ignored until he pitted on L8, emerging with a safe car and a fresh set of supersoft tyres, in P20.)
On L9 the race leader, Rosberg, was informed that brake management was required and on L10 Hamilton was told the same, only this time the problem was ‘serious.’ This was promptly followed by an instruction to Raikonnen to take advantage of this and chase down Hamilton for P3.
By L12, the first ‘proper’ round of pitstops began: Palmer onto supersofts, emerging in P20; Verstappen on L14 also onto supersofts, emerging just behind Ocon who he promptly passed at the end of the straight putting him into P14; Alonso on L15, emerging into P12, all of which saw Vettel move up into the points in P10, behind Rosberg, Ricciardo, Hamilton, Raikonnen, Kyvat, Massa, Magnussen, Gutierrez, and (the master of tyre saving) Perez. L16 saw Riciardo, Hamilton and Kvyat pit. Hamilton was put onto fresh soft tyres which he was not at all happy about, complaining that he needed a strategy which would allow him to overtake (i.e not the slowest tyres available.)
Rosberg pitted on L17, also onto soft tyres, but the stop was slow and 2seconds were lost as there was a problem fitting the front right and he emerged into P2, behind Raikonnen but ahead of Ricciardo and Hamilton. Raikonnen, Magnussen and Naser pitted the following lap, with Rosberg regaining the lead.
L19 saw one of the highlights of the race, as Kvyat and Verstappen went wheel to wheel for P8. Now, (for those of you who may not be familiar with the history between these two) this was personal: Kvyat started the season with Red Bull and Verstappen with the junior team, Toro Rosso. After only four races, Kvyat (who had won Red Bull’s only podium of the season thus far) was demoted to Toro Rosso and Verstappen promoted to Red Bull. Verstappen then (in his first outing with Red Bull) went on to win his first GP in the very next race and become the youngest ever winner in F1 history. Was Kvyat going to move over and let the Wonder Kid past? No chance. If Verstappen wanted to pass Kvyat he was going to have to work for it, and boy, did he have to. Verstappen saw some (ahem) aggressive defensive driving by Kvyat and nearly ended up in a wall and definitely off the track as the battle raged on , into L20 and L21. By L22 Kvyat received a radio message reminding him his race was with Alonso: was this a coded message to let Verstappen past? Apparently not as after the race both Verstappen and Kvyat denied it. Verstappen did get past, eventually, but not after one of the best dog fights in quite a while. This was particularly pleasing as Kvyat really needed a good race to boost his confidence after his demotion.
L23 saw a yellow flag in sector 3 as there was debris was on the track, which had been removed by L24.
Vettel pitted from P6 on L25 to emerge in P13 on a fresh set of ultrasoft tyres. L26 saw Perez pit from P5 and emerge on fresh softs, behind Vettel. On L28 Vettel moved back into P10 by overtaking Sainz and Gutierrez and by L29 had moved into P8. On L30 Vettel set the fastest lap of the race.
Lap 31 saw a scrap between Perez and Verstappen for P10, which (having pitted for fresh supersoft tyres on L28) Verstappen won as Perez complained his tyres were going off.
Ricciardo pitted from P2 for a fresh set of soft tyres on L33 and emerged in P4, behind Rosberg, Hamilton and Raikonnen.
Raikonnen made an impressive overtake at turn 11 and claimed P2 from Hamilton. Raikonnen then pitted (along with Rosberg and Bottas) on L34, giving Hamilton the lead of the race for the first time. Bottas was in the pits for what seemed like an eternity (30+ seconds) as his crew adjusted his seatbelt which apparently had somehow come undone (didn’t this happen once before with Bottas?)
Hamilton also pitted on L34, making the running order Rosberg, Ricciardo, Raikonnen, Hamilton (all on soft tyres), followed by Kvyat (supersofts) Vettel (ultrasofts), Magnussen, Verstappen (both on supersofts), Alonso and Perez(both on softs.)
A battle for fifth place then took place between Kvyat and Vettel, which Vettel won on L36. Bottas retired that same lap (his engine had overheated during his previous pit stop when his seat belt was being sorted out.)
Lap 38 saw Verstappen overtake Magnussen for P7 then Kvyat for P6.
By L46 Massa had pitted for fresh tyres, Button had retired and Verstappen had pitted and moved onto soft tyres, bringing him out behind Kvyat (again.)
Hamilton pitted on L46 onto a scrubbed set of ultrasoft tyres, ostensibly to protect P3 against Raikonnen, who was then told to ‘push.’ When Raikonnen enquired if he would be pitting on the next lap, unbelievably the team responded by saying they didn’t know. Raikonen did box on L47 and emerged BEHIND Hamilton (effectively loosing the podium position.)
This triggered the pitting of Ricciardo on L48 onto supersoft tyres , which Red Bull hoped would force Rosberg to cover him and also pit. However, the fresh tyres of Ricciardo resulted in his gaining a couple of seconds on Rosberg, reducing Rosbergs lead to below that required for him to emerge from the pitstop still in front, so Rosberg stayed out, hoping his old soft tyres would get him to the end of the race still ahead of Ricciardo on his fresh ultrasofts.
And so it began: with 12 laps left to the end of the race, Ricciardo hunted down Rosberg, reducing his lead by some 2 seconds per lap. On L51 Riciardo received a radio message informing him that at his current pace he would catch Rosberg with 4 laps to go. Would the ultrasofts take such a battering and still be in a fit state to challenge for the lead by the end of the race? In a word, no.
Ricciardo put up a gallant fight but ended the race in P2, 0.488 seconds behind Rosberg, who has now won three races in a row and regained the lead in the driver standings, some 8 points ahead of Hamilton. Hamilton made it onto the podium ahead of Raikonnen, with Vettel, having (ironically) one of his best drives of this season, finishing in fifth place. Verstapen came 6th , Alonso, seventh, Perez eighth, Kvyat ninth and Magnussen taking the final point in tenth.
With a lap time of 1:47.187, Riciardo did win the DHL fastest lap award, with Vettel second on 1:47.345 and Hamilton third on 1:47.752.
Well, I for one can’t wait for the next race…….Malaysia can’t come soon enough. Will Rosberg maintain his position at the top of the driver standings, or will Hamilton snatch it back again? Unfortunately we’ll just have to wait a little while longer to get an answer to that one.
1. Nico Rosberg GER Mercedes-Mercedes 61 laps 1h 55m 48.950s
2. Daniel Ricciardo AUS Red Bull-TAG-Heuer +00.488s
3. Lewis Hamilton GBR Mercedes-Mercedes +08.038s
4. Kimi Raikkonen FIN Ferrari-Ferrari +10.219s
5. Sebastian Vettel GER Ferrari-Ferrari +27.694s
6. Max Verstappen NED Red Bull-TAG Heuer +71.197s
7. Fernando Alonso ESP McLaren-Honda +89.198s
8. Sergio Perez MEX Force India-Mercedes +111.062s
9. Daniil Kvyat RUS Toro Rosso-Ferrari +111.557s
10. Kevin Magnussen DEN Renault-Renault +119.952s
11. Esteban Gutierrez MEX Haas-Ferrari +1 lap
12. Felipe Massa BRZ Williams-Mercedes +1 lap
13. Felipe Nasr BRA Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
14. Carlos Sainz Jr ESP Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1 lap
15. Felipe Nasr BRA Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
16. Jolyon Palmer GBR Renault-Renault +1 lap
17. Pascal Wehrlein GER Manor-Mercedes +1 lap
18. Marcus Ericsson SWE Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
19. Esteban Ocon FRA Manor-Mercedes +2 laps
Rtd Jenson Button GBR McLaren-Honda 43 laps completed
Rtd Valtteri Bottas FIN Williams-Mercedes 35 laps completed
Rtd Nico Hulkenberg GER Force India-Mercedes 0 laps completed
Dns Romain Grosjean FRA Haas-Ferrari +1 lap
Daniel Ricciardo AUS Red Bull-TAG Heuer 1m 47.187s