Vettel closes in on title at Singapore while Hamilton sees red

Coming into the Singapore Grand Prix in 2011 the title was a fight between Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber (Red Bull), Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button (McLaren) and Fernando Alonso (Ferrari).

Well, mathematically anyway. Such was Vettel’s dominance in the 2011 season that he could wrap the title up in Singapore if results went his way. Vettel was utterly dominant throughout the weekend, taking a dominant pole position from team mate Mark Webber, with the McLarens of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton on the second row and the Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso occupying the third row.

With overtaking difficult around the tight circuit the start is always critical here, and when the lights went out Vettel took off away from the front with ease, while Webber, not for the first time, fared less well at the start and was swamped by the McLarens, with Webber focusing on defending the inside from a fast starting Hamilton, squeezing Lewis to the inside, which allowed Button and Alonso to go by on the outside. So despite an initial fast start Hamilton lost out, slotting in behind Massa and Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes (who rather took a shortcut across the outside of Turn 1 when he came together with Massa at the first turn and realised two into one wouldn’t quite go). Rosberg then let Massa past and Lewis start went from bad to worse as he was passed by Michael Schumacher in the second Mercedes, Schumacher getting better a better run out of Turn 5 and passing on the run down though Turn 6 into Turn 7.

As Vettel started to disappear down the road the early interest was provided by Hamilton, with Lewis getting by the Mercedes pair, first gaining revenge on Schumacher, zipping by on the blast through turn 6 down into turn 7 on lap 4, and then repeating the move on Rosberg a lap later. Lewis now had a bit of a gap to make up on the Button, Alonso, Webber, Massa group, but he quickly bridged the gap and latched onto the back of Massa. Getting by the Mercedes was one thing, but the Ferrari would prove a harder proposition.

Massa and Hamilton had already had another couple of incidents in 2011, colliding at the hairpin at Monaco as Lewis tried to come down the inside of Massa, and again in the closing lap in Britain as Massa tried to get past on the last lap. They nearly collided during qualifying on Saturday, with Hamilton trying to overtake Massa as they were on their out lap, Hamilton accusing Massa of blocking and Massa accusing Hamiton of driving dangerously – so Massa was not in any mood to go easy on the man who had pipped him to the drivers title in Brazil in 2008.  Meanwhile Vettel was gone up front, but Button was starting to opening a gap as Alonso and Webber fought over third place, with Webber eventually getting past Alonso on lap 10, Webber diving for the outside at Turn 14 forcing Alonso to defend deep on the inside, the Red Bull then cutting back across Alonso on the exit, the cars wheel to wheel and almost touching as they exited, but Webber finally able to drag past the Ferrari on the run into Turn 15/16. Alonso dived into the pits, followed the next lap by Massa and Hamilton, the pair entering and leaving the pits nose to tail, emerging onto the track just behind Alonso.

All eyes now focused on the battle between Massa and Hamilton for fifth place, and it didn’t take long for fireworks, Lewis desperate not to spend another stint stuck behind Massa attacked on their first lap out of the pits, the cars going side by side through Turn 6, but with Massa holding the inside line to Turn 7 Hamilton had to yield, but clipped Massa’s right rear tyre with his front wing as they turned in, forcing both back to the pits, Massa limping in immediately with a puncture while Hamilton soldiered on for a lap before stopping for a new wing. As with their crash in Monaco Lewis was given a penalty to add insult to injury, and both drivers were out of the reckoning for the win. After Webber stopped he emerged behind Alonso, and the race seemed to be a procession for Vettel in front, well clear of Button, with Alonso and Webber to scrap for the final podium place.

Things were spiced up though when the safety car made its obligatory appearance on lap 30, after Michael Schumacher misjudged a move on Sergio Perez, the Mercedes leap frogging over the rear of the Sauber. Vettel had a 20 second advantage over Button wiped out, but in any event it hardly seemed to matter as Vettel just disappeared into the distance again on the restart on lap 34, Button not aided by lapped cars sitting between him and Vettel as the safety car pulled in. Webber took full advantage of the restart to get past Alonso on the approach to the Singapore Sling, and the top 4 would hold those positions until the end of the race (with the exception of a few laps while they all pitted for the final time).

The remaining interest in the race was provided by Lewis Hamilton, who worked his way from tenth under the safety car back up to fifth by the chequered flag. After the race, Massa interrupted Lewis being interviewed in the press area to give him a sarcastic pat on the back and a ‘Good job’ for ruining his race – Lewis reply ‘Don’t touch me again man’  ..which might have been a more appropriate comment from Massa during the race! The pair would go on to tangle a further two times in the remaining races in a season which saw their cars display an unfortunate magnetic attraction. But the race, and the season belonged to Vettel, a serene victory, and one which moved him to within a point of the title, with only second placed Button mathematically able to wrest the drivers crown away from him with 5 Grand Prix still to come in the season.

 

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