Singapore Grand Prix: Vettel Proves Fastest in Lion City

Vettel took out last night’s Singapore Grand Prix, sharing his podium with Alonso and Raikkonen. The RB-9 was unchallenged from the start, though there is no denying the German’s talent. The second and third steps on the podium were more of a surprise, but a nice one at that after both Alonso and Raikkonen had poor qualifying sessions.

As the cars lined up on the grid, Mark was warned to go easy on the throttle, and Ricciardo was unfortunate to have his worst start of the season, before the Toro Rosso driver had even left the grid he’d conceded several places to drop back to fourteenth. Things were only going to get harder for the young Australian driver. Grosjean lost two places to Webber, and Alonso into the first corner, though worked hard to stay with the front-runners. The Spaniard made up for a less than satisfying qualifying as he flew up to fourth from seventh, proving that he can deliver in a less than optimal car. Into turn one it looked as if we were in for a tight race as Rosberg briefly nudged Vettel out of first. Unfortunately for Rosberg, Vettel was not about to let up that easily and had regained the position before the exit to the chicane. Within a few laps, the Red Bull with a fearful pace had developed a lead that could not be challenged, so the rest of the pack were left fighting for second.

The battle for thirteenth between Perez and Hulkenberg on lap 12 saw a collective intake of breath from fans around the world as the whole fray took place around Maldonado, a risky move in itself. Luckily all cars emerged unscathed, and the race continued. Ricciardo had a frustrating start failing to move off the grid, but things only got worse for him as he fully locked up into turn 18 and crashed head on into the barrier on lap 24. It was a disappointing end to a disappointing race for Ricciardo, the only good to come from it was that the safety car was deployed.  The timing of the of safety car split team strategies in two with most of the field coming back into pit their super-soft for medium compound tyres. with the exception of Vettel, Rosberg, and Webber, who were already running on mediums.

Di Resta, who couldn’t seem to catch a break over the weekend, suffered his third race retirement in a row after hitting the barriers on lap 54. It was sad to see di Resta retire when he looked set to collect his first point since Silverstone. The retirement didn’t cause another safety car however as the stewards could easily remove the stricken Force India.

My standout for the race would undoubtably be Lotus. Romain Grosjean had a superb race, probably the best I’ve even seen him do. He handled his car with confidence and precision of a much maturer driver than previously seen in the season. I was definitely one of the fans groaning in pain when he was called in for his pit-stop. A 40+ second pit stop to fix a fault on his engine’s pneumatic system all but killed his race, when he genuinely looked in a good chance to challenge for a podium finish. Shortly after his excruciating pit-stop his was called in and retired on lap 37. Almost as if to make up for Grosjean’s retirement, Kimi stepped up immediately to carve his way through the field from where he’d been cruising in eleventh. Whatever the treatment they gave Kimi on Saturday night seemed to work wonders, you’d never know that he was nursing a back injury for the aggression and speed he showed on track. The Finn made easy work of Button as the McLaren was losing grip on his tyres. Having never reached the podium at Singapore, Kimi definitely had some unfinnished business to attend to (See what I did there…?).

The remaining Australian on the track was struggling in the final laps of the race, after being told over team radio to short shift all gears Webber lost considerable pace and relinquished his fourth to Rosberg and Hamilton. Despite Webber’s best efforts to nurse the car to the finish line, his engine gave up on the final lap. Trust the Australian to turn his car into a BBQ. Webber caught a lift back to the pit on Alonso’s Ferrari, which saw them both be reprimanded by the stewards. It was Mark’s third of the season which meant he was handed a ten place grid penalty. The stewards decision was based on the fact that Rosberg and Hamilton had to take evasive action to avoid Alonso as he stopped to pick up Webber. It seems a bit harsh that the stewards chose this course of action, I’m all for driver safety, but these guys are Formula 1 drivers, they have pretty flipping quick reaction times.

– Alex

Qualifying Pole Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Podium Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus-Renault)
Fastest Lap 1:48.574 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)

Singapore Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Tuan-tuan dan puan-puan, Selamat datang ke Grand Prix Singapura*. The Singapore Grand Prix is one of the hardest circuits on the calendar. The nature of the track requires total concentration as there is very little room for errors. More than half of the 23 corners of the circuit are at harder than 90 degree angles. The cars have to be set up with a heavy downforce package, despite having a slightly higher than usual ride hight. Cars can be raised by as much as 4mm to account for the more than bumpier track. Sections of the track are extremely tight, therefore it’s no surprise to hear that the Marina Bay Circuit is known as the “Monaco of Asia”. The Singapore Grand Prix would has to be one of the best races of the season, although I realise that I may be slightly bias in my appraisal given that I used to live there and slightly consider it my home Grand Prix… But ignoring that, the night race is nothing short of stunning.

Qualifying was a slightly more interesting session than expected with number two drivers out qualifying their team mates (with the exception of Vettel… but we’ll talk about that later). Most notably of this was Grosjean qualifying third, while a bad back Kimi meant that he was knocked out in Q2 starting from thirteenth on the grid. The Frenchman set his flying lap time of 1:43.058 during the last run in Q3, and I have to say impressed. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if Grosjean managed to finish in third or fourth (provided he doesn’t hit the barriers or take himself or anyone else out), the Lotus just looked really strong in Qualifying. Grosjean seems to have been gaining confidence since Spa this year and is making a lot smarter decisions on track.  This does appear to slow his pace down, and Singapore might be a good fit for this. I don’t doubt that if Kimi hadn’t been suffering from a pinched nerve in his back that he would have qualified up with his team mate, though it’s hard to say how he will perform tonight. It’s a tough track on the drivers at the best of times, and with an injury it would be extremely painful. Without a back injury I’d fully expect to see him finish ahead of Grosjean.

Less of a gap between the second and first drivers were Massa and Alonso. The Brazilian, who found out after Monza that he will not be racing at Ferrari in 2014 has said that for the rest of the season he will be racing for himself, and not for the team. Perhaps the kick up the butt of pressure to find a new seat was all he was waiting for to get back on form. Alonso was looking a little slippy on track, which makes me think that the cars don’t have quite enough downforce to handle corner after corner. Both the Ferrari’s are still struggling in qualifying, and Singapore probably isn’t a track best suited to their cars, but both drivers did well to qualify in sixth and seventh.

Other cars which looked particularly slippy on track were the Williams of Maldonado and Toro Rosso of Vergne. Maldonado was knocked out in Q1, and Vergne in Q2. Meaning that Bottas and Ricciardo both out qualified their number one drivers. Ricciardo was reportedly disappointed to qualify ninth. The Toro Rosso looked to have the speed, but as Vergne demonstrated, possibly lacking in grip. Similarly Bottas struggled to get heat into the tyres in Q2 (which is odd, because Singapore is flipping warm). Mercedes qualified well, with Rosberg starting second and Hamilton in fifth, I hope that such a strong performance in qualifying won’t be lost in the race. The last windy, high down force, street circuit that Mercedes excelled at was Monaco. I’m hoping Rosberg can deliver again, I’d like to see him on the podium, second or possibly third.

Vettel qualified on pole position ahead of Webber (one of the few exceptions to this weekend’s qualifiying trend. Red Bull just really have got it right this year. So (dare I say it), I fear tonight’s race might be a touch boring from the front of the field. With clean air and an empty track ahead, there is nothing stopping Vettel from developing a healthy lead. Webber put in an excellent qualifying performance, despite missing out on the front row and qualifying in fourth. Fingers crossed Mark doesn’t have his signature start.

If we ignore the mammoth lead that Vettel is bound to have, I think tonight’s race will be really exciting. The atmosphere at the track is fantastic, and it’s built like a proper street circuit. I’m actually pretty devastated I’m not there this year.

– Alex

* I re-read my Key Stage 3 report from my school in Malaysia the other day, and my Bahasa Melayu teacher commented that I had trouble remembering  Malay phrases and vocab. Well, ten years later and I remember a fair bit.

Italian Grand Prix: Vettel Lengthens his Lead

Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel seems almost set to take out his fourth consecutive World Championship title, securing his sixth win of the season at Monza yesterday. Fernando Alonso delivered an inspired drive for the ever so enthusiastic tifosi. While Mark Webber put an end to his run of bad luck in Italy and even managed to make the podium, you know what they say, twelfth time’s the charm…

The race got off to a rocky start, with Kimi Raikkonen locking his brakes into turn 1 and running into the back of Sergio Perez. The McLaren got away relatively unscathed, though he was forced to take the escape road through the first turn. Kimi was having no such luck. The contact had severely damaged his front wing and he immediately lost several places. Di Resta is doing nothing to shake the title of “Unluckiest Man in Formula 1”, failing to make it past the first lap. The Force India driver, who was taking avoiding action not to run into the back of his team mate or Grosjean, clipped his front left tyre on the Lotus’ right rear. The contact completely broke di Resta’s left fishbone, and limping off the track, he became the first of two retirements.

Lotus were waiting ready for Raikkonen at the end of lap 1 for a new nose and fresh tyres. Some would have counted him out of the race at this point, but that is not Kimi. The Finn drove right on the limit to catch the back of the grid (which at this point were more than half a minute in front of him), despite messages from the pit wall warning Kimi of fuel consumption he caught up to the two Marussia’s of Chilton and Bianchi by lap 8, and Caterham’s van der Garde by lap 14. On the same lap Toro Rosso driver Jean-Eric Vergne suffered from transmission failure, becoming the second and final retirement from the race.

Ferrari showed a frightening dominance from both drivers, though the man of the hour was undoubtably Alonso when he made a spectacular move on Mark Webber on lap 3. The Spaniard used all his KERS to get into the Red Bull’s slipstream in a hope to pass him before the chichane. It wasn’t quite enough to the the Ferrari infront, but amazingly Alonso went wheel to wheel against Webber into the chichane and came out with the racing line, and the position. Mark didn’t emerge completely unscathed, receiving some front wing damage on exiting the chichane which may have affected the balance of the car. Nevertheless, it was a nail-biting demonstration, that with any other pair would definitely had ended in disaster.

Most of the pack came into pit from lap 20 with the exception of Raikkonen who stayed out until lap 30. After the first round of pit stops, Ricciardo remained in front of Button’s McLaren. The Toro Rosso driver wasted no time in showing his new bosses at Red Bull his worth by keeping Button at bay. The McLaren did appear to be held up by the Toro Rosso, but he could not find a way past. The battle worked it’s way down from eleventh and tenth to eighth and seventh, before Button lost pace and conceded a place Grosjean. Ricciardo went on to hold his position to cross the line in seventh.

The battle for eleventh and twelfth began between Raikkonen and Hamilton from lap 45, with the Lotus managing to hold off the Mercedes until lap 48 when it was apparent the Lotus just didn’t have the speed.

Massa was out to impress his current bosses, delivering a result that would definitely work in his favour while the contracts are being finalised. Massa, who qualified ahead of his team mate, started in fourth and spent most of the race cruising comfortably in his held position where he crossed the line in. The Brazilian showed a calm sense of confidence in his driving that has been scarcely seen this year. This is why it was slightly disheartening for Massa to again be told to move out of the way to let Alonso passed at the beginning of the race.

The surprise in qualifying was Nico Hulkenburg third on the grid. The Sauber driver got off to a fantastic start to make his way past Button, Vergne, Perez, Ricciardo, and Rosberg all before the end of lap 1. Hulkenberg kept good pace, and spent most of the race keeping Rosberg at behind him, despite the Mercedes posting fastest lap times. The Ferrari powered Sauber came home in fifth.

While the race as a whole had battles down the grid, it was slightly (dare I say) dull to not see a battle between Vettel and Alonso. A challenge between first and second is undoubtably the most exciting part of a race to watch. The best races in the past have been nail-biters right to the line. As much as I’m a Vettel fan, that’s what I want to see again.

The championship resumes in two weeks in Singapore (my old home), the night race is one of the hardest and most demanding on the calendar, and I am kicking myself that I’m not there. Next year.

– Alex

Qualifying Pole Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Podium Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Fastest Lap 1:25.849 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

Italian Grand Prix: Hulkenburg proves to be the faster Ferrari

The fastest Ferrari powered car from yesterday’s qualifying wasn’t that of Fernando Alonso, or even Felipe Massa. No, the quickest Ferrari engine came from Sauber’s own Nico Hulkenburg. The German surprised himself and the team by qualifying third on the grid, just behind the two Red Bulls. Practice and qualifying were both dry, but word on the ground at Monza (curtesy of my own little racing spy) is that the chance of rain during the race is at about 55% now. What does this mean for Hulkenburg? He raced well in Malaysia this year under ‘damp’ conditions, finishing eighth, which has been his highest finish this season. A bit of rain may indeed be favourable conditions for Nico, it’s difficult to say whether he is good in the wet. The Mercedes this year look strong in the wet, as does the Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo.

A Ferrari with a custom chassis has won at Monza in the rain before, Sebastian Vettel managed it in 2008 for Toro Rosso. Personally I don’t think a win is on the cards for the Sauber driver, but I’m thinking a finish in the points, maybe around seventh.

– Alex

Italian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

The atmosphere at Monza is arguably the best out of any race in the championship making it a favourite for drivers and fans alike. To understand why, you only need to look no further than the tifosi. The Italians are mental, and in the best possible way. No other race in the championship brings such passion and devotion to the sport, and this year is no different. The Autodromo di Monza is a true racers circuit made up of high speed straights and corners. So what does this mean for the drivers? They need to have straight line speed, this means a quick car with low downforce and drag compared, and a completely different aerodynamic setup to any other race. Monza is not as hard on the brakes or the tyres as other races on the calendar so engine reliability will be the key over the weekend to drive the car on the limit for most of the circuit. This weekend’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza is shaping up to be tight race, with lap times during practice and qualifying being separated by only a few hundredths of a second.

Webber, who is keen to get a good result this weekend, has not had the best of luck in Italy. His previous 11 visits to the circuit have seen him finish in the points on only three occasions. But hey, twelfth time lucky I guess? The Red Bull driver looked in good stead during practice, posting eighth in FP1, second in FP2, and third in FP3. Webber’s team mate (and I use the word “mate” very loosely here) was on form during practice, posting fourth in FP1 and being the only driver in FP2 to crack sub 1m:25s, and again securing first in FP3. The Red Bulls are proving unstoppable this weekend, and qualifying saw both cars easily make it through to Q3 for Vettel and Webber to line up first and second on the grid.

After weeks of speculation, rumours were finally put to rest with Red Bull announcing that Daniel Ricciardo would replace Webber’s seat at Red Bull in 2014. The Toro Rosso driver was not happy with his practice times however, admitting that he’d made some driver errors and failing to set a fast time in the medium tyres. Eventually posting thirteenth in FP1, seventeenth in FP2, and then back up to sixth in FP3. Despite a rocky practice session, the Toro Rosso graduate was on fine form during qualifying. Ricciardo made it all the way to Q3 and will line up seventh on the grid. Team mate Vergne, who is likely to remain at the Red Bull sister team in 2014 had better luck despite not being happy with the balance of the car, managing tenth in FP1, fifteenth in FP2, and eleventh in FP3. The Frenchman was lucky not to be knocked out in Q2 and will start tenth on the grid.

Lotus team mates demonstrated the team’s policy for equal opportunity by posting synchronised times of 1m:25s.116 in FP2, despite both cars having a different set up. Kimi went with a longer wheelbase during practice, while Romain has stuck with the standard configuration. After the final practice session, Lotus decided that there wasn’t a considerable advantage to be gained, so Kimi will too be racing with the standard configuration tomorrow. A promising result during practice didn’t translate into qualifying with neither Lotus cars making it past Q2. The E21 struggled with grip through the chichanes from the lack of downforce on the rear wings. Kimi will start eleventh on the grid, and Grosjean from thirteenth.

Mercedes had no major issues are happy so far with the balance of the car at Monza. The low downforce set up of the car looked good during practice with Hamilton first in FP1, sixth in FP2 and fourth in FP3. Qualifying turned out to be a disaster for Hamilton as his lap was impeded by Force India’s Adrian Sutil. As a result the Mercedes was knocked out in Q2 and will start from twelfth. Rosberg, while happy with the atmosphere, made steady pace to improve his lap times to catch the Red Bulls, and will start from sixth. Both McLaren’s have been consistent through practice and qualifying, with both cars making it through to Q3. Perez was able to shave a few tenths of a seconds off his lap time more than Button, seeing the silver arrows set to start eighth and ninth.

Though the tifosi are cheering for one man, and one man alone. Fernando Alonso can do no wrong in front of Ferrari’s home crowd, and he did not disappoint during practice posting second in FP1, fifth in FP2, and second in FP3. Despite his strength in practice and in qualifying, the cool Spaniard is keeping his wits about him, and focussing on gaining points over Vettel in an attempt to close the gap in the Driver’s Championship. Massa, who would undoubtably be feeling the pressure to perform well this weekend got off to a nerve wracking start by almost rear ending his team mate at the exit of the pit lane in the dying seconds of FP1. Not the best way to impress the bosses. The Brazilian knows it won’t be an easy weekend, and managed fourteenth FP1, eighth in FP2, and seventh in FP3. Massa ultimately out qualified his team mate with both Ferrari’s making it to Q3. A brief attempt by Alonso to slipstream Massa ultimately came to nothing, and the Spaniard will start from fifth, while the Brazilian starts from fourth.

Sutil’s move on Hamilton saw him receive a three place grid penalty for tomorrow. Di Resta suffered more bad luck with brake disc issues, costing him valuable track time, and as a result qualified sixteen on the grid. Sutil will start from seventeenth just in front of Bottas’ Williams, and the Caterhams and Marussias.

One of the reasons why the Autodromo di Monza is a fantastic race to watch is that qualifying times are in no way as crucial as other circuits. At Monaco, where you line up on the grid can roughly determine what position you will cross the line it. At Monza, the sheer speed down the pit straight and through the first chichane allows for easy overtaking that can shake the grid up considerably.

I feel the Ferrari’s will maintain their strength for the race. In particular I think Alonso will make up places, and a podium finish is definitely on the cards for him (plus I really want to see the tifosi loose their s*** for a Ferrari on the podium). Raikkonen will need to work the hardest if he wants to make the podium given the speed of his E21 today. Though if anyone had to get speed out of a car when it seems to be on the limiter, Kimi is probably the driver to do that. Somehow the Iceman can always do that. I’m torn to admit that I think Vettel will reach the top step of the podium. As much as I love a win from Vettel, I would not be devastated to see him have to work through the grid for a win, it’s too easy for him from pole.

– Alex