Singapore Grand Prix: Sledge Hammer Time

Lewis Hamilton took the lead in the championship tonight after winning the Singapore Grand Prix. The Mercedes driver stormed his way to victory from pole position, and the retirement of his teammate left the way for the two Red Bulls to stand either side of Hamilton on the podium. Vettel stole an early position from Ricciardo to finish second, with his teammate just behind in third. The Singapore Grand Prix had a reasonably high rate of attrition, with Kamui Kobayashi not making it past the formation lap. Nico Rosberg also failed to get away, but managed to start his F1 W05 from the pit lane.

At lights out, the twenty remaining cars on the grid stormed down into turn one. It was a predictably quick getaway from Hamilton, who led the pack. Sebastian Vettel immediately went left onto the racing line, squeezing out his teammate for second. Alonso, starting behind Vettel on the grid in P5, capitalised on the empty track left by the Red Bull, and went full throttle into the first corner. The Spaniard was a little over excited by the prospects of a competitive grid position it seemed, as he went too deep, locking the brakes, and completely missing turn one. Alonso gave his track position back to Vettel, though arguably he should have handed a place back to Ricciardo as well. Further back, the rest of the grid snaked through the first complex of corners in a remarkably orderly fashion, followed up the rear by Nico Rosberg, who had managed to get away from the pit lane.

Rosberg’s race was already off to a bad start before he’d even left the garage for the grid. Control system issues to his steering wheel meant the team had to replace his wheel not once, but twice. The team couldn’t figure out the problem, meaning only the gearshift paddles were working. The F1 W05 sat stranded on the grid as the rest of the pack shuffled around him on the formation lap, forcing him to start form the pit lane. To make matters worse, Rosberg’s radio wasn’t working for the opening laps of the race. Perhaps the Mercedes garages were taking the team radio ban a little too seriously. Rosberg eventually settled into a rhythm and began to make his way through the field of back markers. His race came to a premature end when he came in for his first pit stop. Having to switch the car off for the stop, Rosberg was unable to get it started again. Deciding to save the miles on the engine, Rosberg called game over and retired. Not ideal for defending the championship lead. This left the door open for Hamilton to cruise his way to victory and take the championship lead for the first time this season. However, his race to victory would prove to be far from a cruise. The apparently inevitably appearance of the safety car at the Singapore Grand Prix brought the grid back together at two thirds race distance. There was a moment of panic in Hamilton’s voice when he realised that the seven cars behind him were all on the prime tyre, compared to his worn option. The team pushed and encouraged Hamilton to build a twenty seven second gap over seven laps to Vettel in P2, to allow the Mercedes to make his final pit stop. Hamilton was convinced his tyres were on the brink of sheer explosion. Though with a little coaxing from his race engineer, built up a twenty-five gap and was called in. He emerged just behind Vettel, but critically, in front of Ricciardo and Alonso. Vettel wasn’t about to put up a fight for the lead knowing Hamilton was on fresh tyres, so he let him through.

The second step on the podium was Vettel’s best race result of the season, so it is unsurprising that he allowed Hamilton through so easily. The battle was never there, Hamilton was on fresh primes to Vettel’s twenty-nine lap old primes. So Vettel was happy to collect his eighteen points in second place. The Red Bull was fairly aggressive on his teammate at lights out, squeezing him out for a position before the first corner. Perhaps this was Vettel’s way of showing Ricciardo, who again out-qualified him, that he should still be considered as a threat, or perhaps Vettel wanted a bit of competitive rivalry between teammates. Either way, Vettel’s aggression paid off, he made the position and remaining in front of Ricciardo for the rest of the race. Ricciardo was never in the position to fight back as his RB10 was running on limited power. The team radio ban on driver coaching meant that the pit wall couldn’t talk Ricciardo through the issue, even if they had worked out the problem in the first place. The fact that Ricciardo finished in third is testament to his performance on track tonight. The safety car hurt both the Red Bulls strategy, and Ricciardo was left managing a weak RB10 on seriously degraded tyres during the final laps. Ricciardo couldn’t simply bring it home, he had Alonso right on his tail.

Alonso wasn’t penalised for his adventure off track on the opening lap having given the place back to Vettel. The F14 T had looked competitive all weekend through practice and qualifying, and Alonso was happy to deliver a more than competitive race. The Ferrari was lucky in their race strategy, managing to undercut Vettel in the second round of pit stops, moving into P3. Though the appearance of the safety car, similarly to the Red Bulls, was not a good thing for the rest of Ferrari’s strategy. Alonso was left fighting Ricciardo for the final podium step with twenty-three lap old prime tyres. Alonso sized Ricciardo up, not knowing that the RB10 was struggling for power (and on thirty-two lap old primes), but waited too long to put any real pressure to the Red Bull, eventually finishing P4. Kimi Raikkonen somewhat fell away during the race. Kimi was stuck behind Massa in the first stint, and the safety car didn’t do much to improve his efforts. He still picked up points, four of them, finishing in P8.

Williams’ race fell apart when the safety car came out. Massa’s strategy had benefited him in the first pit, exiting on fresh rubber ahead of Raikkonen. Massa managed to hold the Ferrari up and lay down some good laps. Score one, Massa. The rest of the race didn’t go to plan, with the safety car forcing Massa to drive like his grandmother (his words not mine) to save the tyres until the end of the race. Clearly want to wanting to unleash more from the FW36, he obliged, and finished a healthy P5. Bottas was on the same strategy and enjoying a healthy run in P6, however his tyres completely fell off the cliff on the final lap, dropping from his P6 to outside of the points in P11.

Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne, picked up a five second stop-go penalty for exceeding track limits when he gained a position on Bianchi. The Frenchman had two options; either take the penalty in the pits and lose valuable grid positions, or, have the five seconds deducted from his lap time and overtake a good five or six cars to make up for it. Vergne chose the latter option, and powered past Perez, Raikkonen, and Hulkenberg to cross the line in P6. Even with his penalty in place, Vergne retained his finishing position, having built enough of a gap to Perez in P7. It looks like the pressure of being left without a confirmed race seat for 2015 is agreeable for Vergne, he’s doing a lot in his race to build up his resume for a seat. Kvyat had a difficult race. The conditions in Singapore are hard at the best of times, but the rookie was left without a drink for the whole race, literally having to be peeled from his STR9 at the end of the race. Kvyat asked to retire, feeling issues with the Toro Rosso, but the team kept him out. Eventually he crossed the line in a dehydrated P14.

Force India managed a double points finish, despite Sergio Perez’s VJM07 losing it’s front wing to Sutil. The contact with the Sauber occurred on lap 30, when Perez was trying to overtake Sutil for P12. Sutil completely unaware of his surroundings, moved straight across into Perez’s path clipping his right rear on Perez’s wing. A moment later, the Force India’s wing was underneath the car, and littering debris all over the Singapore streets. Cue safety car. Luckily no one picked up a puncture, though the track to several laps to clear. Perez was understandably unhappy, not only did he face the hefty fine of littering in Singapore, but also Sutil’s carelessness had seemingly cost him his race. Or saw we thought, Perez was on form again for the remainder or the night, recovering to pick up points in P7. Hulkenberg had less of a dramatic race, and finished with two valuable points in P9.

McLaren had a competitive pace, and a strong MP4-29, and a good strategy for both drivers. Their race didn’t go to plan though. Button was on a two-stop strategy, keeping him within the points. Earlier in the race he’d been one of the front-runners, though his strategy was going to see him finish around P6 or 7. Alas, on lap 54, Button’s MP4-29 lost drive after going over the kerbs on the Anderson Bridge. After one of Button’s best races of the season, he parked up and retired. Magnussen was on a three-stop, to take the last point in P10.

Lotus nearly scored points on the Marina Bay Circuit, although the race didn’t come together as planned for Maldonado or Grosjean. Maldonado’s first pit wasn’t as smoothly as the team would have liked. The green light for the Lotus pit malfunctioned, sending him away with the front left wheel gun slightly attached still… slightly. The team also had to pit Maldonado a fourth time after fitting the E22 with the wrong tyres under the safety car. Luckily this didn’t affect his position, but the supersofts he was on ran out of grip in the last ten laps and he fell out of contention for his first points of the season. Eventually, Maldonado finished P12. Grosjean lost out on the race restart, pushing too hard and losing two positions. Without enough grip for the end of the race, Grosjean couldn’t pass back into the points, and finished P13.

Marcus Ericsson had his best race of the season, finishing ahead of the two Marussias in P15. His teammate however had one of his worst races, in that he didn’t race. Kobayashi suffered a total loss of oil pressure on the formation lap, recording his first ever DNS. Bianchi once again finished ahead of Chilton. The two MR03s finished in P16 and P17 respectively.

It hasn’t been an easy season for Sauber, and the Singapore Streets didn’t do much to aid their woes. Gutierrez was an early race retirement after his C33 battery wouldn’t charge, leaving him without any ERS*. Gutierrez was understandably upset, he had been on course for a competitive race. Sutil received on a five second penalty for his contact with Perez, though he never served it, coming into the garage on lap 40 made it a double retirement for Sauber.

Hamilton now leads the championship by three points, a margin that is by no means great. The title battle remains! Round 15 remains in the South East for the much anticipated Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. In complete contrast to Marina Bay, Suzuka is one of the fastest circuits on the calendar. The track has a lot going for it too, double apex corners, elevation changes, a figure of eight so the trap loops over itself… Not to mention 130R. Only two weeks to wait. Until then, selamat malam.

– Alex

*Remember how you need a lot of ERS on a street circuit?

Position No Driver Team Laps Time/Retired Grid Pts
1 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 60 Winner 1 25
2 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 60 +13.5 secs 4 18
3 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing-Renault 60 +14.2 secs 3 15
4 14 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 60 +15.3 secs 5 12
5 19 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 60 +42.1 secs 6 10
6 25 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Renault 60 +56.8 secs 12 8
7 11 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 60 +59.0 secs 15 6
8 7 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 60 +60.6 secs 7 4
9 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 60 +61.6 secs 13 2
10 20 Kevin Magnussen McLaren-Mercedes 60 +62.2 secs 9 1
11 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes +65.0 secs 8
12 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus-Renault +66.9 secs 18
13 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault +68.0 secs 16
14 26 Daniil Kvyat STR-Renault +72.0 secs 10
15 9 Marcus Ericsson Caterham-Renault +94.1 secs 22
16 17 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Ferrari +94.5 secs 19
17 4 Max Chilton Marussia-Ferrari +1 Lap 21
Ret 22 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes +8 Lap 11
Ret 99 Adrian Sutil Sauber-Ferrari +20 Laps 17
Ret 21 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari +43 Laps 14
Ret 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes +47 Laps 2
Ret 10 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham-Renault + secs 20
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