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

Singapore Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

It is once again a Mercedes front row lockout ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix*. Under the streetlights, Hamilton managed the snatch pole position from his teammate, who in turn stole the top spot from Daniel Ricciardo. The absence of aiding drivers over team radio had caused confusion during practice, but seemed a little more settled for qualifying. With only a 10% chance of rain at the beginning of the session, the track remained warm at a toasty (but sweaty) 33°C.

Both the Mercedes were slow to get on their usual competitive pace. Having finished FP3 further down the timesheets, many were left wondering if the team were sandbagging. Apparently, yes, possibly? While both the Mercedes clearly had the single lap pace, Hamilton was consistently scrappy, missing the apex and locking throughout the evening. Rosberg’s session immediately got off to a poor start by completely out-braking himself into turn 8 in the opening minutes of Q1. The Mercedes were never in contention of being knocked out before Q3, proving to be able to unleash a little more of their ERS. However it remains to be seen if both the F1 W05s can make the race distance tomorrow.

Red Bull lockout the second row, with Ricciardo once again out-qualifying Seb. Ricciardo had a near perfect qualifying, managing the right amount of downforce and pace in his set up. Demonstrating his ability by moving to P1 on his first flying lap in Q1. It looked as if Ricciardo would secure pole position in the session that counted, posting a 1:46.854 on the chequered flag. The momentous cheers for Ricciardo were short lived and replaced with cheers for Rosberg and then Hamilton. Vettel had a less than perfect session. In Q1, his first attempt of a flying lap was hindered first by driver error in sector one, and then completely spoiled by traffic. The perils of a street circuit, eh? When he finally found some space on the track, the RB10 was easily through to Q2, and then Q3. Vettel’s evening improved as his tyres came up to temperature, but pushing too hard on his final flying lap, he lost critical time through the twisty street circuit. On the Singapore streets, the reigning world champ managed to qualify P4.

Ferrari have been the surprise of the weekend, with both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen finding not only grip, but speed from the F14 T. Alonso had been quicker than the Mercedes through Q1, and though he starts from P5, proved to have much cleaner laps. Kimi Raikkonen is unfortunately out of position, having not being able to complete the final qualifying session. Kimi had finished the second session on top of the time sheets, something he’s not managed all year in the Ferrari. However, while Kimi was making space for himself on track in Q3, the F14 T decided that 14 laps for the night was enough, and lost power. Promisingly, Kimi’s lap time was still enough for P7.

Williams made some radical changes to their balance overnight, with their street circuit setup clearly paying off. Felipe Massa lapped quicker than his teammate all evening, and spent a brief spell at the top of the timesheets in Q3. Williams were looking in strong contention for the front row, however at the end of the session and the usual scramble of times took place, Massa was bumped down to P6, where Bottas starts P8.

McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen made a Q3 appearance, though that’s about all the MP4-29 could muster. Magnussen could only improve on his second session time by four hundredths of a second, putting him P9. Button meanwhile just missed out on the top ten shoot out, qualifying P11. The Briton got all he could out of the McLaren, though needed more downforce. Unfortunately for Button, he’d already maxed that out in Q1.

It was a similar story to McLaren for Toro Rosso. Daniil Kvyat was the only Toro Rosso in Q3, having found a solution to the brake issues that had plagued him during practice. Like the Red Bull, the Toro Rosso’s STR9 is better suited to a street circuit. The Russian rookie’s lap of 1:47.362 sees him round out the top ten. Vergne, who remains without a confirmed seat for 2015, qualified in P12, six tenths of a second behind Kvyat.

Strategy bit Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, who like Hamilton, Alonso, Raikkonen, and Ricciardo, had returned to the garage in the final minutes of Q2. It was a risk, was Hulkenberg’s 1:47.308 on supersofts enough to see him through to Q3? No. As the remaining cars on track set their final laps, Hulkenberg was pushed down to P13. Perez didn’t make it past the second qualifying session either, despite being one of the remaining cars out on track. The VJM07 has been competitive so far over the weekend, but Perez appeared to run out of steam and grip in Q2, running wide at turn 11 and only managing to extract 1:47.575 for P15.

Gutierrez was a surprise in the early stages of qualifying, putting his C33 up into P2 with a 1:47.970 on the supersoft tyres. Last year, Gutierrez made his first Q3 appearance at the Singapore Grand Prix, this year he’d only make it to Q2, and P14. It shows at least some promise for the Sauber. On the other side of the garage, Sutil was having no such luck. His C33 lost all power at the end of Q1, relinquishing him to start P17. Perhaps, it is time to give your seat to Giedo for 2015… Just saying.

It was a frustrating evening for Lotus. The E22 and Singapore Streets should be getting along a lot better than they are at the moment. Whatever advantages the E22 has in downforce on the circuit, the Renault turbo seems to squash. Romain Grosjean had the potential to qualify much higher than P16, though spoiling his flying lap in Q2 by running completely over the kerbs. Maldonado, running with a new chassis after his FP2 crash, was unable to run at full power and qualified P18. On the plus side, both Grosjean and Maldonado have fresher tyres to play with tomorrow.

The usual suspects round out the back of the grid. Marussia went against the grain in Q1, coming immediately on the supersoft compound tyres while the rest of the track were on softs. Bianchi out qualified his teammate and the two Caterhams for P19, while Max Chilton got his turbo back after losing it momentarily in FP3 to qualify P21. Splitting the two Marussias, Kamui Kobayashi qualified P20 in a very reluctant CT05. Ericsson only made it out of the garage for two laps in Q1 due to work being done on the car, so unsurprisingly lines up P22.

The 10% chance of rain at the beginning of the session, quickly changed to 100%, as it bucketed down shortly after all twenty-two cars were safely tucked into bed (their garages). However, it has never rained on race day in Singapore, so once again, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a sprinkling tomorrow night. The results from qualifying give some indication of who will remain cool in the Singapore heat. Ferrari are finally competitive, while Red Bull (like in Monaco) stand in the best position to challenge Mercedes. Despite their front row lockout, Mercedes have suffered from over heating issues on high downforce circuits before.

– Alex

* I’m running out of different ways to phrase that sentence…

Position No Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3 Laps
1 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 01:46.9 01:46.3 01:45.7 17
2 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 01:47.2 01:45.8 01:45.7 19
3 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing-Renault 01:47.5 01:46.5 01:45.9 12
4 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 01:47.5 01:46.6 01:45.9 15
5 14 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 01:46.9 01:46.3 01:45.9 16
6 19 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 01:47.6 01:46.5 01:46.0 20
7 7 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 01:46.7 01:46.4 01:46.2 14
8 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 01:47.2 01:46.6 01:46.2 18
9 20 Kevin Magnussen McLaren-Mercedes 01:48.0 01:46.7 01:46.3 18
10 26 Daniil Kvyat STR-Renault 01:47.7 01:46.9 01:47.4 21
11 22 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 01:47.2 01:46.9 12
12 25 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Renault 01:47.4 01:47.0 14
13 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 01:47.4 01:47.3 13
14 21 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 01:48.0 01:47.3 9
15 11 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 01:48.1 01:47.6 13
16 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 01:47.9 01:47.8 14
17 99 Adrian Sutil Sauber-Ferrari 01:48.3 6
18 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus-Renault 01:49.1 8
19 17 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Ferrari 01:49.4 7
20 10 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham-Renault 01:50.4 8
21 4 Max Chilton Marussia-Ferrari 01:50.5 7
22 9 Marcus Ericsson Caterham-Renault 01:52.3 5
Q1 107% Time 01:54.2

 

Singapore Grand Prix: Track Analysis

Selamat datung ke Singapura! Round 14 of the 2014 Formula 1 Championship takes us to the 5.065km Marina Bay Street Circuit for the night race; the Singapore Grand Prix. This is quite possibly one most physically demanding races on the calendar. While the Singapore sun is nowhere to be seen, the Singapore heat likes to linger, keeping things nice and warm (not to mention muggy). Humidity is around 80%, coupled with track temperatures around 35°C for the race. Drivers lose around 3kgs in sweat during the two-hour race… charming.

The Monaco of the East can be a rather unforgiving circuit. Already a low grip circuit, the various humps and bumps on the Singapore roads, coupled with the beautifully narrowing barriers, translate into very little room for driver error. Consequently, a similar Monaco setup is used, put on all the downforce, and pray for grip. Gear ratios are also a lot shorter at the Singapore Grand Prix to give a little more mechanical grip through the twisty street circuit, and power out of each turn. Brake stability and balance becomes a focus, as well as engine wear. At this point in the season, most teams are reaching their limit for engine changes. A lot to focus on really… On the plus side, there is opportunity for energy recovery, and lots of it. A total of 23 corners mean a lot of braking zones. This is not a circuit where you want an ERS failure. Tyre allocation for the race is the soft and supersoft tyre, with around a 2.5-3 second difference between the compound. So expect a two-stop or three-stop strategy for the race.

Sector one offers a few opportunities to overtake, particularly in the braking zone on turn one. The first DRS activation zone runs just after turn five along Raffles Boulevard; expect more opportunities to overtake here. Entering into sector two at turn seven is another hard braking zone. The Singapore Sling at turn 10 has been reconfigured to give drivers better traction through the corner. The hairpin at turn 13 is the slowest section on the track and is all about downforce. Sector three is the most technical part of the circuit. Raffles Avenue is the bumpiest sections of track, proving to be not the most comfortable ride, let alone the risk of losing traction. The series of corners from sixteen to nineteen past the football stadium are right-left-left-right, and blind entry, just for fun. Turn eighteen has been particularly tricky in the past, with many a driver pay a visit to the barriers. If you’re Fernando Alonso, you’re going to want to power slide through turn twenty-three and onto the start/finish straight.

A fun fact for the Singapore Grand Prix, the lighting along the circuit to replicate daylight is the equivalent of 3,000 candles. Candles, while more environmentally friendly, would significantly raise the temperature, so I’m glad the FIA opted for light bulbs. The Singapore Grand Prix is probably my favourite race on the calendar, and though I might be bias in saying that, it really does have a lot to offer. Racing under lights, on narrow, low grip, and bumpy street circuit. All the race is missing is rain*.

– Alex

* and me.