Lewis looms large: Singapore GP review

By on Sunday, September 21, 2014
Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Was this the weekend in which the balance tipped in favour of Lewis Hamilton?

It was far from a classic Singapore Grand Prix but in the context of a closely contested world championship it was a tense affair and one in which Hamilton prevailed.

Unlike Monza, there was no mano-a-mano scrap between the two Mercedes cars as the #6 piloted by Nico Rosberg developed a serious issue before he even left his garage.

Rosberg returned to the garage before coming out onto the grid, where Mercedes desperately tried to repair the issue, which was soon diagnosed as a steering column wiring loom failure.

Rosberg’s race engineer warned him that if he couldn’t pull away on the formation lap then he’d have to start from the pit lane – and the problem remained. As one Mercedes glided away from pole position, the other was stranded, as rivals weaved their way around the stricken machine before mechanics wheeled Rosberg into the pit lane.

The woes for one Mercedes driver allowed the other to have a clear and untroubled run down to the first corner, while behind Hamilton the two Red Bulls ran side-by-side, with Sebastian Vettel prevailing at the expense of Daniel Ricciardo. Fernando Alonso opted to repeat his approach from the 2013 event and hugged the outside line, but locked his front tyres and skated straight on. Fortunately for the Spaniard his exuberance was in fact beneficial as he cut ahead of the Red Bull pair and emerged in second position, although he cannily dropped behind Vettel at the first opportunity. Stewards investigated whether he should also hand a place back to Ricciardo, but they deemed that no further action was warranted – it was undoubtedly a close call and one which left Ricciardo slightly miffed.

Scuderia Ferrari

Scuderia Ferrari

Hamilton duly extended his lead at the head of a pack which soon spread out from top to toe. Vettel remained within contention in second, ahead of Ricciardo, Alonso, Kimi Räikkönen, who got ahead of Felipe Massa, Jenson Button and Valtteri Bottas, the last duo having dispensed with Kevin Magnussen after the Dane’s dive up the inside of his team-mate at turn nine left him compromised on the exit.

The first stint of the race was surprisingly settled, with most of the attention being placed on the recovering Rosberg. However, it was soon clear that Rosberg was not going to be storming back through the field. His W05 Hybrid was far wounded than first thought, meaning that he had no DRS and reduced power, while issues on the upshifts meant he was skipping through gears, crippling his acceleration and leaving him with a serious deficit to his rivals. That he was able to pass Max Chilton’s Marussia and hang on to the back of Marcus Ericsson’s Caterham was a damning indictment on the teams at the back.

Vettel, Alonso and Ricciardo all stopped on lap 13 and emerged on another set of Options, while Hamilton responded by pitting a lap later and emerging still with his lead intact.

Rosberg, meanwhile, was faced with a difficult stop as he had no pit lane speed limiter and would have to coast into his box. After a desperately slow stop he was unable to select a gear and gesticulated that it was time to call it a day. It was only his second retirement of the year – and he’s still had fewer defining issues than Hamilton – but it was a hammer blow at a pivotal time in the championship.

Alonso stopped a lap earlier than Vettel for the second round of pit lane action and allied to Red Bull switching their man onto Primes, the Spaniard emerged as Hamilton’s closest challenger, with a reduced deficit after the Mercedes driver’s stop was almost five seconds as they cleaned tyre debris from his front wing.

Hamilton, on Option tyres, duly exerted his authority up front until Adrian Sutil moved over on Sergio Pérez under braking for turn eight. Pérez’s front wing sustained substantial damage and it shattered as he exited turn nine, sending debris all over the circuit and necessitating the deployment of the Safety Car.

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

Mercedes opted to leave Hamilton out, while Alonso stopped for fresh Primes, dropping behind Vettel and Ricciardo. That particular trio all decided to run to the end of the race, meaning that Vettel would have to run 35 laps on Primes, Ricciardo 33 and Alonso 29. Conversely, Hamilton had to pit again for his mandatory stint on Primes and would therefore need to open up an advantage of around 27 seconds to maintain the lead.

Hamilton immediately set about his task and stormed ahead to the tune of three seconds per lap, until his Options naturally started to wear out. Race engineer Pete Bonnington urged his panicked driver on, with Hamilton worried that his tyres were about to explode. Eventually, with an advantage of 24 seconds over Vettel, Mercedes called Hamilton in. It was a quick stop and he emerged with a two second deficit to Vettel, having crucially fended off Ricciardo at the pit exit.

Vettel led over the line – incidentally the first time he has led a lap in 2014 – but his time at the front would prove to be short-lived. Hamilton, with DRS, breezed through into the lead at turn six and romped away by over a second a lap.

Vettel, having been the first of the trio to pit, started struggling with tyre wear and was hounded by Ricciardo and Alonso, but with all three a little worse for wear their positions were maintained.

Massa lost out to Räikkönen at the start but used the undercut to jump ahead and duly pulled away, although he wasn’t best pleased at the length of time he had to preserve his tyres.

Behind him, stunningly, was Jean-Éric Vergne.

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

The Frenchman started from 12th position and copped two five second penalties for exceeding track limits – the first he served at a pit stop but the second he had hanging over him across the final stint. But after his final stop on lap 44 he put the hammer down and went for it.

As late as lap 51 he was still down in 12th, but from there his pace was rapid and he joined the back of the group which was being held up by Valtteri Bottas, the Finn struggling for grip on extremely used tyres. Vergne disposed with Nico Hülkenberg with four laps remaining with a super move at turn 14, before diving down the inside of Kimi Räikkönen into the first corner on the next lap. With Bottas having nothing left in the tank, Vergne pounced at turn nine and scampered away, negating the impact of his five second penalty. It was a quite remarkable charge from a driver who, on the evidence of his season, deserves his spot on the 2015 grid. His performance in Singapore merely reinforced that belief.

Pérez was seventh after a similarly super charge during the final few laps as his fresher tyres paid dividends, while Räikkönen slumped to eighth after getting stuck behind firstly Massa and then Bottas. Ferrari didn’t have the straight line speed to challenge and Räikkönen was helpless to finish further up the road – it was another weekend in which the Finn didn’t take the result that his efforts merited. Hülkenberg was ninth while Magnussen recovered to 10th after he had to switch to a three stop strategy. His woes were accentuated by extreme heat in the McLaren cockpit, which meant he had to try and get air in his sleeves behind the Safety Car!

Steering wheel issues hindered Bottas further and he tumbled to 11th on the last lap with his tyres deader than a dead thing, ahead of Lotus pair Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean, who stayed out of trouble but didn’t have the pace to score points. Daniil Kvyat didn’t have a working water bottle and did well to simply finish in the circumstances, while Ericsson put in his best performance to claim 15th ahead of Jules Bianchi, hindered by brake problems, and Chilton, who had a puncture.

Button was well placed to finish in sixth and perhaps launch a pursuit of Massa but his car conked out as soon as McLaren gave him the green light to use the faster settings. A bespectacled Esteban Gutiérrez put in his best performance of the season but he was halted by an electronics failure and his disgusted reaction was justified after yet another abysmal showing from Sauber, who also lost Sutil to a water leak. Kamui Kobayashi failed to start due to an oil pressure problem.

Hamilton’s victory means that he has won half of this season’s 14 races and now leads the way in the championship for the first time since May. It was a consummate and classy performance from the Brit – can he carry his momentum into the next race at the legendary Suzuka circuit in Japan, in two weeks’ time?

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

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