The Bulls are Back in Town: Singapore GP review

By on Monday, September 24, 2012

It was a marathon Grand Prix, but at the end of fifty-nine laps of the Marina Bay Street Circuit, it was reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel who was the first driver to meet the chequered flag. In a season of twists and turns, it now appears to be a case of which of Vettel or Fernando Alonso will be the one to claim a third title as twenty-nine points separates the duo, with the circus heading to a series of circuits on which Vettel excels.

Having dominated practice and Q2, it came as a surprise to see Lewis Hamilton and Vettel split at the front of the grid by the Williams of Pastor Maldonado. The Venezuelan driver has been known for pulling a fast lap out of the bag when it mattered and so it proved in the dying stages of qualifying. Hamilton set two laps good enough for pole position, with the latter of his attempts the slowest as it included a tap of the wall on the exit of Turn 21.

The advantage Maldonado secured through his qualifying lap was soon gone. Hamilton scampered away at the start but the Williams driver ran slightly wide in Turn 2, enough to give Vettel the space to get through, and allow Jenson Button to nab Maldonado on the run down to Turn 5. Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg ignored Turn 2, but the stewards deemed that they had no option but to take to the run-off. A minor collision left Vitaly Petrov with a broken front wing and Felipe Massa with a puncture, dropping both firmly to the back of the pack.

Hamilton and Vettel soon pulled a gap on third placed Button, although the 2009 world champion stabilised the gap at six seconds. Vettel’s tyres began to wear earlier than his McLaren rivals, causing the Red Bull driver to run wide at the Singapore Sling and slowly drop back into the clutches of Button.

Hamilton ponders another retirement

Vettel was forced to pit before Button caught him, and while he emerged from his stop in traffic, he soon found clean air in which to bang in a fast lap. McLaren responded by bringing Hamilton in for his stop, leaving Button out front. After another few laps, he made his stop and emerged around three seconds shy of Vettel.

The race appeared destined to be a straight fight between Hamilton and Vettel, although the McLaren man later said that he was cruising when disaster struck on Lap 22. Vettel said his rival had been losing oil for a couple of laps and when Hamilton accelerated after Turn 1, smoke poured from his car. He lost gears, coasted to a halt at Turn 5 and dejectedly walked away to contemplate a third retirement in five races, one that leaves his title hopes in tatters.

Vettel picked up the race lead ahead of Button, leaving Maldonado to fight with Alonso for the final podium place.

When Narain Karthikeyan crashed underneath the grandstand at Turn 18 on Lap 30, the front runners deemed the timing of the safety car ideal to make a second and final stop. The race order remained largely unchanged, although the timing of the caution period seriously hindered Mark Webber’s progress.

Michael Schumacher collided with Jean Eric Vergne

At the restart Vettel maintained his lead, but further back more chaos prompted a second safety car period. Jean Eric Vergne was battling with Sergio Perez when he was struck from behind by Michael Schumacher, sending both drivers out of the race amidst a spraying of debris at Turn 14. Schumacher arrived at the corner with both front tyres locking and was later deemed to be at fault for the collision. It was the second successive Singapore race in which the German had misjudged the braking zone of his rivals and the second time this season, after the Spanish Grand Prix, in which he had eliminated a competitor in similar fashion. He was subsequently handed a ten place grid penalty for the Japanese Grand Prix.

Williams had curiously pitted Maldonado during the second safety car period, dropping him to tenth place and seemingly handing a podium to Alonso. But Maldonado was soon informed that his FW34 had developed a hydraulics issue and he was forced to retire. It has now been nine races since Maldonado won the Spanish Grand Prix; the event remains the most recent time that he has scored a point.

With the clock ticking down towards the two hour mark, the race became a timed event rather than running to the scheduled sixty-one laps. Button and Vettel nearly came together at Turn 16 prior to the restart, with the stewards later analysing the data from Vettel’s RB8 to establish that the German had not behaved erratically.

The race largely settled down with Vettel maintaining a gap to Button, with a distance back to Alonso and Paul di Resta. The Force India driver had qualified on the third row of the grid and stayed out of trouble to profit from Maldonado and Hamilton falling by the wayside.

Pastor Maldonado's strong drive went unrewarded. Photo Credit: Williams F1 Team

Nico Rosberg soon fell back from di Resta and just managed to keep the Lotus duo of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean at bay. Raikkonen expressed his frustration at a “boring race” with limited overtaking opportunities, although he was let through by Grosjean under instruction by the team.

Felipe Massa spent the final stint of the race on the option tyres and he put them to good use. The Ferrari driver passed a couple of his rivals and then pulled off one of the moves of the season. Massa got a run on Bruno Senna exiting the Anderson Bridge, but his compatriot failed to see him in his mirrors, squeezing Massa between the barrier and the side of the FW34. Massa’s car snapped sideways, before Massa saved the car in a Scandinavian flick style manoeuvre. Not only did Massa somehow avoid contact with either the inside or outside barriers and Senna’s car, but he passed his rival in the process.

Daniel Ricciardo benefited from his team-mate’s demise to secure ninth, ahead of fellow Australian Mark Webber. However, the latter was subsequently given a time penalty for exceeding track limits when passing Kamui Kobayashi. It was a harsh penalty and once again raises the question of sanctions from the stewards and where the difference is between giving your rival space and passing off of the track.

Webber’s penalty elevated Sergio Perez to tenth place, allowing the Swiss team to salvage a point from what was a difficult weekend. Kamui Kobayashi and Nico Hulkenberg made contact, forcing both into the pits for repairs.

The collision between Kobayashi and Hulkenberg, combined with the late retirement of Bruno Senna, allowed Timo Glock into twelfth place. The German driver hit the wall early on in the race but continued and managed his tyres on a lengthy stint to record Marussia’s best ever race finish. The result allows the team to leapfrog Caterham in the battle for tenth place in the Constructors Championship.

Back at the front, Vettel is now in prime position to become only the third man to secure three successive world championships. Of course, he has a twenty-nine point deficit to recover, but his initial reaction after winning his first race since Bahrain, after the natural elation, was to think of more important matters than mere championship points.

“I would like to dedicate it to one very, very special man, Professor Sid Watkins who passed away and we remember him for sure”, he said.

“I think he is one of the biggest reasons we can go out on a circuit like this and enjoy ourselves and be reasonably safe. He pushed the boundaries in terms of safety for all of us, so a big thank you to him”

We can all agree with that.

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