A look back: Singapore GP

JP’s Down and Dirty Race Review: Singapore

Well, well, well, something funny happened on the way to the championship this year. Just two races ago, back in Belgium, it looked like it might be over. The first lap incident, which resulted in Lewis Hamilton retiring his car, seemed to indicate that his chances of earning a second WDC were done and dusted. It seemed as though there was no catching championship leader Nico Rosberg who had been driving consistently, was almost error-free and seemed to have Lady Luck firmly in his pocket.

Then Monza happened. Despite claiming yet another pole, Rosberg was just plain out-raced, in fact he did it to himself. Hamilton claimed victory and hope appeared that the championship would go on at least for another race.

Then it was time for Singapore and this track has seen plenty of close racing and its own share of drama. The first of two Formula 1 night races did not disappoint. Now we have got ourselves a driver’s championship race again, and (surprise!) a new championship leader. Here is what I’m liking, and not liking, about the Singapore GP.

Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Petronas AMG – 1st

How can you not be impressed with the Briton’s drive to claim his seventh win of the season? With the untimely safety car Hamilton was left with no choice but to stay out. His team matched a new strategy to the new circumstances perfectly but it would have been a moot point if Hamilton hadn’t the skill to put in a series of qualifying laps on worn option tires. To watch the Merc driver pull out a 27 second lead prior to his final pit stops was to witness a champion driver at his best.

Hamilton has always been the type of driver to wear his heart on his sleeve and sometimes this has been his undoing. This year he started out with a very mature approach, then there was Monaco, then some mistakes in qualifying, some reliability issues and then Belgium, it seemed it was all getting away from him. It seemed the old Hamilton was taking over from the new and improved Hamilton. But in Monza he bounced back and now I believe he has the bit between his teeth. A psychological victory in Italy and a very physical one under the lights in Singapore have now set the tone for the last five races between the Mercedes duo.

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes Petronas AMG – DNF

Just a few words about the driver who has been leading the championship for most of this season. No one wants to see either of these drivers win the championship because the other had car issues. That being said, Hamilton has had more than his share of bad luck right from the first race in Melbourne. But, lets face it, reliability and luck have always played an important role in any driver’s quest for the title.

What Rosberg needs to do right now is stay focused and not dwell on what has happened. There is no would have, could have, should have in racing, that is not what wins you a championship. There is no way to change the past. What wins championships is: re-focus and re-evaluate what you need to do and make the most of what you have.

I think Rosberg is up for the challenge. I don’t see the German getting all bogged down, he is smart, calm, coolheaded, and has been under constant pressure this entire season. Rosberg drove very well in the shadow of Michael Schumacher and I fully expect him to be at his best for the remainder of the season.

Sebastian Vettel, Infinity Red Bull Racing – 2nd

Starting behind his teammate (again) Sebastian Vettel made a great start and took the position away from Daniel Ricciardo. Running second in the first stint must have felt slightly strange since just the other day his car had to have a complete overhaul which resulted in the Red Bull driver missing all but the last few minutes of free practice two on Friday.

Similar to the Monaco course where the RB10’s faults are not as apparent, this was a race where Vettel had a decent chance to claim a race win. It did not materialize however but second is something I am sure Vettel can live with and he did finish in front of his teammate which has not happened all too often this year, has it? Japan will be an advantageous course for the RB10 as well; maybe the Red Bull boys can be temporary spoilers in the championship race there.

It must be noted, just as Hamilton delivered the goods for several laps on worn option tires, so did Vettel race superbly to bring his car home second while keeping his teammate and Fernando Alonso behind him as well.

Daniel Ricciardo, Infinity Red Bull Racing – 3rd

There was a time when there were two guarantees come the end of an F1 race. One was that Sebastian Vettel would be the victor and two, that Fernando Alonso would somehow make it to the podium regardless of where he started or what transpired over the hour and half of the grand prix. This year Daniel Ricciardo has assumed that uncanny ability.

Aside from his three wins this year (the Aussie is the only other driver to win besides Hamilton and Rosberg) Ricciardo has driven brilliantly right from the moment the lights went out at the first race. However, I must confess I expected a little bit more from him in Singapore. His start was not that great and whether it was by driver error or a software glitch, the damage was done, both Vettel and Alonso got by.

At this point it seemed a bit of a boring race for good old Daniel, stuck behind his teammate for the final stint. I was hoping to see one of his remarkable passes to take second off Vettel but it never came. Usually Ricciardo has a better pit strategy and uses his tires to better effect but not this time. Third is where he started and third is where he ended. What the Red Bull driver did manage to do was collect valuable points. As of Singapore Ricciardo is only sixty points adrift of Hamilton and fifty-seven off of Rosberg. Impressive, and can you say double points in Abu Dhabi?

Fernando Alonso, Scuderia Ferrari – 4th

In Singapore, similar to Monaco, your finishing position is really determined by either your grid spot or the safety car. It was the fifth time Fernando Alonso started a grand prix in fifth this year and whenever a driver can finish higher than they started, well, what more can you ask for? Although in Alonso’s case we have come to anticipate a podium even starting from fifth, that was a little beyond his reach today.

A great start, which is Alonso’s m.o., was tempered by an error, which resulted in having to give a place back to Sebastian Vettel. Still, with great driving and a perfectly timed first pit stop, Alonso and Ferrari undercut Vettel and took back second place only to lose out again to Vettel, and Ricciardo, due to an unfortunate timing of the safety car deployment.

Where Mercedes and Hamilton could compensate for the interruption of the racing, Ferrari and Alonso could not and after leaving the pits Alonso was behind both Red Bulls and that is the way it stayed to the checkered flag. Similar to my hopes for Ricciardo I was expecting Alonso to have a go at the car in front which by chance happened to be Ricciardo, but after catching up there seemed no way to pass.

Post-race, Alonso said there was really nothing more he could do in the final laps, nor was he critical of Ferrari’s strategy. In this particular case I am obliged to believe him. Once the second pit stops cycled through, the Ferrari driver’s fate was sealed and at this point there was nothing else to do but finish out in his current position.

However, one can only wonder with the history of Singapore and the 100% chance of a safety car usually around the pit windows, could Ferrari have anticipated and reacted a little more wisely to ensure Alonso finished on the podium. My guess is, yes. What is yours?

Felipe Massa, Martini Williams – 5th

On the podium in Italy and a top five in Singapore, Felipe Massa’s season is looking up. Bad luck and some missteps from his team have hindered what should have been a stellar season. Instead it is his teammate that is getting all the praise. Yet In F1 you are only as good as your last race and in the last two races the feisty Brazilian has out-driven his teammate, so kudos to Felipe for that.

Massa has a good baseline with Martini Williams, they like having him around and there is no pressure on him from his teammate or the team in the way it was at Ferrari. Massa’s confidence really took a beating in the years after Michael Schumacher left Ferrari, first with Kimi Raikkonen winning a championship then losing the championship to Lewis Hamilton and later with Alonso hogging all the headlines.

At Williams, Massa seems to have discovered his old self and that is to say, it looks like he is enjoying racing again. All that is missing is a string of trouble free weekends, some solid strategy calls from his team and of course a little luck i.e. not getting collected by another car. I think Massa will finish out the year strongly.

Jean-Eric Vergne, Scuderia Toro Rosso – 6th

Where the hell did that come from? Fourteenth to sixth. I know the safety car played into this result and a late pit stop for fresh tires helped matters, but it is still remarkable how the Toro Rosso driver passed several cars in the closing stages. It would be too easy to credit this result to the fact that Vergne may feel he is driving for his seat in F1 next year, but one must assume that is part of it. Will we see a reinvigorated driver in the final five races? Let’s hope so. Unlike Sebastian Buemi and Jamie Alguersuari, I think Vergne has what it takes to evolve into a faster more proficient driver.

Sergio Perez, Force India – 7th

Although I am slightly disappointed at both Sergio Perez and Adrian Sutil for causing the safety car period, which in turn ruined Alonso’s chance at a podium, I am again impressed with how Perez seems to get on with the program. I have from the very beginning supported his aggressive driving style. I think another year and Perez will be driving at a very high level and then it will be a case of getting another shot at a top team and not making bad choices on track.

One last thought on the Mexican, as far as results go, it is a mixed bag when comparing the two Force India drivers. Hulkenberg has a better qualifying record and more points, but Perez finishes races better. Perez has had several DNFs to Hulkenberg’s one. This surely accounts for the 27-point difference in Hulk’s favor. This is the area that Perez needs to work on.

Kimi Raikkonen, Scuderia Ferrari – 8th

I guess it is just too much to ask that Kimi Raikkonen figure out a different way to drive his race car. Teammate Fernando Alonso has an average finishing position of five, but Raikkonen is closer to ninth and as far as points go between the two Ferrari drivers it could not be more lopsided in the Spaniard’s favor. For this race, as for most of this season, Raikkonen’s inability to come to grips with this new formula is a painful reminder that fast is not good enough anymore. A grand prix driver needs to have the skill to drive around problems and adapt to the ever-changing cars.

As far as this race is concerned, the Finn was stuck behind other cars for most of the race and with the issues that have plagued Raikkonen from day one it came as no surprise to see that there was no way for him to make any kind of meaningful progress. In fact Raikkonen went backwards one spot by the time the checkered flag had dropped. This has been a season to forget for Ferrari and especially Kimi Raikkonen, but on the other hand, it could be worse, he could have stayed at Lotus.

Nico Hulkenberg, Force India – 9th

Force India’s other driver, Nico Hulkenberg, had what would normally be considered a good race, starting thirteenth and finishing ninth. The problem is he finished behind his teammate. The former GP2 champion has the reputation of earning an F1 drive the good old-fashioned way, on merit. This is a very proficient pilot and as David Hobbs says each and every race, he deserves to be in a top team. That being said, as the season has progressed I have not seen that much to get me excited about this driver and this last race was no exception.

Hulkenberg’s stats are terrific compared to his teammate. Yet it is Perez who always seems to be making the pass for position where there is none, and that is what sticks in people’s minds. It seems as if Perez is getting all of the attention over at Force India and part of what makes a driver desirable is the perception of what they can and can’t do. What Hulkenberg needs is not better finishes, although that would certainly help, what the Hulk needs is a couple of down and dirty battles on the track to show everyone again why he is in Formula 1 in the first place.

Kevin Magnussen, McLaren – 10th

Kevin Magnussen’s first season in F1 with a top team, albeit one that is not at the top these days, has been going well all things considered. He regularly qualifies either very close behind, or in front of, his much more senior teammate Jenson Button. Mag can be proud of what he has accomplished.

Magnussen said after the race that it was the hardest point he has had to work for this season. A broken seal poured hot air, really hot air, into the driver’s cockpit, so hot that it boiled the water in his drinks bottle. During the race there were images of the driver cooling his hands off outside the cockpit, something I don’t think I have ever seen during a race. Certainly this must have affected his driving.

I might be mistaken, but I think this was the first time Magnussen has raced in Singapore, and the circuit’s demanding nature was not lost on the young Dane. A quick look at the McLaren driver’s stats show that Magnussen has the raw pace but it also shows that his race craft needs some work. This is not too surprising when you take into account that most of Magnussen’s experience is in a simulator.

There is some talk that McLaren’s rookie will not be there next year. That would be a mistake if you ask me; I think he has done a great job when taking into consideration everything he has had to manage this year. There is still plenty of potential in young Kevin.

A quick word about rookies and by that I mean the three to come into the sport and very shortly go on to be world champions. In order, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, and Sebastian Vettel. After watching rookies Magnussen and Daniil Kyvat recently, it puts into perspective what the others did so early in their careers. It really highlights the point; the cream always rises to the top regardless of team or other troubles.

Finally, Japan is only a week away and at this point in the championship there is only one team, two cars and two drivers that are of real interest, don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise, including me. Nico’s retirement brought him even on bad luck and points (more or less) with Lewis. It also set up the real chance that the business at hand for both drivers will not be settled until the last race of the year and, similar to Brazil in Lewis’ 2008 championship-winning year, maybe not until the last turn on the last lap. Oh wouldn’t that be something?!

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