Singapore GPR Race Recap: Vettel wins, SC deploys twice, Hamilton drops out

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Sebastian Vettel won the 2012 Singapore Grand Prix, with Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso joining him on the podium. Lewis Hamilton looked ready to dominate the race, leading from pole and through the first round of pit stops, but his gearbox failed just beyond the first third of the race. Things looked to be rather processional through that first third, but two safety cars shook up the order and brought cars closer together. Narain Karthikeyan caused the first by running into the barrier, but Michael Schumacher dramatically ran into the back of Jean-Eric Vergne after locking up in the first lap after the restart to bring out the second. Always a close timing race, it timed out against the two hour limit two laps early. Paul Di Resta gave Force India something to cheer about, staying safe through the race to finish fourth, but Felipe Massa’s drive through the field from dead last after a puncture on the first lap to finish eighth ought also be a major talking point.

Hamilton (1:46.362) won pole after flirting with fastest session times throughout the weekend. Though Vettel was fastest in all three practice sessions, he seemed to lose pace for qualifying on Saturday and managed to set only the third fastest time at the end of Q3. Maldonado split the two rivals, with Button, Alonso, and Di Resta completing the front three rows of starters for the race under the lights. Saturday’s qualifying sessions were fairly straightforward, with Kobayashi losing time to drivers on the super soft tyres and qualifying only eighteenth. Schumacher was the final man across the line in Q2, barely moving up to ninth and moving on to fight for pole. He did not do so, as Mercedes chose instead to save tyres for the race.

Teammate Rosberg also set only sector times in Q3 and posted no official time. They bumped Raikkonen and Massa out in Q2, leaving the Finn and Brazilian to qualifying twelfth and thirteenth, respectively. Most expected a battle between Hamilton and Vettel for pole in Q3, but one never came. The German could never match Hamilton’s early time, and as most other drivers aborted their first run only Maldonado could come close to Hamilton’s time. The Venezuelan was still a half second off the pace. Button nearly pipped Vettel to third, while Di Resta continued a strong run to start sixth.

Vettel led all three practices, including the damp and drying first session. Hamilton, Button, Alonso, and Maldonado completed the fastest five, setting the tone for the weekend in the first session. In the second, Vettel led Button, Alonso, Webber, and Hamilton, while Hamilton, Alonso, Hulkenberg, and Raikkonen joined Vettel in the top five lap times at the end of the final practice. Senna had a difficult weekend, spinning and causing a red flag in the second practice and ending his qualifying early in Q2 with another spin.

Petrov also caused a red flag, ending the final practice early. Though the Russian damaged his Caterham, Pic was the real loser after the incident. He passed at least one car under red flag conditions, forcing the stewards to add twenty seconds to his race time and send he and his race engineer to community service at an FIA safety school, a hitherto fore unused penalty. Senna also received a more traditional penalty: a five place grid drop for a gearbox change.

Race Start:
The drivers lined up under the city lights, sweltering in high heat and humidity. Only Hulkenberg, Kobayashi, Perez, Vergne, de la Rosa, Pic, and Glock started on the soft tyre instead of the super soft compound. Hamilton got away cleanly ahead of Maldonado. Behind, a few drivers took to the escape road through the first couple of turns as Grosjean and Webber got squeezed together. Webber and Rosberg skipped down the escape road, followed by Ricciardo and Senna. The later got tapped out of the way by Ricciardo and had to take evasive action on what looked to be a promising start.

Maldonado slid backwards on the start, losing out to Vettel and Button. Di Resta nearly took fifth from Alonso, but the Spaniard fought back and kept his starting position. At the end of L1, Hamilton led Vettel by more than a second. Button, Maldonado, Alonso, Di Resta, Webber, Grosjean, Rosberg, and Schumacher completed the top ten. Massa and Petrov both pitted as that lap ended. Petrov did so for a new front wing, as Kovalainen radioed that he thought he clipped his teammate. Massa had dropped to last with a left rear puncture. Both pitted and received the soft tyre.

Meanwhile, the stewards began to investigate those cars that had skipped the first two turns. As the early laps began clicking away, Lotus informed Grosjean that they had lost his telemetry in the garage. He would have to relay information via the radio. At the end of L5, Hamilton had extended his lead by only a half second. Vettel remained less than two seconds behind the Briton. Button was nearly five seconds behind Vettel, with Maldonado another two back. Alonso and Di Resta were also separated by more than a second, though Schumacher in tenth seemed again to be holding up a train of cars that included Raikkoenen, Hulkenberg, and Perez. Around that time, the stewards announced that there were no penalties for the Turn 1 and 2 incidents.

Massa, due to continue to at least L20 on his slightly newer tyres, posted a race fast lap in last and continued to lap faster than the leaders. About the friskiest drivers on the track, Senna passed Kovalainen for sixteenth. Moments later, Williams informed Senna that he had lost first gear. Webber pitted as L8 ended, the first to do so in a scheduled stop. He dropped from seventh to twentieth. Back on the circuit, Vettel completely missed the chicane, having got the entry wrong. Further back, Glock hit the Armco relatively hard under the grandstand. Closer to the front, Button had regained a lot of lost time to the leaders, having brought the gap down to just two and a half seconds. Hamilton still led Vettel, Button, Maldonado, Alonso, Di Resta, Grosjean, Rosberg, Schumacher, and Raikkonen as the top ten after the first ten laps.

End L10/First Pit Stops Begin:
Vettel pitted as L10 ended, dropping from second to tenth. Senna also pitted. Alonso, Schumacher, and Ricciardo all pitted on the next lap. On the radio, Hamilton complained of a “funny feeling” in his tyres, especially the right rear. He pitted as L13 began, even as McLaren had hoped he would continue on, with Di Resta, Rosberg, Vergne, and Raikkonen following him into pit lane. Hamilton managed to rejoin just ahead of Raikkonen and Vettel. They were scrapping over sixth, as Vettel went to the inside through Turn 6 to take that position, leaving little argument from Raikkonen. Maldonado, Raikkonen, and Glock all pitted on L14, leaving Button, Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Perez, Kobayashi, Kovalainen, and Ricciardo the only men to have not pitted.

Button made his own stop at L15 began, as did Grosjean. Button rejoined in third, in clear air, and safely ahead of Hulkenberg. Using the DRS, Maldonado had a large wobble but still managed to take position from Hulkenberg. Alonso had been caught behind Perez, but finally managed to slide through on the Mexican driver at Turn 14. Just before, Rosberg and Kobayashi had their own moment as the German made his way through on the Japanese driver. They touched in the fight, but both appeared undamaged.

At the end of L16, Hamilton led Vettel by 1.3s, with Button, Maldonado, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Perez, di Resta, Webber, and Rosberg the top ten. Neither Hulkenberg nor Perez had yet stopped for new tyres. Alonso moved back up to fifth through the DRS zone on his fresher tyres. Webber soon took Perez in much the same manner, as the Mexican driver’s tyres began truly to go off. He continued to wiggle around the circuit as he continued to lap. Di Resta soon passed him, and Hulkenberg, as the two drivers continued to drop on used tyres. Both Hulkenberg and Perez pitted on L19 for their first set of new tyres. De la Rosa and Petrov also pitted, leaving only Karthikeyan on the tyres with which he had started the race. The Indian driver soon pitted to switch from the super softs to the soft compound. Massa, whose first lap puncture forced him out of sequence, pitted for his second stop at the same time.

Hamilton continued to complain on the radio, suggesting that he had begun to suffer from a shifting problem. Meanwhile, Maldonado and Alonso slowly continued to catch up to the leaders. Soon after that radio message, Hamilton pulled to the side on L23. His race ended, sitting only in neutral on an escape road. The team told him that they were sorry, “we did everything we could,” and that the gearbox had failed. That left Vettel in the lead, with Button just two and a half seconds behind. Maldonado was another two seconds back, with Alonso nearly four back again, just over eight seconds behind then-leader Vettel.

Maldonado continued to wiggle through the laps, as Alonso continued to catch the Venezuelan and the leaders. Senna made his second stop on L26, switching to the super soft tyres. Glock also pitted. Kovalainen did so on the next lap. The drivers continued to lap as halfway approached, holding station as the gaps closed slightly. Vettel led Button, Maldonado, Alonso, Di Resta, Webber, Rosberg, Grosjean, Schumacher, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Perez, Vergne, Senna, Kobayashi, Massa, Kovalainen, Pic, Glock, Petrov, de la Rosa, and Karthikeyan as the twenty-three drivers still running on L28.

Halfway (End L31):
Webber pitted on L29, running across the white line to nip into the pit entrance. Maldonado and Alonso pitted on L30, with Williams just barely getting Maldonado out again in front of the Spaniard. Maldonado got the super soft tyre, while Alonso got the soft tyre. They dropped to sixth and seventh, soon catching de la Rosa, Rosberg, and Grosjean. De la Rosa got out of the way quickly, leaving the train to continue without him. Further back, Ricciardo, Kobayashi, Petrov, and de la Rosa all pitted. Alonso got close to the Williams, sitting directly behind him and pushing the younger driver. Alonso went to the outsite, but could not take position. He went to the inside next, but Maldonado held him off. Alonso continued to challenge, pushing the Venezuelan hard, but he could not make the pass.

Safety Car (L33):
Local yellows flew as Karthikeyan ran into the barrier under the grandstand, breaking his front right suspension. Vettel and Button both pitted, as did Di Resta, Rosberg, Grosjean, Maldonado, Schumacher, Senna, and Massa. Raikkonen had pitted the lap before. Under the safety car, Vettel led Button, Alonso, Di Resta, Hulkenberg, Webber, Perez, Rosberg, Grosjean, and Maldonado as the top ten. Vergne, Schumacher, Raikkonen, Senna, Kovalainen, Massa, Kobayashi, Glock, Pic Petrov, de la Rosa, and Karthikeyan rounded out the running order after the flurry of pit stops. Worse news continued for Maldonado, as he suffered a hydraulic issue and Williams insisted he retire immediately. He did not immediately pit, but finally did so on L37.

Restart (L39):
Vettel led the restart, though they nearly came together as one zigged and the other zagged. They continued on without contact, as Webber pushed for fifth around Hulkenberg. He went to the outside and Hulkenberg pushed back. Webber finally took the position as Hulkenberg went too deep into the next turn. The excitement continued as Schumacher, Rosberg, and Grosjean all passed Perez.

Second Safety Car (L40):
Soon thereafter, Schumacher locked his front brakes and ran directly into the back of Vergne at Turn 14, as the Frenchman attempted to pass a Sauber. “What happened there?! What happened there?!” squawcked the race engineer over Schumacher’s radio. Both were fine, and even patted each other on the back, but the incident would be investigated after the race. The pit lane soon overflowed as cars pitted. Webber, Hulkenberg, Perez, Petrov, and de la Rosa all pitted. Petrov stopped, at the end of pit lane. He was pushed back into the garage after a wheel nut issue, but rejoined before the restart.

Second Restart (L42):
Vettel again led the restart, with Button and Alonso directly behind. It was much cleaner than the last time. Raikkonen had a look on his teammate, but was unable to made the pass stick. Massa attempted to take position from Senna but was also unable to make the move. Massa tried again as Senna went wide, but the older Brazilian had to catch a wiggle and stay behind. They went through the chicane in a shaky manner, but Massa made another move quite close and nearly spun again, but finally took ninth from Senna. The stewards soon announced that they would investigate an incident between them, though they would later announce that no further action would be taken.

As Vettel continued to lead Button, Alonso, Di Resta, Rosberg, Grosjean, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Massa, and Senna completed the top ten. With only twenty minutes until the two hour cutoff and sixteen laps to go, the grand prix looked ready to time out before the laps ran out. Massa continued to move up the order, taking Ricciardo for eighth. Button had begun to hold steady about two seconds behind Vettel, but the Briton soon began to set race fast laps with fourteen laps to go. Alonso was truly holding steady, keeping just out of the DRS zone for DI Resta behind and remaining around six and a half seconds behind Button.

10 Laps Remaining:
As time ticked away, the race looked to be shortened to just sixty laps. With about ten to go, Perez and Hulkenberg fought over thirteenth, leaving Perez with a bit of front wing endplate knocked off. Soon thereafter, Webber attempted to pass Kobayashi. He put all four wheels off the track defending, knocking off a bit of that Sauber’s bodywork, too. Hulkenberg picked up a puncture as they came up behind the scuffle. Both Kobayashi and Hulkenberg had to pit for new bits. The stewards soon announced that they would investigate the Webber/Kobayashi incident as well, later deciding to do so after the race. At the front, Vettel continued to pull slowly away.

After L53 ended, the clock began ticking down by minutes, beginning with twelve to go. Vettel had been lapping in the 1:52/1:53 range. No one on the track at that point was closer than just over a second to the driver ahead. Force India radioed Di Resta to keep close to Alonso, as the Scot had four lap fresher tyres than the Spaniard, but Alonso continued to post lap times with Vettel and Button. Webber soon moved up and around Senna to take the final points paying position.

Webber continued to move up, catching up to Ricciardo with five minutes to go. His teammate looked set for the win, with a nearly seven second lead when three minutes remained. Senna, who had dropped to twelfth, soon radioed back that he had lost power, hence his quick slide down the order. He soon pulled down an escape road, retiring on the last lap. In the end, Vettel won over Button, with Alonso rounding out the podium.

Final Positions, 2012 Singapore Grand Prix:

 DriverTeamGapStops
1. Sebastian VettelRed Bull 2
2. Jenson ButtonMcLaren8.92
3. Fernando AlonsoFerrari15.22
4. Paul Di RestaForce India19.02
5. Nico RosbergMercedes34.72
6. Kimi RaikkonenLotus35.72
7. Romain GrosjeanLotus36.62
8. Felipe MassaFerrari42.83
9. Daniel RicciadroToro Rosso45.82
10. Mark WebberRed Bull47.13
11. Sergio PerezSauber50.62
12. Timo GlockMarussia91.92
13. Kamui KobayashiSauber97.13
14. Nico HulkenbergForce India99.43
15. Heikki KovalainenCaterham1 Lap3
16. Charles PicMarussia1 Lap2
17. Pedro de la RosaHRT1 Lap3
18. Bruno SennaWilliams2 Laps3
19. Vitaly PetrovCaterham2 Laps4
 Jean-Eric VerngeToro Rosso21 Laps2
 Michael SchumacherMercedes21 Laps2
 Pastor MaldonadoWilliams23 Laps4
 Narain KarthikeyanHRT29 Laps1
 Lewis HamiltonMcLaren37 Laps1
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