My home GP! Well, if I were a racer…
This was a pretty darn exciting qualifying, with the low-power, high-downforce circuit giving Ferrari and Red Bull hopes of reining in Mercedes. And so it proved in Q1. Lots of cars went out on track with soft tires, but had to move on to the supersofts due to a 2.5s difference per lap between the primes and options. Rosberg out-braked himself in his installation lap, and had to go into the escape road, luckily avoiding any damage or lock-ups; it could possibly be due to his new brake material.
Red Bull was the one team that stayed in, preferring to just go straight onto the options at the end of the session. Ferrari put up some impressive times, and Force India even had a go at the top with Hulkenberg, before Raikkonen took P1 ahead of the Mercs in Q1.
In Q2, the green track started to rubber in a little, but the little mistakes continued to happen. Hamilton only managed to get four hundredths of a second ahead of Raikkonen, and seven hundredths ahead of Alonso. With Ricciardo about two tenths behind in P4, the Top 4 all decided not to go out on runs again. Rosberg was surprisingly P5, and went out again as times tumbled further. But while he didn’t need to, he managed to usurp Hamilton by a huge 0.46s on fresh tires.
Button just missed Q3 by two hundredths of a second, having locked up a little apparently, while Magnussen crept into Q3. Force India, despite a decent showing in Q1, were nowhere in Q2.
Finally, in Q3, the initial runs from the Mercs were terrible, as Rosberg was on scrubbed options and Hamilton had a bad middle sector. Massa was on provisional pole, while the Mercedes were 6th and 7th. In the final runs however, they struck back, as first Ricciardo took provisional pole, then Rosberg, then Hamilton snatched it by 0.007s despite locking up into Turn 1 with a barnstorming lap.
Meanwhile, Vettel had to settle for 4th, out-qualified by Ricciardo again, while Alonso nabbed 5th ahead of Massa, who couldn’t improve much. Raikkonen suffered a lack of power, and had to rely on the times from his first run for 6th ahead of Bottas.
But in any case, the times between the drivers were all minuscule compared to the advantage Mercedes has had over the field for the past year, and with rain possibly coming tomorrow (for the first wet race in tropical Singapore ever, imagine that!), it could be a massively entertaining race.
Drama, drama, drama. It never stays far away from Singapore, and yet again it was a dramatic race.
Right from the off, Rosberg had a wiring loom issue in his steering column, which meant that his steering wheel wasn’t working properly. Despite trying to find the problem and changing steering wheels, he was stuck in neutral as cars went off on the formation lap, and Rosberg was forced to do a pitlane start.
That was not his only worry, as he only had clutch controls on his steering wheel, and no pit limiter. He had to get into 1st gear and drop to 6,500rpm in order to keep below limits, and had to rev the car up on jacks before getting dropped. Not to mention he was having gear shift issues during his laps, with his shifts jumping up by 2 gears at a time.
It was no wonder that he struggled to even overtake Caterham, and when he came into the pits, he couldn’t restart the car and had to retire. He wasn’t the only one who saw issues on lap 0, as Kobayashi had to stop at a run-off area with a loss of oil pressure. But Rosberg’s retirement meant that if Hamilton won the race, he would take the Drivers’ Championship lead by 3 points.
As the race started, Hamilton got away cleanly as Alonso had a blinding start, as did Vettel, who took Ricciardo at Turn 1. Alonso took too much speed into the chicane though, and cut it. He gave a place back to Vettel, but held firm ahead of Ricciardo which kept him from getting a penalty.
Raikkonen was doing well at this stage, while the two McLarens had a bit of a squabble and let the Williams past. Magnussen got into a bit of trouble for exceeding track limits when fighting Bottas, but as the Williams got ahead later, he didn’t get a penalty. Meanwhile, out in front, Hamilton started to pull away from Vettel slowly as the field spread out.
As the first round of pitstops came and went, Alonso started to reel in Vettel, who was told to ignore the beeps, signals for gear changing that would give optimal fuel consumption. He was possibly already saving fuel and tires when he pitted, as the pitwall told him he couldn’t make the undercut on Hamilton.
Massa then tried the undercut with the 2nd set of pitstops, and Ferrari did the same. Red Bull went with primes instead of options like Alonso did, and Alonso’s undercut worked as he got past the two Red Bulls and was right behind Hamilton. But Red Bull were saving their powder for a end-of-the-race run at Alonso.
Lewis then had a slow stop, as the mechanics tried to clear debris from his front wing, and put on options again. Next came the inevitable at Singapore, as Perez had contact with Sutil ahead of him, and his wing collapsed, flying underneath his car and scattering debris everywhere. The safety car naturally came out, and both Ferraris pitted quickly, as did Button who had to switch strategies. Alonso ended up behind both Red Bulls, and all three and many more behind them were all on primes, and thinking of going to the end, afraid that if they pitted, then overtaking could be difficult in a street circuit.
During the safety car, we heard some interesting radio calls, such as Ricciardo’s car problem since before Perez’s problem, and Magnussen’s water too hot to drink. Maldonado also had to pit again after the wrong tires were put on his car, and that was after he ripped a wheel gun off when he drove away too quickly. Sutil didn’t get a penalty for causing a collision with Perez, but got a 5s stop-go for overtaking Bianchi off track. Not that it mattered, as he retired later in the race, joining his teammate Gutierrez who also retired earlier with an ERS problem.
With Hamilton having not put on the primes yet, he had to make another pitstop. This meant that he had to smash out a humongous gap on everyone else while on the faster supersofts, before pitting and hopefully not having to overtake anyone. He did so with much frustration,worried about his tires falling off even as he managed to get 25s on Vettel behind him in what was about 15 laps on not-so-fresh tires. Granted, there was about 2.5s difference in compounds, but it was still a mighty effort.
As he pitted, he came out just ahead of Ricciardo, and quickly hunted down and took Vettel within the lap with his fresh tires. And then he disappeared off into the darkness as the fights hotted up behind him. Kvyat was apparently struggling with the heat and dehydration, with no water from the out lap as he fought with Ericsson for position. Perez managed to overtake both in one swift move as Kvyat pulled one on Ericsson, having had to pit for a new wing.
Further ahead, Button was catching Bottas, but couldn’t overtake as the Williams was too fast on the straights despite doing a 2-stop strategy with seriously old primes. Then, unfortunately, Button’s car reset itself, and he had to stop, bringing an end to his race. Bottas was then set upon by Raikkonen, and just kept the Ferrari at bay. This only meant that he started to hold up other cars, forming a long train.
Vergne, earlier having exceeded track limits when overtaking Maldonado, had to endure a 5s penalty. Pitting much later than everyone, he quickly set about overtaking people, with both Force Indias, Raikkonen and Bottas all settled within a lap. Then he tried to push out a 5s gap on P7, which he managed and so kept his 6th place, a fine showing from him.
Perez, also with fresh tires, took his teammate, then got Raikkonen, and Bottas, and managed P7. Bottas had really no grip at the end of the race, and skated on the track like it was raining, letting Raikkonen and Hulkenberg past him.
The battle behind was fascinating, but the tension in front was mad, as Alonso bore down on Ricciardo, while Ricciardo sniffed around Vettel. The trio ran around the circuit with old tires, each trying to keep their position or overtake, but in the end, they came home in that order, with less than 2s separating all three.
Behind them, for a lonely 5th, was Massa, who was out of the action most of the time. After him came Vergne, Perez, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, and Magnussen, who got ahead of Bottas in the closing stages as well. The Lotuses trudged home after them, then Kvyat, who apparently was so dehydrated he had to be half-pulled out of his car. Ericsson did well to come home ahead of the Marussias, although Chilton had a litany of pitstop problems and Bianchi was nursing his car too.
So all in all, a massively dramatic race, and Hamilton has a slender 3 point lead for the final 5 GPs. Anything can happen, it seems, in Formula 1, and I can’t wait for Suzuka.