He may come in for undue criticism at times, but Sebastian Vettel executed a perfect strategy to win the Singapore Grand Prix and take an unchallenged third straight victory – a result that sees him draw out a significant lead in his hunt for a fourth world title.
The German was never headed after overcoming a first-corner challenge from Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg, who struggled to maintain his own race plans in the face of the inevitable safety car period; this time for marshals to recover the wrecked Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo who understeered into the wall on lap twenty four at turn eighteen. The accident sparked a flurry of pitlane activity with many drivers pitting for the second time during the race, but Paul Di Resta elected to stay out and began what appeared to be a race of redemption after a poor qualifying session saw him knocked out in Q1.
Vettel sprinted clear as the safety car peeled off and Rosberg demoted by a flying Fernando Alonso who had vaulted ahead of the Mercedes man at their second stop. The Ferrari driver had already pulled off the start of his life and moved from 7th up to 3rd at the first corner, proving again his worthiness as the closest challenger to Vettel and Red Bull – but with the margins currently enjoyed by the Anglo-Austrian team that really isn’t saying much.
Vettel had soon made enough of a gap to make another stop for fresh rubber and continued to build his lead over Alonso, the Spaniard attempting to make his Pirelli’s last for remainder of the race, an optimistic thirty-plus lap stint.
Kimi Raikkonen was the man on the move for Lotus, fighting off a back injury to climb from 13th to 3rd by the chequered flag as he softened the pain of his team – Romain Grosjean had been looking good for a decent podium result of his own before air bottle problems in his Renault V8 forced his retirement. From this point on the race developed into a split battle, with those on their safety car-adjusted strategies facing those drivers who chose to stick to their ‘Plan A’. It provided a thrilling sub-plot to Vettel’s unrivalled dominance of the event.
All appeared well for a great many laps for the safety car-adjusted group, including Alonso and Jenson Button who was now running 3rd for McLaren. However, as the rubber began to run down and grip became marginal, the ‘Plan A’ runners made their advantage felt as they hunted down those beginning to struggle on the older tyres. Alonso and Raikkonen were far enough ahead to cope, but Button fell victim to the charging Webber, Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton had cut across the second corner at the start and was forced to hand a place back to Felipe Massa, and berated his team for their tyre decision before it came apparent the choice was the correct one. The Briton repeatedly looked for ways past team-mate Rosberg, but the German resisted his advances and pulled away toward the end of the race.
Button and Sergio Perez fell backwards rapidly as the race entered its final few laps, fighting in vain to hold back the tide of faster and fresher-shod cars queing up to pass them. Webber’s rapid climb through the order came to an abrupt halt as his RB9 developed all-too familiar engine glitches; his engine began to lose water and short-shifting did nothing to halt the problem. On the sixty-first and final lap he ground to a halt in a cloud of steam and flames. He wasn’t the only one to suffer near the end.
Paul Di Resta’s aforementioned ascent to glory ended when he slid into the barriers at the end of the first DRS zone, wiping the front wing from his Force India. This gave team-mate Adrian Sutil the chance to climb into the points in 10th behind Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg, who scored points for the second race in succession.
Vettel crossed the line to cement his championship lead, over thirty seconds ahead of Alonso who maintained position ahead of Kimi Raikkonen. Rosberg and Hamilton scored double points for Mercedes, ahead of Felipe Massa, Button, Perez, Hulkenberg and Sutil. Pastor Maldonado came within five seconds of points for Williams, but came up short in a year that has thus far been Williams’ worst in history.
“It’s just been a fantastic weekend. The start was close, but then we had strong race pace, especially when the safety car came in, and we pushed very hard to try to build up a gap. You never know what’s coming up and what can happen. The last ten laps seemed to go on forever inside the car. I kept my concentration by reminding myself how easily you can make a mistake around here, the walls are close and if you don’t pay enough attention it can go wrong pretty quickly. I’d like to say to everyone working for team that it’s a privilege for me to be driving the car you have built.“ Sebastian Vettel, DEU, Red Bull
“The key points of this race were the start and the strategy and, in both cases, the decisions taken proved to be the right ones, even if they were aggressive choices. The decision to pit when the safety car came out paid off, even if it wasn’t easy to get to the finish with the tyres on the limit. Fortunately, thanks to the advantage I had over Raikkonen and Webber, we were able to manage the situation over the final laps: if I’d been in a group, it would have been like the end of a horror movie! Now the gap to the championship leaders has increased and apart from congratulating them, because they deserve to be where they are, we must be realistic, because to win the title now, we would need a lot of luck. Sure, we cannot think of giving up right now because if that luck does show up, then we will be there to take it.” Fernando Alonso, ESP, Ferrari
“It’s been a difficult weekend, so to finish on the podium is a good result. The car felt good and it could have been even better if I’d been able to do more work in practice, but even with a better qualifying performance I think third was the maximum we could achieve today. The problem with my back hasn’t been ideal, but it felt much better than yesterday and I didn’t really notice it in the race, only afterwards.” Kimi Raikkonen, FIN, Lotus
“I didn’t have the best start and had to go wide to avoid Mark at turn one. From there, it was difficult to follow the race and my position. Whilst the timing of the safety car definitely didn’t help us, we need to go back through our strategy and see what we could possibly have done differently in that situation. I’m not sure we could have done what Fernando and Kimi did by staying out on that set of tyres for so long, though.” Lewis Hamilton, GBR, Mercedes
“We thought we might have a chance of a podium, but in the end we didn’t have the pace to keep us ahead of the closing cars. It was good fun trying though, and we have to take risks if we want to get podium finishes this year. We expected to spend most of the race on the option tyre, so we’d set the car up for that. The prime tyre didn’t work so well for me, and having to hold Kimi off for so long destroyed my rear tyres and made things very tricky. In the end, as I say, we simply didn’t have enough pace to stop him overtaking. It was a good try though, and a P7 finish isn’t too bad. We couldn’t have done any better with a different strategy, I’m certain of that, and I’m glad we got some good points for the team.” Jenson Button, GBR, McLaren
“It’s such a shame to come away with nothing to show from a race where we had put ourselves in a position to score some valuable points. The management of the tyres was good and the overall performance in race conditions was very strong. Even without the safety car we were in good shape, but as a team we made the right calls and were looking to challenge the train of cars ahead of us in the final few laps. Then I had the incident at turn seven. I’m still not sure what happened, but I took the corner the same way as I had done the previous lap and the car went straight on and wouldn’t stop. The team is investigating what happened.” Paul Di Resta, GBR, Force India
“What started off as quite a tough race with the balance then thankfully improved and in the end it was not a bad race for us. Once again we got another two car finish out of it which is good for the team and we maintain our 10th place in the championship. The degradation was quite high and it was a tough challenge to manage the tyres and still try to push for opportunities with Caterham, which came along when Pic stopped late in the race enabling us to gain an extra place.” Max Chilton, GBR, Marussia
CLASSIFICATION – RACE – SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX
|16||Van Der Garde||NED||Caterham|
|20||Di Resta||GBR||Force India||Crash|