Ferrari lights up the night Singapore with Vettel victorious and Raikkonen 3rd; Ricciardo runner up for Red Bull; Hamilton DNFs
Sebastian Vettel ruled the race in Singapore for Ferrari in throwback fashion, running away at the start and then controlling the Grand Prix from the front, the patented style that served him so well in winning 4 consecutive World Championships. Vettel showed again just how good a pilot he can be, dominating the beautifully illuminated night race from pole to checkers. His nearest pursuer, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricicardo, never seriously threatened the unflappable German. In fact, the top 3 finished exactly where they started: Vettel 1st, Ricciardo 2nd and the other Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen in 3rd. With both Scuderia drivers on the podium for the first time this year it was a banner day for the storied team from Maranello. Even better, both cars finished ahead of previously unstoppable Mercedes. That meant that Vettel closed the gap on Nico Rosberg for second in the Drivers’ Championship to a mere 8 points and Raikkonen jumped Williams’ Valtteri Bottas to take over fourth position with 6 races to go.
For Mercedes, it was an uncharacteristic lost weekend. After qualifying a lowly P5 on Saturday, Championship points leader Lewis Hamilton appeared to be biding his time early in the race, running in 4th with an alternate tire strategy and playing for a late charge. But his best laid plans were derailed, first by a bizarre mid-race caution for a spectator walking the track and then an electronic failure in his car that prevented him from applying full throttle power. The Englishman was forced to retire his Silver Arrow on Lap 33 so we’ll never know if he really had anything for the finish. My money would have been on the ultra-competitive Englishman to catch up to Raikkonen and at least make it a fight for the podium. Teammate Nico Rosberg fared better after his own engine failure two weeks ago at Monza and brought the car home for a solid if unspectacular P4. That reduced Rosberg’s deficit to Hamilton to 41 Championship points, although the German contender may have to worry more about being overtaken by his countryman Vettel than actually catching Hamilton. Chances are, though, with all the remaining races being at high speed, low downforce tracks, Mercedes’ bad, streak-snapping weekend at Marina Bay will end up being a one-off disappointment during an otherwise uninterrupted march to another Constructors’ Championship.
Valtteri Bottas had a very strong P5 for Williams, especially considering that the FW37 really struggles in high downforce configuration. His teammate Felipe Massa, however, had his race ruined when Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg crashed into him as Massa exited the pits on Lap 14. Hulkenberg, who was found culpable and penalized 3 grid spots for the next race, was out on impact and the Brazilian veteran was forced to retire with gearbox issues on Lap 31. Force India did manage to salvage valuable points when surging Sergio Perez came home a strong P7 despite starting from 13th. Ricciardo’s Red Bull teammate Daniil Kvyat was let down by poor pit stops and the bad timing of the yellow flags. The young Russian, who had been on a roll, had to settle for P6 after starting from 4th on the grid. Toro Rosso rookies Max Verstappen (P8) and Carlos Sainz (P9) duked it out until the bitter end, with Verstappen ignoring team orders to cede his position to Sainz in the final laps. It was an impressive if defiant finish for the teenage Dutchman considering he stalled at the start and had to fight his way back through the entire field.
And speaking of promising young drivers, 23-year-old American Alexander Rossi made his Formula 1 debut for team Manor Marussia. Rossi, the fist Yank to race in F1 since Scott Speed in 2007, finished a happy 14th and will compete in four of the last six Grand Prix. At the other end of the spectrum and after high hopes for points this weekend, both veteran drivers Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso failed to finish for Honda-powered McLaren. Enduring a nightmare season, next year can’t come soon enough for the F1 perennials from Woking.
Top 10 finishers in Singapore:
|2||DANIEL RICCIARDO||AUS||RED BULL RACING||+1.478s||18|
|6||DANIIL KVYAT||RUS||RED BULL RACING||+35.508s||8|
|7||SERGIO PEREZ||MEX||FORCE INDIA||+50.836s||6|
|8||MAX VERSTAPPEN||NED||TORO ROSSO||+51.450s||4|
|9||CARLOS SAINZ||ESP||TORO ROSSO||+52.860s||2|
Mercedes won’t have to wait long to get back on the horse — the next race weekend comes up right away from the fast & tricky Suzuka circuit in Japan, September 25-27. While Ferrari has shown they will keep fighting and Red Bull has definitely improved, look for the Silver Arrows to return to the podium. So long as their recent mechanical gremlins do not keep reoccurring, that is. We’ll find out how it all plays out next Sunday so hope to see you then!