Hannah Taylor, F1 Correspondent
As round 14 of the 2011 Formula One season got underway for the Singapore Grand Prix, Reigning World Champion and polesitter Sebastian Vettel led from the start and passed the chequered flag as the winner at the end of the race.
The Red Bull driver achieved his 19th career victory, after an eventful 61 laps, which he completed under the lights of the Marina Bay Street Circuit. Despite getting through the safety car period, driving in the searing heat, passing traffic and managing his tyres, Vettel was prevented from being crowned the 2011 World Champion today.
Vettel expressed his feelings on the outcome of the race today and explained how it went.
“All in all it is a fantastic result. I really love this track and I love the challenge here – it’s one of the longest races of the season, but the car was fantastic and engine-wise everything was great… I’m very pleased and for the championship it looks like we have another chance at the next race,” commented Vettel.
Second placeman Jenson Button drove a strong race and was gradually catching the leader during the Grand Prix. However, the McLaren driver got stuck in traffic in the final few laps, which meant he could not get close enough to put Vettel under pressure at the front.
Vettel’s Australian team mate Mark Webber finished in third place overall, after battling for position at times with several midfield runners.
After the five lights had gone out to mark the beginning of the race, Vettel was true to form and maintained pole position. Unfortunately the Red Bull team had mixed fortune at the start despite locking out the front row for the fifth time this season. Webber was not quite so lucky as he got going, and he dropped a few places on the first few laps.
Likewise, Lewis Hamilton in the second McLaren also suffered the same fate. The 2008 World Champion had a bad time and slipped down the field to eighth place after he and Webber were scrapping for position. However, the tables soon turned in favour of Hamilton, when he seemed to get back on track and find his feet. The Englishman found himself on the tail of Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher.
The pair already have a track record for battling for position with each other in Monza. Hamilton lost out to the seven times World Champion two weeks ago though, when he was stuck behind him for 27 laps of the race. Hamilton was potentially in a good position even two laps on into today’s race. Despite his puncture in qualifying yesterday, he still had a new set of option tyres, which could put him ahead of Schumacher depending on his race strategy.
Schumacher’s team mate Nico Rosberg was also in the limelight early on in the race. The German took the scenic route at one point as he went into the run off area at Turn one. He soon got back on track and was not punished by the stewards for this when the team reported that as he had not gained an advantage this was okay. This discussion came about after Rosberg was battling for position with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. Initially, Massa was ahead maintaining his place and Rosberg took it from him momentarily. The pair then resumed their original positions without a problem.
Before the action on the track had barely begun, there had been lots of ups and downs for some drivers. To add to the incidents that had already occurred, Hispania Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo was spotted without his front wing. The Australian was gingerly making his way back to the pits to repair the damage on lap two.
The early scrap for position between Hamilton and Schumacher reappeared on lap four. Hamilton was doing well to maintain seventh place from the German, as he had previously passed him to snatch it. From this point on Hamilton seemed to be on a charge, as his next opponent was Schumacher’s team mate, Rosberg. Hamilton successfully took sixth place from Rosberg on lap four, and did so with ease using his DRS.
Meanwhile, a little further in front of the pack, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Webber were fighting over third place on lap six. Webber who was just behind the Spaniard and running in fourth place, soon reported via the team radio that his KERS was not working very well. This indicated that Webber might have been vulnerable to both prancing horse cars and Alonso would have been able to extend the gap between him and Webber. Massa was just behind Webber in fifth place as well, so the Brazilian driver may have been able to catch him.
Unlike Webber’s uncomfortable situation, Vettel and Button seemed to be in control of first and second position early on in the race. On the other hand, Vettel was pulling away from the Englishman as the gap between the pair had increased to 8.2secs on lap seven.
The few laps that followed seemed to concern battles for position rather than incidents, which developed later on. Where the midfield were concerned, Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi was holding on to 15th place, and keeping Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi at bay for the time being.
There was also an interesting in team battle developing with Force India. Rookie to Formula One this season Paul di Resta had taken a gamble and chosen to start on the soft tyre, while his German team mate Adrian Sutil selected the supersoft compound. As the duo decided not to take any further runs in Q3 yesterday, they had the choice of tyres to put on their cars today. Di Resta was setting similar lap times as his team mate in the first stage of the race. The news that the Scotsman was running well on the soft compound would have been good for the rest of the field to know. As a result of this, they would be aware that either tyre would have worked okay.
On lap 10 the drivers’ first round of pit stops arrived. Rosberg was one of the first to blink. He seemed to be in a good position, as he did not do too many runs in qualifying, and still had a new set of option tyres available to him.
Alonso also decided to make his first visit for a tyre change at this time, along with Schumacher on the same lap as his team mate. Their pit stop phase meant they had to pay an early price, and climb back up the field after their tyre change. Unlike the drivers who had not made a pit stop though, the likes of Alonso and Schumacher were on a fresh set of tyres with lots of grip. Nevertheless, Alonso rejoined the race in 11th place, and Schumacher was a bit further behind in 17th position.
Webber was among those who held off from making their pit stop early. While some chose to change their tyres, Webber was out on track and took third place from Alonso. Massa also added to Alonso’s misery at this point, as he was nearly on his team mate’s tail and running in fifth place.
However, it was not too long before Massa and Hamilton went head to head and had a pit stop race. On lap 11 the pair went up against each other, but Massa had the upper hand. Hamilton experienced a slight delay during his tyre change, and Massa got out of the pits before him. Once the pair got back to racing on the track, they had a literal head to head as they made contact on lap 12. It occurred at the same spot where Hamilton crashed with Webber in the race last year. Fortunately, Hamilton had a lucky escape today. His car only suffered front wing damage, which meant he could still continue in the Grand Prix. Massa was also a victim as a result of the contact and had a right rear puncture. He was the first of the two to revisit the pits to repair the damage, while Hamilton seemed to hold on for a couple of laps. It was then reported on lap 14 that the stewards were going to investigate the incident between the two drivers. On the following lap the stewards issued Hamilton with a drive through penalty, as a result of causing a collision. Consequently, after serving the penalty he rejoined the race in 16th place.
While Hamilton experienced a few problems, Marussia Virgin Racing’s Timo Glock made an early exit from the race. Unfortunately, he had a disagreement with a barrier, which meant he would take no further part in today’s action on the track. The German driver had to abandon his car at the escape road at Turn 20 on lap 11.
As the incidents on the track began to unfold Webber had made his stop and rejoined in sixth place. Vettel and Button who had been holding the first two places well also made their pit stops on lap 15. Both drivers had smooth tyre changes that were problem free, and as a result they maintained their previous track positions.
Meanwhile, where the midfield runners were concerned, their battles for position were on going. Sutil managed to leap in front of Kobayashi to gain ninth place on lap 15. Kobayashi’s run of bad luck continued when Schumacher also successfully passed the feisty Japanese driver. It was a similar situation for Lotus Renault’s Vitaly Petrov, who did not have the best qualifying result yesterday. His situation was the same in the race today, as he was way down the field in 13th place and struggling for grip on lap 16. The Russian dropped one place further just a little while later, when Williams driver Pastor Maldonado took 13th place from him. Petrov then found himself in a Williams sandwich, as Rubens Barrichello was the other side of him in 15th position.
Towards the back of the field the squabbles continued for some time, when Buemi and Massa also got in on the act. The situation worsened for Petrov as he was way behind the other drivers. Maldonado was leading the mini battle in 11th place, ahead of Barrichello, Buemi and Massa.
On the other hand, it was a different story at the very front of the field. On lap 17 Vettel added another fastest lap of the race to his record, and set a speedy lap time of 1:53.269secs. As Vettel was oblivious to the battles for position behind him, Alonso and di Resta were fighting over third place. Di Resta decided to pit for a tyre change on lap 18, but Alonso pounced when he returned to the track. Alonso succeeded in passing him and snatching third place, which saw di Resta drop down to fourth position.
Rosberg who was only a place behind the pair’s squabble, was having his own troubles when he tackled the kerb at Turn 10. He experienced a bit of a bumpy ride of it at that part of the circuit, but could continue without damage to his car.
The midfield runners’ dispute over position resumed on lap 21. Massa was making his way through the field, and led Buemi to drop down to 13th place as he took 12th position from the Swiss driver. Hamilton was also successful in passing Kobayashi when he slotted into 14th place. Meanwhile Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari and Team Lotus driver Jarno Trulli were under investigation by the stewards, it was reported that the pair had made contact with each other.
Webber, who had struggled to catch Alonso earlier in the race, was faced with the same situation from lap 22. The battle between the two continued for a good few laps and Alonso was once again ahead. On this occasion though, Webber has closed the gap to just one second between them. Alonso seemed to feel the pressure slightly on lap 24 as he had a wobble and missed part of the chicane as the chase was on. Webber finally got his opportunity to pass the double World Champion on lap 26, when Alonso had to stop for a tyre change. Up until that point they were equal pegging and running on the soft compound of tyres. At this stage of the race Webber was then in third place and Alonso in fourth position.
It was a similar situation for Schumacher and Rosberg on lap 23, but an in team battle had formed here. When Rosberg had to pit for a tyre change, Schumacher was automatically promoted into fifth place.
Rather than pit stops being the time for some drivers to gain a place, Hamilton and Massa were to have a natural battle for position on lap 26. Sadly, Massa was the victim and lost 12th place to Hamilton as they came into the DRS zone at Turn seven. Massa then took the decision to make a pit stop, which could have indicated why he could not hold off Hamilton.
From this point on Hamilton seemed to be on a mission. He then managed to pass Barrichello on lap 26 and get into 10th place.
When Schumacher had to pit on lap 26 he handed Sutil fifth place, which created an in team battle between him and team mate di Resta. After a short while and being patient, di Resta passed Sutil on the following lap to take fifth place.
After making his pit stop and being on a fresh set of tyres, Schumacher demonstrated his racing experience, as he set the fastest lap of the race from ninth place. He set a time of 1:53.906secs. His effort was short lived when Alonso crossed the line to improve on this. Instead, he went one better and set a time of 1:52.550secs on the timesheets.
Before the main event of the Grand Prix occurred just minutes later, Sutil and Rosberg were scrapping for position on lap 29. Sutil was leading in sixth place, and Rosberg was chasing him in seventh position.
Rosberg then ran wide and lost a bit of time and nearly seventh place. He went down the inside of Sauber’s Sergio Perez, who was following him in eighth place. Perez then ran wide and seemed to brake early, which Schumacher, who was behind him in ninth position, did not anticipate. This resulted in Schumacher hitting Perez’s left rear tyre, and Schumacher was in mid air momentarily before he crashed into the barrier at Turn seven. Luckily, Schumacher managed to avoid collecting Rosberg in the process. However, the collision between Perez and Schumacher did warrant the deployment of the safety car on lap 30.
As a result of the safety car making an appearance, and doing so in the fourth consecutive Grand Prix at the circuit, it made it interesting for the front-runners, as they would be closer together again.
After the debris had been cleared and Schumacher’s car had been safely rescued, the race could get underway again. Fortunately, Perez suffered little damage to his car and was able to continue racing.
While Vettel set another fastest lap of the race and recorded a time of 1:51.139secs, his team mate Webber was scrapping for position with Alonso again. Webber managed a successful overtake on Alonso and took third place from him on lap 34. Since the safety car had been out on track, the DRS was disabled for a couple of laps, so the pass Webber made was a natural one over Alonso.
Meanwhile, the popularity of scrapping for position reappeared. On lap 35 it covered Sutil in seventh place, and Hamilton was trying to catch him in eighth position. Di Resta was slightly ahead of both of them in fifth place, and he was maintaining position from Rosberg who was in sixth place.
Hamilton’s persistence paid off on lap 37 as he found the opportunity to snatch seventh place from Sutil. The DRS was back in action at this point, so Hamilton was able to take advantage of this as well. Hamilton then went head to head with Sutil’s team mate di Resta and Rosberg on lap 39. With the DRS now available, Hamilton put it to use to pass Rosberg, then di Resta and Hamilton was then able to slot into fifth place.
As a result of some of the incidents that had already occurred, the race had kept the stewards busy and deciding whether to take action on them. There was another one for them to look into on lap 38, which concerned Kobayashi. He was under investigation by the stewards for ignoring the blue flags. When these are waved, it indicates to the drivers that the slower cars must allow the leaders to overtake. It only took two laps for the stewards to make a decision on the matter. On lap 40 Kobayashi was issued with a drive through penalty for ignoring the blue flags.
The stewards had more work ahead of them on lap 40, when they decided to investigate Rosberg and Perez. This followed the incident between the pair in the lead up to Schumacher crashing out of the race. It was then reported on lap 44 that the stewards would take no further action with the incident. On the other hand, in relation to Schumacher and Perez coming together, the stewards also found this of interest. It was reported a few laps later, that the stewards would look at it after the race.
While the on track antics concerning other drivers was brought to the attention of the stewards, Vettel was getting down to business and setting the pace in first place. On lap 40 he had increased his lead from Button by 12.5secs.
The race leader, Vettel decided to make another pit stop on lap 50. This came about after the likes of Massa, who was way down in 13th place; Webber, who was in fifth place; Hamilton, who was in fourth position; and Button who was in second place, had all made a stop before him.
During Vettel’s pit stop everything seemed to run like clockwork, until he missed colliding with Kovalainen. Vettel was already out of his pit box and making his way to the exit when Kovalainen suddenly came out of his pit box. The pair narrowly escaped a coming together by a whisker, but the stewards found the incident of interest. They decided to investigate it after the race for Kovalainen’s unsafe release from the pit box.
Towards the back of the field, where the newer teams were concerned, most of them seemed to stay out of the limelight in the race. This was with the exception of Glock who retired, Ricciardo who crashed into a barrier, and Kovalainen’s near collision with Vettel in the pits. Also Trulli’s race did not improve or go on for much longer. Sadly, the Italian had barely been back on track, when he was found to have a broken front wing. It was thought that he had some sort of incident between Turn one and three, which caused the damage and his retirement from the race on lap 51.
Aside from the problems already encountered by the drivers at the back of the pack, the remaining ones were having a healthy scrap for position on lap 47. At that point Trulli’s Finnish team mate was leading in 16th place, from Petrov and Alguersuari; the trio of drivers were fighting over 16th place at the time.
With 11 laps of the Grand Prix remaining, Hamilton dropped down to ninth place following his pit stop. He was gradually making his way back to the front of the field. Along the way on his mission to do so, he passed Perez to take eighth place, Sutil for seventh position, Rosberg for sixth place, and di Resta for fifth position.
As Vettel continued to fly away with the lead, and do so in style on lap 52 with a time of 1:48.688secs, he did actually have to slow down when he was overtaking traffic. On his way he passed the back markers, the likes of Petrov who was in 19th place then and Ricciardo who was in 20th position, both had to move aside for the leader to speed through.
However, on lap 55 it seemed that Vettel had met his match. Second placeman, Button demonstrated his smooth but sleek driving style. The Englishman set the pace and went one better than Vettel. Button topped the timesheets with a lap time of 1:48.454secs, this impressive lap time meant that he was 2.2secs a lap faster than Vettel who was in first place.
Despite being on good form Button had to tackle the traffic like Vettel. Previously and with the fast lap time he had set, Button gained an advantage of 1.8secs over Vettel. Sadly, Button lost this when Barrichello and Maldonado got in his way. As a result of the two drivers delaying him slightly, Button lost two seconds from the in team battle going on.
During the penultimate lap there was still more action unfolding. Alguersuari made a swift exit out of the race, when he crashed into the barrier at Turn 18.
As the final lap of the Grand Prix was in progress, Massa took advantage of an opportunity to gain a place. The Brazilian driver managed to pass Perez to take ninth place from the Mexican. Following the overtake Massa performed, he had got close to Sutil and Rosberg. At that point there were three drivers abreast momentarily. The trio managed to organise themselves to finish one behind the other. Rosberg finished ahead of the other two drivers in seventh place, Sutil came next in eighth position and Massa had to settle for ninth place in the end. As a result of losing his position to Massa, Perez was the final driver to pick up a Championship point and rounded off the top 10.
With the midfield battles going on down to the final lap of the race, Vettel quietly crossed the finish line to take the victory. His winning lap time was a 1:59.06.757secs. This result now means that he just needs one point until he can become a double World Champion. In doing so, he will become the ninth driver in Formula One history to win back to back Drivers’ titles. In order to prevent Vettel from gaining the one point he needs, Button would have to win all of the remaining races without Vettel scoring a single point.
In any case, Button came second in the Grand Prix today, and picked up his fourth consecutive podium finish so far this season. Webber managed to secure the last spot on the podium to take third place. Alonso just missed out on that position, despite winning at Singapore twice, and having all podium finishes there so far. Hamilton landed fifth place for himself, and just got ahead of di Resta who drove well today.
Outside of the top 10 point scoring positions, Maldonado finished in 11th place ahead of Buemi. Maldonado’s team mate Barrichello was just alongside Buemi to come across the line in 13th position. Kobayashi managed to get in front of Lotus Renault’s Bruno Senna, who seemed to have a quiet race and secured 15th place. The Brazilian driver pipped Kovalainen to the higher grid slot, who came next in 16th position. Both Lotus Renault drivers seemed to struggle in the race for pace, and especially Petrov over the whole weekend. He could only do enough to pick up 17th place for himself. Jerome d’Ambrosio was the sole Marussia Virgin Racing car to finish the race. He crossed the line to take 18th position. Both Hispania Racing cars were the last of the final race classification. As one of the rookies in the sport this season, Ricciardo did well to finish in front of his team mate and came in 19th place, while the Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi followed behind his Australian team mate in 20th position.
The four retirements from the race were, Alguersuari, Trulli, Schumacher and Glock.
Despite not being able to take the title as double World Champion today, Vettel has been able to extend his lead further. He leads from Button by a massive 309 points, and Button is now in second place with 185 points. Button’s position will certainly be contested by Alonso, who is now in third place and just one point behind him. Webber is just as close to Alonso though, as only two points separate the pair. Hamilton currently holds fifth place with 168 points.
On the other hand, the Constructors’ battle is not quite as close. Red Bull remain dominant at the top with 491 points, and McLaren are still holding second place with 353 points. Ferrari are next in third place and a little behind with 268 points.
Following today’s thrilling Singapore Grand Prix, Vettel will now have to wait patiently for two weeks, until he can aim to pick up the vital Championship point he needs. The drivers and teams have a bit of time to recover from the heat, and long distance endurance challenge, along with the incidents that had an impact today, before they take on their next race at the Japanese Grand Prix.