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Could Ricciardo have beaten Vettel, did Rosberg miss a podium? And other tales from Singapore

Could Ricciardo have beaten Vettel, did Rosberg miss a podium? And other tales from Singapore
Sep 22, 2015, 3:54 PM

The Singapore Grand Prix will be remembered as an outlier in the 2015 F1 world championship, a race where the dominant Mercedes cars were off the p...

The Singapore Grand Prix will be remembered as an outlier in the 2015 F1 world championship, a race where the dominant Mercedes cars were off the pace and instead the podium was filled with drivers from Ferrari and Red Bull. It will also be remembered as a race in which a spectator walked onto the track, triggering the second of two Safety Cars, which decided the race outcome.

Here we will explore what happened, examine whether Daniel Ricciardo could have won the race without the Safety Car interventions and whether Mercedes might have salvaged a podium. We’ll also look at the Toro Rosso drivers’ astonishing recovery drives.

F1 safety car

Pre race considerations

This race was targeted by Red Bull as their best chance for a win this season, while Ferrari arrived with a raft of updates which suited Sebastian Vette’s driving style and requirement for a very stable back end of the car. He was driving like in the old Red Bull days when he won four titles; as a result he took a commanding pole position.

Friday practice indicated that the Mercedes drivers were struggling to get the supersoft and soft Pirelli tyres working both on single qualifying laps and on long runs. The difference between this performance and the recent ones in Spa and Monza was so extreme, it can only be down to tyre grip.

The supersofts were very ‘peaky’ on this Singapore circuit, meaning that they only operated at their maximum within a temperature range of about 2 degrees. Mercedes couldn’t get into it and others struggled. Vettel’s pole position qualifying lap was right in the sweet spot.

On long runs, Red Bull’s Ricciardo had the best tyre degradation figures, setting him up for a possible ‘undercut’ on Vettel in the race, but the German looked like he had better pace, suggesting he could resist what Ricciardo might try with strategy. When they qualified alongside each other on the front row it was all set for a good battle for the win.

But everyone was aware of the statistic that showed at least one Safety Car has appeared in each of the previous seven Singapore Grands Prix. There was a sophisticated level of SC planning in most teams' strategies. The question was when would it come?

Vettel, Ricciardo

Ricciardo rues bad luck on Safety Cars – could he have won?

Based on the performance on Friday, Red Bull’s strategy was to try to push Ferrari into pitting earlier than ideal at one of the two scheduled stops.

Threatening to ‘undercut’ Vettel (pitting a lap earlier and using new tyre performance to get ahead when the lead car reacts and pits a lap later) they hoped either to make the undercut, or to dupe Vettel into stopping early to avoid that.

Had that happened, Red Bull would have put Ricciardo onto the soft tyre for a longer middle stint and then used supersoft for a short and very aggressive final stint in which he would have attacked Vettel who would be on ageing soft tyres at that point. It would have been a grandstand finish.

Ferrari was faster on soft tyres than Red Bull, so Ricciardo needed to avoid mirroring Vettel’s strategy. He needed a significant tyre performance offset.

The plan was wrecked by the two Safety Cars, both of which fell right in the pit stop windows; a pit stop behind a Safety Car costs half the time it takes at racing speeds, it is the obvious thing to take that opportunity. So Ricciardo followed Vettel into the pits both times.

The second Safety Car was triggered by a man walking on the track. This has happened in three Grands Prix in the last 15 years and ironically Ferrari has gone on to win all three of them!

The Safety Cars neutralised any strategic possibilities for Ricciardo. He had showed at the end of the first stint that he was managing the tyres better than Vettel and was poised to make the plan work.

Would he have had the pace at the end to pass Vettel on track for the win? It would have been close but probably not. Vettel had such strong pace this weekend and Ricciardo would have needed a substantial tyre offset in that final stint to pull off a move on his old team-mate. But it would have been fun to see him try.

Rosberg, Hamilton

Were Mercedes ever a threat?

On the face of it, Mercedes were never in the hunt for a win in Singapore, or even for the podium.

There was one moment when it looked like they might possibly get a driver on the podium and that was early in the second stint when they opted, in that first Safety Car affected pit stop, for soft tyres while Ferrari and Red Bull had gone with supersofts.

Vettel was bunching the field up, as he wanted to have tyre life left at the end of the stint to pull a gap to Ricciardo. At this point Mercedes were holding ground in fourth and fifth. The thinking was that if there were to be Safety Car around lap 31-33, the leaders would pit for softs, the Mercedes would be able to stay out and with two cars out front, play a team game with a late switch to the faster supersofts, to win the race.

The longer Vettel held the field back, the better the Mercedes strategy looked. The problem was that Hamilton hit power loss problems at the precise moment Vettel put the hammer down. As the team desperately tried to help him fix it, Rosberg was held up and lost three or four seconds before being able to pass his team mate.

From then on it became a case of maintaining position over Kvyat and keeping out of arm’s length of the undercut challenge, rather than thinking about a podium

Verstappen, Sainz

Sainz and Verstappen battle for Toro Rosso supremacy

Another fascinating skirmish was the battle between the two Toro Rosso drivers, both of whom were making recovery drives after early set backs. Max Verstappen stalled at the start and was a lap down on the field in the first stint, while Carlos Sainz had a gearbox glitch that meant he lost six places in the opening stint and then further time as he was held at a pit stop and did an extra stop.

The pair were put on a strategy like the one Ricciardo might have tried if the Safety Cars hadn’t shown up; moving onto the soft tyres for the middle stint.

The first Safety Car allowed Verstappen to unlap himself and get on the tail of the pack, setting him up for another series of spectacular overtakes which have been his trademark this season. It also allowed Sainz to make up lost ground.

The pair progressed through the field and went onto the supersoft for the final stint, but quite early on. Sainz on Lap 28 and again nine laps later, Verstappen on Lap 36 as the Safety Car came out. Verstappen’s tyres were used, Sainz’s new. The pair easily caught the Lotus cars that had pitted very early for the soft tyres for the final stint, so were struggling for tyre grip in the closing stages. The next target was Perez in the Force India. Sainz felt he had more pace and - as he has moved aside a few times to let Verstappen have a go at passing the car ahead - he made the request here. The team agreed, but Verstappen refused.

It is likely to lead to Sainz refusing in future, which is interesting because Toro Rosso use their drivers to help each other’s strategies a lot, as do Red Bull. For example in Spa, Ricciardo pitted very early to force Perez to cover him and this pulled the field towards stopping earlier than planned and this opened a window for Kvyat later in the race to score a fine 6th place, beating Perez, who ran out of tyre life.

This will need an internal meeting to sort out because as a team they will be weaker strategically if they cannot collaborate on strategy.

The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input and data from several F1 team strategists and from Pirelli

Race History & Tyre Usage Charts

Kindly provided by Williams F1 Team - Click to enlarge

The vertical orange bands are the Safety Car periods. Horizontal line is the Lap number, vertical line is time in seconds.

The graph shows the gaps between the cars. See how closely matched Vettel and Ricciardo were; however you can see Ricciardo's upward trajectory just before the safety cars, he was catching Vettel. Raikkonen meanwhile did not have the pace, Rosberg's pace dropped off on softs after losing ground behind his team mate as he lost power.

Williams Martini Racing

Williams Martini Racing

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