Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
- A perfect race for Sebastian Vettel
- Hamilton in and out of control again
- Di Resta star of the Singapore GP
- The race for second place is still on
Sebastian Vettel scored his 19th career victory during the Singapore Grand Prix at the Marina Bay Street Circuit last weekend, unfortunately for him, the race for the Drivers’ Championship was not decided yet, as his now last rival Jenson Button brought his McLaren home in second place and mathematically speaking can still win the title. Red Bull Racing therefore had to postpone their title party for another two weeks. But the 2011 champion to be is quite happy with his ninth win of the season, and has no problems postponing his party until later, the 24-year young German is eager to win more races this season and for him the season ends after round 20 of the Championship, the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Vettel was as always first away at the start and after one lap had already gained an advantage of three seconds on the number two, Jenson Button. From then on it became a relatively easy race for the 2010 World Champion, he never gave the lead away and crossed the finish line one hour, 59 minutes and 6.757 seconds later, a perfect race from start to finish. Vettel commented about his start, “The start was good. We were on the clean side and that's why Mark lost out. I saw immediately that Jenson got away a bit better than me but I knew it should be fine down to Turn one.”
And he was indeed fine after Turn one and started to pull away from Button very quickly. “I was surprised myself that I was able to pull away that much. I think after a couple of laps I already had a 10-seconds gap,” Vettel declared. He was then able to control the race and made his pit stop without losing first place, the only real threat came from Button after the safety car came out when Michael Schumacher had crashed during an attempt to overtake Sergio Perez in the Sauber.
Vettel lost his 30 second head start and suddenly had Button again in his mirrors, but luckily for him there were a few back markers between him and the Briton. When the race was resumed Button had to get past the back markers and when he found a way around them it was already too late, Vettel was again already five seconds ahead of him. He summed up his evening in Singapore, “All in all the car was great from start to finish and I was able to pull away. I think we were going at stages more than a second quicker than the cars behind which makes it a lot of fun.” About his first victory at the Marina Bay circuit, he said, “It means a lot to me as I really like this track. It is one of the hardest challenges we face all year so to come out of that a winner is a great result for us.”
No so easy was the race for his team colleague Mark Webber, it was again at the start where the Australian lost places as Button and Fernando Alonso flew past him, not the first time this season. “I can't make the starts I made last year at the moment. I need to work on those. We will look at them and definitely improve. I have just got to keep working hard as it makes it quite frustrating and it is more risky to come back through and try to regain the positions on the track,” Webber explained.
He then had to fight his way past Alonso. “It was pretty clear that I had to clear Fernando at some stage in the race as Ferrari kept covering me at the stops.” Alonso was napping when the safety car disappeared into the pit lane, and Webber was able to overtake him just ahead of the Singapore Sling chicane, a great overtaking move as he got past him on the outside without the assistance of DRS or KERS. “Fernando is not in his first Grand Prix so he knows where to put the car and it was a good battle, but by the time I got past Seb and Jenson were gone,” Webber said. “But this is a very, very challenging venue so it is nice to have the car in one piece and the guys have done a great job all weekend.”
Again second place for Button
Also, it was a near perfect race for the by now only remaining title contender McLaren’s Button. He had qualified in third position but managed to get past Webber at the start. “Yes, it was a good start. I got a good launch and then I had a little bit of wheel spin and a dilemma also which direction to go as Seb was in front and I felt that I had better traction,” said Button. But he found out it was impossible to keep up with Vettel during the major part of the race, “His pace was very, very good and it was impossible really too close for much of the race.” But the 2009 Champion wasn’t happy with the back markers who were in his way when the safety car pulled off the track, as it was his one and only chance to attack Vettel for the lead.
“After the safety car I thought I might have a go but sat behind Kamui Kobayashi for a lap. I think I lost about three or four seconds. Finally got past but again the pace wasn't quick enough,” he said. But it was the same story for Webber and Alonso, they were also caught in traffic and they in their turn also had problems getting closer to Button. Button then started to look after his tyres; he had started on the super softs, changed to the softs for his second stint, but once more change to the supersofts on which he would finish the race.
Thanks to a fresh set of supersofts for his last stint, he was able to launch one final attack on Vettel who was just 11 seconds ahead of him. For a moment it seemed he might be lucky as Vettel got stuck behind a few back markers, but Button also ran into them and later criticized Rubens Barrichello and Pastor Maldonado who were having their own fight right in front of him. “I can understand it is difficult to move over here. Most people were fighting out there but a bit of respect to the cars that are lapping them. They are lapping them for a reason because they are quicker and they fighting for a higher position,” he commented.
And added, “The Williams obviously were fighting between themselves. The thing is, when it gets to the last lap and people see that they've been lapped, they think that it's their last lap and they're pushing hard and they forget that there are cars trying to overtake.” He again lost a couple of seconds before he got past the fighting Williams duo, but all the same he knew he didn’t have the pace to beat Vettel, although he got very close during the last laps, “Overall our pace was good today - but we cannot challenge Seb and Red Bull, we know we are not as quick at the moment, we know we need to improve if we want to fight for wins in the next five races,” he concluded his comments.
Lewis Hamilton in and out of control again
Hamilton again contributed to his vendetta with Felipe Massa that started during the Monaco Grand Prix in May this year, when he collided with the Brazilian at the Loews hairpin during a do-or-die attempt to overtake him. The pair banged wheels and went side-by-side into the tunnel where the Briton forced the Ferrari onto the dirt and Massa crashed into the barrier. Not much later he robbed Maldonado of what would have been his first championship point’s score by pushing him into the barrier of Saint Devote. Hamilton then collided with his team mate Button during the Canadian Grand Prix and as a result crashed out of the race, also crashed at Spa after he had overtaken Kobayashi and this weekend he ran into the back of Massa, which ruined not only Massa’s race, but also ruined his own chances for a podium.
During qualifying the pair also almost crashed after Hamilton tried to get ahead of Massa’s Ferrari when both emerged from the pit lane for their final qualification run. What went on in the Briton’s head remains a mystery; there are other ways of getting a clear track ahead, as proved by Vettel who was sent out by his team at exactly the right moment. Clearly, patience is not one of Hamilton’s greatest virtues.
To make things worse, Hamilton completely messed up his start on Sunday and lost four places and was back in eighth position after just one lap. He then started his march to the front of the field, overtook Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg but then got stuck behind Massa, who, probably with other clashes he had with him still in the back of his mind, fiercely but rightfully defended his fifth position. McLaren tried to get Hamilton ahead of Massa during the first pit stop, but the plan didn’t work and he once more had Massa ahead of him. It didn’t take long before an aggressive Hamilton ran into the back of the Ferrari, damaged his front wing and punctured Massa’s rear tyre.
Both were off back to the pits for repairs, and Hamilton rejoined the race in 20th place, which of course completely ruined his race, but apparently finally figured out this was not the way to win a race and decided to be a good boy again and this time used his head during the remainder of the race. He also incurred a drive-through penalty and lost even more time, but once back on the track, he then drove what only can be described as a brilliant race. He carved his way through the field and this time passed Massa without hitting him, and by lap 22 was in 12th place. He then passed Barrichello, Perez, Adrian Sutil, Rosberg and Paul di Resta and was now after 40 laps in fifth position again, but too late to catch up with Alonso who was more than 20 seconds ahead of him.
“I had fun picking off cars after my penalty, but it was frustrating to once again be down the field when I felt we had a car that could have challenged up at the front,” Hamilton later said. “For me, this weekend was a bit of a missed opportunity. As always, though, I'll put it behind me - I'm already looking forward to Suzuka!” Indeed, a missed opportunity as Hamilton apparently first needs to make a huge mistake before he realizes he will not make it to the finish if he loses his head.
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh defended Hamilton, “Lewis had a more frustrating day, but drove with great determination to finish fifth at the chequered flag, pulling off some fantastic passing manoeuvres in so doing. All in all, he had to make five visits to the pit lane – so, as I say, bearing that in mind, fifth place was a seriously impressive achievement”
But most comments are less flattering, Sir Jackie Stewart was puzzled, “I am a bit confused because he certainly knows how to drive and has a very large amount of natural talent. But if he is going to be a great driver he cannot have serial incidents. And none of the great drivers ever drove in that fashion,” the Scotsman said to the UK Mail.
Other headlines in the UK press read: Lewis Hamilton left low by Singapore smash; Felipe Massa slams 'mindless' Lewis Hamilton; Where's your head at, Lewis?, and Hamilton thinks he's Superman. Niki Lauda reportedly said, “I don't understand how a guy with Hamilton's talent can be always so stupid.”
Fact of course remains Hamilton has been involved in numerous incidents and has been called to see the FIA Stewards on several occasions, has received drive-through penalties, and is and since a few races ago out of contention for the title, and has now earned a certain reputation as a “serial crasher”, which is not very flattering, nor encouraging for the future.
Father Anthony is adamant his son lacks proper guidance and management, “If you look up and down the pit lane and every driver, except for Lewis, has a driver-manager in his life, not people from a company,” Hamilton senior said. “Formula One drivers need people personally involved in the driver's lives because it is a big pressure. You sign up a Formula One driver, so come and do your job. No disrespect to anybody but that's how this business is. Unfortunately, that issue in the race was an aggressive Lewis issue. I have seen Lewis and he is fine. It is hard right now but he will come back, there is no doubt about that.”
Alonso happy, Massa livid
Ferrari knew they were in for a very difficult Singapore Grand Prix, but at least Alonso once again managed to get the maximum out of his car, and Massa was also well on his way before he was hit by Hamilton. Qualifying was not as good as they had hoped, as Alonso and Massa left the start grid from fifth and sixth position. Certainly for Massa the race became a big disappointment, but Alonso did what he could and brought the Ferrari home in fourth position, albeit 55 seconds behind leader Vettel.
The Spaniard had another of his great starts and was the third man to enter the first turn, leaving Button and Massa behind him. He made his first stop after 10 laps and rejoined in 10th place, but when the others had also pitted he had managed to get ahead of Webber and slowly built up a gap to Webber, Schumacher and Rosberg. Sadly he lost that gap again after Schumacher’s crash when the safety car came out. “As happened today, if the safety car wipes out the few seconds advantage we had put together over Webber and the backmarkers, who were maybe a bit distracted, create unexpected problems, then everything becomes more difficult,” Alonso said.
Not much later Alonso lost his third place to Webber, and the Australian in his turn increased the gap to Alonso, after Webber’s final pit stop Alonso was back in third again but as he also had to make his last stop, lost it again and finally finished in fourth position. “We were not fast enough and, even if we were third for some parts of the race, we knew that sooner or later we would be overtaken,” said Alonso. “We fought all weekend long and I'm pleased with the way the team worked, because they always did their very best and we got the most we could have done out of this race.”
Certainly not happy was Massa who was livid about Hamilton’s action which put him out of contention, which was of course not the first time this year. The two were already at war during qualifying, and after the race wanted to confront Hamilton while he was giving an interview. He walked up to him, tapped the Briton on the shoulder saying, “Good job, bro,” and sarcastically congratulated him in front of the media. Hamilton reacted and replied: “Don't touch me, man. Don't touch me.” He later walked away and until today has said a word about the incident on and off track.
Massa was asked for his opinion by the BBC and he vented his frustrations, “My thoughts are that, again, he cannot use his mind - even in qualifying, so you can imagine in the race. In qualifying he tried to do a Superman on the out-lap, you know? And today he tries to do the same in the race!” He also mentioned what Hamilton did was dangerous, “He touched my wheel on a straight at 300 kph, and he punctured my tyres, so he destroyed my race.”
And a furious Massa added, “Again, he could have caused a big accident. He's paying for it and he doesn't understand that. The problem was that I was in the middle so I got a puncture in my tyres and I paid a lot. He has done it to me so many times this year. It’s important the FIA study this and penalise him every time because he cannot be thinking about it. I’ve talked to him but he doesn’t listen. Maybe his father can do something about it.”
Looking to the future he said, “I would really like to have a trouble free race at some point, something that I have not experienced recently, if you look at Monza for example. Today, a top six finish was definitely within reach.”
The star of the race
The star of the race was without a doubt Paul di Resta who secured sixth place, his best performance this year, at a circuit he had never raced on and only knew from the simulator. He drove a brilliant race on a soft-supersoft-soft strategy and during the first stint was battling with his team mate Sutil and kept him behind him and at a certain stage was even in third place. Di Resta had a bit of a disadvantage during the safety car period, “I don't think the safety car really helped us because I still had a lot of life left in the supersoft tyres in the middle of the race, but it didn't really hurt us either.”
The Scot lost one place after a charging Hamilton had passed him, but his main concern was now Rosberg who was behind him who in his turn had Sutil behind him. “It was a case of managing my pace to Rosberg, looking after the tyres and bringing the car home. I was in free air for the final part of the race, which helped, and the pace was strong,” di Resta explained. But he contributed his sixth place to the upgrade package Force India had for the Singapore Grand Prix, “It's probably my best race of the season, but it's the result of all the hard work behind the scenes. We came here with an upgrade package that has allowed us to gain performance in the race, gain tyre life, and we saw the benefits of that today.”
Force India has climbed up the ladder ever since current owner Vijay Mallya bought the outfit from Spyker F1. He in fact bought what had remained of the once proud Jordan team, led by its namesake Eddie Jordan who ran into financial problems and had to sell his team to the Midand F1 consortium, who in their turn sold the team to the Dutch Spyker sportscar manufacturer.
Attracting experienced and also young promising drivers, top engineers and investing in human resources in the design department are the key to success in the sport, Mallya acknowledged this and transformed his team from a ‘back-of-the-grid’ team to a regular points scorer, which in 2009 ultimately resulted in their best performance ever when the experienced Giancarlo Fisichella scored the team’s first pole position during the 2009 Belgium Grand Prix. The Italian also took second place in the race, just 0.9secs behind winner Kimi Raikkonen.
Since then the team had its ups and downs but this season Force India has regained its strength and their performance seems to improve after each race. Force India is currently sixth in the Constructors’ Championship and have so far beaten Williams, Toro Rosso and Sauber and are 22 points behind their next target: Lotus Renault.
Not surprisingly Mallya was very satisfied about the progress his team also made in Singapore, “Both Paul and Adrian have performed brilliantly all weekend and haven't put a foot wrong. I have to say I am delighted with today's result. We knew we had the performance in the car to get both drivers in the points, but to come away with 12 points is extremely satisfying. It strengthens our sixth place in the championship and moves us closer to fifth place.
Crash was a misunderstanding
According to Schumacher, a misunderstanding caused him to crash into the back of Perez’s Sauber which ultimately resulted in a low flying Mercedes occupied by the seven-times World Champion, and when he miraculously landed on all four wheels again, smashed into the tyre barrier and was in fact lucky to escape injuries, and also lucky not to collect Rosberg as well. It had been a bit of a tricky situation for Schumacher as he was following his team mate Rosberg, who was fighting with the Mexican and had problems keeping his Mercedes on track.
At one moment Rosberg ran wide, Perez saw an opportunity and passed him, but Perez also ran wide and then Rosberg took his place back again. Schumacher was all of a sudden very close behind the Sauber, and when Perez hit the brakes Schumacher was too late and hit the Sauber. “What happened was what I would call a misunderstanding between Sergio Perez and myself. He was about to go inside and lifted, and I was not expecting him to do that so early, and therefore hit him,” said Schumacher. “It's probably one of those race incidents which look more impressive from outside than from inside, as I am totally ok and my impact in the end was not too heavy.”
Well, not entirely true, as the FIA Stewards later decided to give the German an official reprimand for causing an avoidable accident, which means he is now on probation, and has to be careful the next few races not to repeat stunts like this, as it is not the first time he has ran into the back of another car this season, which so far has only cost him a few front wings and a ruined race, but next time the FIA could be harsher on him.
Schumacher’s compatriot Timo Glock also crashed out of the race after just nine laps, and Jaime Alguersuari did the exact same thing at the exact same corner after completing 56 laps and had to evacuate his damaged Toro Rosso which he had parked into the wall. He was nevertheless officially classified in 21st and last place.
Team Lotus beats Lotus Renault
During the Singapore Grand Prix Team Lotus owner and principal Tony Fernandes finally got what he had been waiting for so long, he finally fair and square beat his arch enemy Lotus Renault, which after all the troubles he has had about the name Lotus, must have been a sweet moment for the Malaysian. Heikki Kovalainen defended the honors for Fernandes by beating Vitaly Petrov, not only did he keep the Russian behind him, he also was able to pull away from him as he simply had a better race pace. “The car felt balanced throughout the whole race and the tyres worked well so I was able to pull away from Petrov and ended up finishing strongly in 16th,” Kovalainen said.
He also thanked his pit crew, “I'm really pleased with the performance today and we should all be happy as it was a great race from the whole team. The pit stop strategy worked out well for us and the boys worked brilliantly to get me out quickly each time, helping me make sure I could stay ahead of Petrov at each stop.” However, it could have turned out completely different as Kovalainen was released from his pit area straight into the path of Vettel who was just leaving, the pair nearly collided and Team Lotus were fined 10,000 Euros.
Despite that, it was the race of his life Fernandes said, “For me that is probably the best race we have had in our short life in Formula One so far. Heikki drove an outstanding race and was able to keep pace with a lot of the cars around him, and pull away from the cars behind, and he made the most of the new package we brought here to finish very well.”
For Lotus Renault it was a weekend to forget, Bruno Senna and Petrov finished in 15th and 17th place, the worst result of the season, and team principal Eric Boullier called it an ‘embarrassing’ weekend. The team had brought an important upgrade to Singapore, but when it was tested they discovered it didn’t even fit on the car as there was something wrong with the dimensions of the side pods, and had to remove it and used the old aero package instead.
“We never expected our performance to be so embarrassing. Seeing our cars so low in the classification today, clearly struggling for grip among blue flags, was a painful experience,” Boullier commented after the race. Technical Director James Allison agreed and concluded, “Today's race was 61 laps of misery to cap off a weekend of disappointment “
The race for second place is still on
Button is now the only remaining title rival for Vettel, but he of course faces a mission impossible, as he has to win all remaining five races, and Vettel cannot score one single point, and that is realistically speaking not going to happen. What remains this season is the second and third place in the championship, which will be a closely fought battle, Button, Alonso and Webber are within three points of each other, while Hamilton is fifth, 17 points adrift of Button in second place. With still 125 points to be earned anything can happen, but all four drivers are determined to get as many points as they can, and to win as many races as they can.
Alonso, “We have five difficult races ahead of us, but our motivation does not change: at some point maybe we will be able to attack, while there will be other times when we have to defend, but either way, we will always do our best.” Domenicali is confident Alonso still has everything to fight for, “He is still definitely in the running for second place in the Drivers' Championship.” And added, “Now we must roll up our sleeves and maintain our motivation for the remaining races of this season, in which our aim has to remain the same, namely to try and win some races.”
Whitmarsh is convinced Hamilton will bounce back, “Undeniably this year has not been a good one for Lewis Hamilton, he's still got five races and he will regroup and try to win them. He is an extraordinary racing driver and he will win again this year, of that I am sure.” And optimistically added, “Next, though, we go to Suzuka, which is one of the great circuits on the Formula 1 calendar from a driver's point of view. Both Lewis and Jenson will be aiming for ultimate honours there - as indeed they will in all the remaining races of the 2011 season!”
If Button fails to win the Japanese Grand Prix, Vettel will be crowned Word Champion at Suzuka, but Red Bull team advisor Helmut Marko is not in a hurry at all, “Whether we get the world title here in Singapore or in Japan or in Korea, it is no different to me.” And Vettel? “I feel capable but I still have to do it,” he said, adding, “Obviously with the races that we've had so far, it should not be a big problem but it's over when it's over and not before.”