By Bob Constanduros
Lap 49 of the Singapore Grand Prix was the moment critique. Daniel Ricciardo had just made his third pit stop for tyres, changing onto supersofts and finishing the next lap, lap 48, 25s behind Nico Rosberg. There were 13 laps to go and Rosberg could just make another stop and come out in the lead.
But a lap later Ricciardo set fastest lap of the race. The gap was now down to 21s. Rosberg had been held up in traffic and had made a small mistake; 21s was not enough for him to pit and emerge in the lead. He would have to stay out. It was game on: Rosberg out in front on old soft compound tyres, now pursued by the young charger on his new set of softer tyres, willed on by thousands of his compatriots. Ricciardo had 12 laps to reduce that gap and then overtake. Rosberg’s soft compound Pirellis were already 15 laps old.
In successive laps, the gap came down in chunks: 21s became 19s, then 16s, 13s, 11s,then 9.4s, 7.0s and then 5.2s with five laps to go. But next time round the gap went up a tenth; it had plateau-ed. Ricciardo no longer had the initiative and advantage of those newer tyres, Rosberg was able to match him.
Of course, it came down to just under half a second at the chequered flag but what a climax to the Singapore Grand Prix. It was brilliant and just what we wanted. Lewis Hamilton had been just 4.4s behind Ricciardo, also on super softs but he was left behind by the flying Red Bull driver. Rosberg and Ricciardo were in a class of their own on this day.
It hadn’t necessarily been this way throughout the weekend. You’d think that a nudge into the barrier 13 minutes from the end of FP1 might have dented Rosberg’s confidence a little but he certainly didn’t let it show. He came back out to set fastest lap in FP2 on a set of ultrasofts; his teammate was only seventh in that session, having ended it ten minutes early with a hydraulic problem.
Next day, Hamilton was still struggling with lock-ups under braking, principally over the bumps at the end of the longest straight into turn seven. Rosberg ended qualifying 0.7s up on his third placed teammate; Ricciardo was still proving to be the principal adversary.
And so it proved in the race, even if Rosberg eased away from Ricciardo during the opening stages on his ultrasoft compound tyres, the Australian on supersofts. But this was a race where the teams – and Pirelli – weren’t totally certain what they should be wearing and when. The suppliers usually come out with a prediction regarding possible strategies and which compounds would prove quick prior to the race but there was no such offering this time.
At the first stop, Ricciardo stayed on supersofts while both Mercedes went a compound harder onto softs (the hardest compound available). After a while, the lead gap began to come down but stopped at 3.8s before rising again. Five laps later, the leading trio pitted again, this time Ricciardo joining the Mercedes on softs.
They were only on these for about 12 laps, but a 5.6s lead for Rosberg came down to 3.0s before Hamilton came in and undercut Raikkonen who he had fallen behind, the Mercedes driver changing to supersofts again, as did Ricciardo who emerged 25s behind Rosberg for that final chase to the flag.
Although Raikkonen had run third, Ferrari were never really in the hunt, particularly as four time Singapore winner Sebastian Vettel was relegated to the back of the grid when a rear suspension link failed in Q1. However, fourth and fifth wasn’t a bad result at the flag, while Max Verstappen finished sixth from fourth on the grid after a poor start, not one of his most sparkling races.
We thought we would see more from Toro Rosso starting sixth and seventh, Force India and even Williams but the Toros sandwiching Hulkenberg at the start claimed the Force India driver, damaged one of the Italian cars and also Bottas, so that Alonso scored points for McLaren and Perez came through from a penalised 17th on the grid.
All in all, it was a fine Singapore Grand Prix again, a fabulous showcase for Formula One and one which must have impressed F1’s new chairman Chase Carey who was present and attracting much attention. CVC’s Donald McKenzie was there as well, in spite of saying in Monza that it was his last race, but the new era had well and truly begun with a bang.
The Singapore Grand Prix is a great event; Kylie Minogue and Adam Lambert with Queen (sorry we kept calling him Alan!) were providing the off-track free entertainment plus others. Shame we didn’t get to see them, but at least it was a little more social than in the past. I’ve often criticised the race as being the most unsocial of the year; we try to stay on European time so we’re out on the town at about 2am, looking for somewhere to have a beer and eat.
Singapore’s pretty closed at that time even though there are loads of taxis running around. It’s just a matter of finding the right place and on Wednesday evening, with three non-motor racing friends who just happened to be there on business, we searched two of the main hotels for an open bar without success – at 11.30am! It was pretty disappointing. But things got better from there on and having found a very good Indian restaurant at Boat Quay, we ate there three times! An Italian colleague, however, was horrified to be offered Chips Bolognaise, such is the inventiveness of Singapore.
There are usually a fair number of ‘one-offs’ in Singapore but probably not this year although Lewis Hamilton might prefer to see his performance that way. Will it all change, down the road in Malaysia? We shall see…