Singapore GP Review by Bob Constanduros
Just as the Malaysian Grand Prix was Lewis Hamilton’s defining Grand Prix in 2016, so the Singapore will probably be regarded as Sebastian Vettel’s in 2017. Lewis couldn’t believe his luck when it rained for the first time on the Singapore Marina Bay circuit for this year’s Grand Prix, but he must have been even more delighted when both Ferraris took out Max Verstappen and themselves at the start of the Grand Prix.
I need to say here and now that I was mistaken on the commentary of that incident. First of all, I thought it was Sebastian’s fault and that if he was penalised, he might face a ban because of the number of penalty points he has after Baku. But of course – as many have since reminded me – he lost penalty points after the British Grand Prix so he was not in danger of a ban. Sorry.
But I wasn’t alone in initially thinking it was Sebastian’s fault. Ferrari’s much criticised press team went completely the other way – of course – and blamed Verstappen. At least I didn’t take that angle – and nor did anyone else.
It was a racing incident and I’m fairly convinced of that. It was a classic startline shunt. Sebastian didn’t make such a good one, but moved over on his front row neighbour Max Verstappen anyway, as any driver does at the start. What he didn’t know was that teammate Kimi Raikkonen had made a blinder on the other side of Max and was also alongside the Dutchman. So as Sebastian was moving left onto Max, so Kimi was making himself some room to take turn one by moving right onto Max and the unfortunate Dutchman was squeezed in the middle.
Perhaps the only real question is why Sebastian hung on in there. He had so much more to lose – as I’ve mentioned in the first paragraph – that he would have been better backing right out of it altogether. That’s all very well to say with the benefit of hindsight but in the heat of the moment, it would have been a very wise old owl that thought that he might be taken out of it and score nul points if he kept his foot buried and the lock to the left. He would have been better going straight on at turn one and rejoining behind others. But again, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
It was amazing the way the pendulum swung in favour of all the top three teams at some stage during the weekend – and ultimately ended up favouring the least likely at the flag. Red Bull looked so good on Friday on a circuit which has favoured them in the past, but then along came Ferrari – the most successful team in Singapore – in qualifying and knocked them out of pole, Sebastian with a lap so good and so exhilarating that his voice was shaking with the adrenaline when interviewed by an equally shaky-voiced Will Buxton (but for different reasons) on the grid. It had clearly been one hell of a ride around the 23 corners of Marina Bay.
And then came the rain. It was amazing how excited and thrilled Lewis Hamilton was by his win and how jubilant he had been when he saw the rain. It didn’t make it easy, because tyre strategies went out of the window with the rain, and all the top three teams had used all their new ultrasofts, not intending to use that tyre again in a dry race where they have to use two different types of slicks. They all had a new set of supersofts for after their planned single stop, but that’s not what they wanted now that they didn’t have to use the red side-walled tyre and could go for the purple one. Having said that, they were all in the same boat – except Ferrari of course – so it didn’t make that much difference.
In a race in which there were fewer finishers since Circuit of the Americas in 2015, it was great to see some of the other performances. Carlos Sainz must have put a smile on the face of Cyril Abiteboul at Renault – as well as Franz Tost’s – with his best ever result. It’s kind of ironic that what was being mooted – and totally denied – in Austria when everyone was suggesting that Carlos would leave Red Bull, has actually come to pass. And Red Bull have been good as their word saying that they have invested in him and want to keep him in the family.
Lewis has finished every single race in the points this year, while Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel have finished all but one – Valtteri’s DNF was in Spain. Further back, Sergio Perez added to his record of finishing every race apart from Baku of course, with another solid race for Force India, backed up in tenth by his teammate, Esteban Ocon, who maintained his 100 percent finishing record with tenth on his 21st birthday, all but one of those finishes – Monaco – in the points.
I was personally really pleased to see Jolyon Palmer in the points and solidly so in Singapore, on a tricky circuit in tough conditions. It may be too late to save his Formula One career – although there are still seats available – but he did a really solid job for sixth place. And of course Stoffel Vandoorne followed him home for his second points score of the season, just one place behind teammate Fernando Alonso’s best McLaren-Honda placing of the season. Am I missing something here when I note that Alonso frequently retires in the closing stages of a GP; maybe it’s strategic so that he can change elements without penalty but someone suggested that a DNF looks better than a 12th or 14th?
And so to that Malaysia-Japan doubleheader with Lewis in a 28 point lead. As we were saying last year with a different combination of drivers, even if Lewis finishes second to Sebastian in the next four races, he will still be on equal points going into the final two in Brazil and Abu Dhabi. There’s still some way to go; watch out for my Malaysia preview next week.