Singapore 2014 Review
F1’s only total night race is upon us once more. Singapore has become a staple on the calendar and has put on a great show for the past 6 years, full of close racing, championship-deciding incidents and even the odd dose of controversy. For their 7th race we were expecting a Mercedes whitewash, but FP3 seemed to point at a Ferrari resurgence as well as Red Bull matching the Silver Arrows.
With an electrical failure in FP3, Ericsson was cutting it fine to have a functioning car for Q1. he would achieve it, but spent much of the session avoiding faster cars. Meanwhile Rosberg overshot a corner, having to reverse back onto the track before continuing with his run. Grosjean also overshot a corner, complaining of weak brakes. Raikkonen and Alonso eventually topped the timesheets in Q1, Sutil heading the Q1 fallers ahead of Maldonado and the youngest teams. As he headed back to the pits Sutil complained of power issues.
Williams seemed to be in damage limitation mode, and doing a bad job of it. Halfway through Q2 neither car was in the top 10. They both made the jump across the cutoff with just over a minute to go but it was incredibly tight. Perez was the first driver to fall, Gutierrez then following suit but beating the Force India. Button and Vergne also fell 11th and 12th, ahead of Hulkenberg. Grosjean could only take 16th as Lotus’ season-long woes continued.
Massa took the initial fastest lap in Q3, Hamilton and Rosberg sitting only 6th and 7th, immediately behind Bottas in the second Williams. Raikkonen's Ferrari let him down with an engine issue, leaving him 4th before everyone else put in their final laps. Hamilton and Rosberg locked out the front row in the end, ahead of a Ricciardo-led Red Bull 3-4. Alonso took 5th ahead of Massa, Raikkonen, Bottas, Magnussen and Kvyat. Rosberg missed out on pole by 0.007 seconds, leading to a very upset and abrupt response from the German when the news was broken to him. From memory this is the closest qualifying session [at the sharp end, at least] since Jerez 1997 when Villeneuve, Michael Schumacher and Frentzen all set a lap of 1:21.072.
An interesting bit of insight from Giedo van der Garde during practice suggested the Ferrari engine was in some ways the worst on the grid. Mercedes obviously has the edge in power terms, but Renault seems to be the more driveable of the other pair. Perhaps that will have an impact over the course of the race – and almost certainly it explains why Williams came into this round ahead of Ferrari in the standings.
Nico Rosberg was having a disaster of a build-up to the race, with some sort of glitch involving the steering wheel that Mercedes couldn’t identify. The problem seemed to be fixed as Nico tested the steering before the formation lap. The car refused to move, however. He lost out to the last car on the grid, meaning he at least dropped to the back of the grid. Kobayashi joined him in difficulties, parking on the formation lap in a runoff area. The Caterham was definitely out with a loss of oil pressure, while the Mercedes was undergoing desperate last-minute work that seemed sadly futile.
Hamilton led from Alonso who ran wide, leaving him a ragged second ahead of Vettel and Ricciardo. Rosberg made the back of the pack, amazingly, before Vettel cleared him in what seemed a yield by the Ferrari after his mistake. Raikkonen held 5th ahead of Massa in the lead Williams.
Rosberg apparently had nothing but the gearshift paddles working on the steering wheel, giving him serious worries for the rest of the race. Alonso, meanwhile was put under investigation for his first corner error, although his deferring to Vettel seemed to appease the stewards as they took no further action. Magnussen was then put under investigation, also for track limits. Eventually that also was put down to the usual behaviour of the first lap and no action was taken.
Once the order settled, Hamilton led from Vettel, Alonso, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Massa, Button, Bottas, Magnussen and Kvyat. Rosberg at the back was struggling to clear Chilton, apparently having acceleration problems to really compound the problems he was having. After 4 laps he final took 20th place. Bianchi, not far ahead with only Ericsson as a cushion to the Mercedes, was also complaining of problems in a straight line against Maldonado. Kvyat was told to “attack Magnussen” at the bottom end of the points.
Vergne jumped Kvyat, perhaps taking his turn to attack the McLaren. We then saw the dashboard of Rosberg: the upshift seemed to go 3rd to 5th, needing a downshift then to find 4th.
Sutil pitted on lap 8, the first car to shed his starting tyres. Hulkenberg made to cover him off a lap later. Rosberg was then messaged about his pit limiter not working, meaning he would have to carefully monitor his speed in the pit lane.
Massa pitted, the first in the points, on lap 10. Raikkonen and Bottas followed suit on lap 11, while Mercedes seemed to be reinventing the pit stop procedure to be safe with Rosberg. At least the brakes aren’t electronically controlled. Massa jumped Raikkonen, while Rosberg was told they’d have to keep the car in gear on the jacks during the stop, as well as a planned steering wheel change for the 3rd time since dawn on raceday. To clarify, this plan involves Nico actually stalling the Mercedes.
Vettel, Alonso and Ricciardo all pitted, staying in the same order. Hamilton made the stop on lap 13, presumably the team playing it safe given his main rival was out of contention.
Vergne was the subject of the 3rd investigation of the day about track limits, while Rosberg inched into his box. The pit wall watched with bated breath while the car sat silently, then revving but stuck in neutral. He aborted his efforts in the end, the car adamant it wasn’t going to move again today. Vergne’s investigation then culminated in a 5-second Stop-Go penalty, which would likely drop him behind Magnussen who he had cleared.
Gutierrez returned to the pits for a second stop on lap 18, suggesting the Sauber might not get much further. Indeed, he was out of the car and retired 20th with an ERS failure. Chilton then had to return to the pits a lap or two after his stop with a front right puncture. Massa made his second stop on lap 22, reacting to Raikkonen behind closing.
Chilton cut up Bottas while being blue flagged. Alonso made a place up against Vettel.
Perez pitted, then promptly got squeezed by Sutil who broke the Force India’s front wing. The Safety Car came out in response. Hamilton was warned to watch for debris too late, already driving over some of the remains of Perez’ nose. The usual flurry of stops followed, with the order now being Hamilton, Vettel, Ricciardo, Alonso, Massa, Bottas, Button, Raikkonen, Vergne and Magnussen. Alonso was looking likely to try to get to the end from the halfway mark thanks to the Safety Car, putting the top 3 under serious pressure.
Magnussen was reminded to drink, but replied that his drink was too hot to drink. Bottas was also complaining of problems, his steering apparently losing performance. Sutil was given a 5 second Stop-Go penalty for exceeding track limits, then turning a second investigation to the actual collision.
The Safety Car headed in at the end of lap 37, with no penalty given for the collision between Sutil and Perez. Hamilton led away from both Red Bulls, Alonso and the Williams pair. Button, Raikkonen, Vergne and Magnussen.
Williams made the call to keep both cars out until the end of the race, while Hamilton was certainly having to pit again. Talking of the pits, Sutil parked his Sauber there and retired 19th. No wonder the team can’t even confirm their presence on the grid next year.
Kvyat was complaining about a lack of a drink, suggesting he too was having some sort of problem with the bottle.
Button was preparing to attack Bottas for 6th as the closing laps loomed. McLaren were having a good race considering their starting positions.
Ericsson moved aside for Perez and that freed the Force India to attack Kvyat also for 13th. Hamilton meanwhile looked likely to come out around Ricciardo if he were to pit in which was surely imminent by lap 51. 10 more laps on the worn tyres seemed too much to ask of the tyres.
Hamilton pitted with 9 laps remaining, just holding off Ricciardo, who was short on power, but falling behind Vettel. Interestingly Red Bull scrambled the pit crew on lap 53, but changed their minds. A yellow flag came out ahead for Button parking with “total shutdown”, Vettel losing his lead to Hamilton at the same time in another part of the track. Vergne was investigated for exceeding track limits at a similar moment while overtaking Maldonado. He re-did the move later, this time taking 10th legally.
Bottas was holding Raikkonen off in the fight for 6th but it was incredibly close, only about a third of a second between them as Hulkenberg and Vergne closed as well, though the latter was going to have 5 seconds added to his time which would demote him behind Magnussen, once again sitting on the outskirts of the points thanks to his teammate’s demise. In about 15 seconds, however, Vergne jumped from 9th to 6th, obviously desperate to get as much of a cushion as possible to those behind to retain some points.
Thanks to the Safety Car we fell a lap short of the official distance. Hulkenberg let teammate Perez past him, while Bottas held back Raikkonen heading into what was now the final lap. Perez made a move on Raikkonen but the Ferrari had him covered. Bottas dropped to 11th in the end, unable to hold the rear any more as the base rubber failed to offer grip.
Hamilton won from Vettel and Ricciardo. Alonso brought the lead Ferrari home in 4th, ahead of Massa, Vergne, Perez, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg and Magnussen. Beyond the points were Bottas, Maldonado, Grosjean, Kvyat, Ericsson, Bianchi and Chilton. Button, the Saubers, Rosberg and Kobayashi failed to finish.
Hamilton now leads the championship by 3 points going into Japan, with 100 points up for grabs over the next 4 races, and another 50 available in Abu Dhabi.