Rencken: Singapore is F1's star
In just five years the Singapore Formula 1 GP has established itself as a classic; one of the most challenging rounds on the calendar. Sunday’s (scheduled) 61-lap event proved precisely why with the (eventual) 59-lap night race having the works...
Enough rain on Friday to send some up blind allies; scintillating pole lap by overall the fastest driver on the current grid; two pace car phases brought about by harmless but spectacular crashes, one through a seven-time champion, a true legend of the sport, committing a rookie error – for the third time in 12 months…
20 INNOCENT LAPS
Add a champion-packed podium and four World champions ending in the top five, with the interloper being a relative youngster driving for a hitherto unfancied team; prior to this another champion retired after being cruelly hit by mechanical gremlins while comfortably ahead – thus this nail-biting season’s toughest race on the most arduous of all circuits ran to the two-hour maximum in delivering a most worthy result as the 20-round season heads into its final third.
Save for the fact that the race started at 8pm Singapore time in 30C/70% humidity heat on a track illuminated by 1500 spotlights producing a combined 3000 lux the first 20 laps went off innocently enough.
Pole starter Lewis Hamilton, running to the supersoft-used/soft-new/soft-new strategy invariably selected by the top 10, played his lead over Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and McLaren team mate Jenson Button until lap 23, when disaster struck. Until then the trio had circulated within seconds of each other, bouncing off forbidding kerbs, skimming walls and shaving apexes.
Then it all kicked off: Hamilton, the provisional championship runner-up, found a gearbox full of neutrals in a repeat of an issue he suffered on Saturday and he was out in a haze of smoke, allowing Germany’s (double) defending champion to assume the lead.
SCHUMIE DOES IT AGAIN
Sebastian Vettel knew he could keep Jenson Button at bay so went into conservation mode while behind them the relentless championship leader Fernando Alonso was stuck behind the mercurial Pastor Maldonado, who started from the front row for Williams, then slipped back in the run to Turn 1. Given Maldonado’s reputation, the Ferrari driver was cautious, if occasionally bold, as he trailed the blue/white car…
Come lap 33 Narain Karthikeyan changed the face of the race behind the leading duo by crashing. The narrowness of the track and closeness of the walls meant the pace car was deployed for the seventh time in five races on the Marina Bay Circuit – and within a lap of the silver Merc pitting it would be eight after Michael Schumacher, in a carbon copy of his 2011 attack here on Sergio Perez, in an identical misjudgement to his crash into Bruno Senna in Barcelona in May, found his Mercedes sucked into the back of Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso.
Romain Grosjean was banned for a race after repeat offences; thus Schumacher’s 10 grid places penalty for Suzuka in a fortnight can only be filed under ‘Lenient’, particularly as he was docked five places in Monaco for the Senna incident, yet seems not to have learned. Old dogs, new tricks…
Maldonado pitted under the first pace car session for replacement rubber, allowing Alonso to jump him, then suffered hydraulic failure during the second safety period, pitting into retirement and elevating Alonso to the undisputed final podium place he desperately needed to retain as large a cushion over his challengers as possible after being fifth in qualifying in a car patently not up scratch.
In the process he broke Ayrton Senna’s record for 80 career podiums which, given the sub-standard equipment the Spaniard has at times in his career had to deal with, attests to his indefatigability. Regardless of how fate deals with Vettel, Hamilton, Button or Mark Webber – who had a lamentable weekend in Singapore for Red Bull, eventually being classified 11th – Alonso is up there gleefully doffing his red cap, and that is the real story of this championship season.
Remarkably Singapore was only Vettel’s second victory of 2012 – he took Bahrain in April - but it proved enough to leap-frog him past Hamilton in the standings and to within 27 points of Alonso’s 194 with six rounds remaining.
Paul di Resta scored his best career finish with fourth for Force India and one wonders when Vijay Mallya’s luridly coloured cars will at last reach the podium. Nico Rosberg brought consolation to Mercedes with a low-key fifth ahead of the equally unspectacularly Lotus duo of Kimi Raikkonen and Grosjean. Kimi’s reward was, though, third in the championship behind Vettel and ahead of Hamilton, Webber and Button – despite his not winning a race this season.
Felipe Massa found himself in the wars on the opening lap, limping back to the pits with a puncture and rejoining last. This enabled the Brazilian to run a more aggressive strategy, two stints on softs-new, with a final 25-lap burst on super soft-news which propelled his Ferrari up the order to eighth.
TRIBUTE TO THE DOC
Daniel Ricciardo and Webber tussled at the back of the top 10, both Australian and both Red Bull-sponsored (albeit the former under Toro Rosso). However, the latter was docked 20 seconds for leaving the track while overtaking, dropping him behind Monza hero Perez, who rounded off the points’ scorers with 10th.
After the race Vettel dedicated his win to Sid Watkins, the FIA’s former medical delegate and safety crusader who the previous week succumbed to cancer. “It’s great to get the win today,” Vettel said. “I’d like to dedicate it to Professor Sid Watkins. It’s thanks to all the work he did to bring safety advancements to the sport that we can race on circuits like this.”
Indeed, with the good news being that Singapore has extended its race-hosting contract by five years to 2017, having negotiated a better deal with Bernie Ecclestone (some say as much as a 30% discount). Which proves how highly rated this race is… Bernie didn’t achieve multi-billionaire status by being overly generous…