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RENCKEN's Singapore wrap-up

2011-09-26 08:44


Nine victories, four second places and a fourth in 2011's 14 races to date: it can’t really get any better for Sebastian Vettel, can it? Well, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”, for in that time he has scored 11 pole positions and not been off the front row. Add in that Mark Webber – himself no slouch – has not won a race with the same Red Bull car; in fact has only placed second twice, and the extent of Vettel’s domination is abundantly clear.

Sunday’s victory in Singapore’s night race was a lesson in perfection: Vettel controlled the race right down to the last moments, eventually winning from Jenson Button by only 1.737sec after 1hour 59 minits and 6.757 seconds of racing - the longest continuous GP in recent history, certainly since the the two-hour limit was introduced.


After the race, Sebastian stated exactly how close it had been, admitting “it was not that big a margin”, but adding the rider “I was in control”. The comment was not made with all the arrogance of a high-achieving 24-year-old brat; he was simply stating an indisputable fact.

Jenson Button drove a great race to second, having started third and thus having the benefit of the clean grid side. It showed: after the field had sorted itself out after the Turn 1 funnel, those starting first, third and fifth were first, second and third while two, four and six were behind them. But, traction assist aside, Button needed to drive the car on a tricky circuit at night while thwarting the advances Webber, Fernando Alonso and his team mate Lewis Hamilton.

Oh, yes, Hamilton: the 2008 World champion has now been involved in more incidents than the season has had races and still there seems to be no reining him in. Not content with barging Felipe Massa out of the way in Saturday’s Q3 session, he did it properly in the race, puncturing the Brazilian Ferrari driver’s rear tyre, dropping him to an eventual ninth.

Lewis, meanwhile, received a thoroughly deserved drive-through penalty, but post-race the feeling in the floodlit paddock was that even a series of such penalties will not curb his irresponsible style, with triple champion Jackie Stewart suggesting to that only “a dark moment” would bring the driver to his senses.

‘LET US SPRAY!’ Sebastian Vettel, winner of the 2011 Singapore F1 GP, lets McLaren’s Jenson Button (left) and team mate Mark Webber have it from the Champagne bottle. Button was second and Webber third. Image: AFP

Sir Jackie’s “dark moment” leaves little to the imagination, but the 1970’s safety crusader added: “We have come within millimetres in recent times…” just to make the point.

But, back to Button, arguably the most composed driver on the grid and visibly at peace with himself. During F1’s August break he invited his mother to the Guernsey pile he and partner Jessica share for a week, then did the cooking… His relaxed attitude shines through every GP weekend and it is little wonder that he alone remains Vettel’s sole challenger for the title – albeit a long shot – while Hamilton is a serial visitor to the stewards.

Third went to Mark Webber, whose frustration at not winning a race his year despite having the same kit as Vettel was evident when he on Thursday he verbally abused a journalist who asked his feelings about that fact. Yes, Mark apologised that evening, but the incident is a pointer to the pressure he is under, and he drove a superb race to third after slipping back to fourth from second at the start.

Still, one gets the feeling that he will view 2011 as a lost cause unless he wins a race PDQ.

Fernando Alonso, second in the title hunt on arrival in the enchanting Asian city-state – which must take a large share of the credit for the night race’s success, for Singapore has gone all out to ensure that no aspect of the event is found wanting – left the airport in third place and out of the running after finishing fourth, having run third at one stage. Ferrari currently has the third-quickest car out there, so P5 and 6 is about its lot in qualifying – and from there the podium is pretty much out of reach unless Ferrari’s race cards fall exactly right.


Alonso, the 2005/6 champion, finished one spot ahead of Hamilton who, yes, overtook 14 cars in his charge into the top five after a change of nose and the drive-through dropped him down the field, but it would have been so much simpler to just keep a cool head and place even higher. The unfathomable aspect is that team boss Martin Whitmarsh defends his drivers’ indiscretions when, in fact, Hamilton should be in line for some stern discussions, possibly even in public.

Rookie Paul di Resta took a fine sixth for Force India to firm his hold on his seat for 2012, the Scot having recently regularly outperformed team mate Adrian Sutil, who drove an uninspired race to eighth, the combined result consolidating its sixth place on the Constructors’ log behind Red Bull Racing, McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault – last-named having an “embarrassing” Singapore in the words of team boss Eric Boullier, placing 15the and 17th.

Sandwiched by the two green/white/orange cars was Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), compromised by the pace car deployment in the wake of team mate Michael Schumacher’s crash into the wall after misjudging the distance to Sergio Perez’s Sauber. Michael is another serial visitor to the stewards and received a reprimand for the incident - again, one wonders to what effect.


Perez claimed the final point, finishing behind Massa in ninth, the Brazilian after the race making his anger at Hamilton’s antics clear. “My thoughts are that, again, I told you yesterday that he cannot use his mind,” he said.

F1 now heads for the final double-header of the season, Japan/Korea on October 9 and 16 respectively. Both are flowing circuits, so expect the pecking order to vary – behind Vettel, who will likely score the single point he needs to take a second consecutive title, making him the youngest double champion in the 61-year history of the sport.


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