New Sasol GTC cars set for thrills

The iconic Grand Prix Circuit will present a new challenge to the GTC drivers as they tackle the country’s fastest racetrack on June 16.

Suzuki’s new Swift hatch and sedan in SA

Suzuki kicks off its new model assault with an all new Swift hatchback and standalone sedan called the Dzire.

Vettel under ire with 3 in a row

2013-09-23 07:30


RELENTLESS NO.1: Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel isn't fazed about being booed after winning the 2013 Singapore GPImage: AFP

SINGAPORE, Malaysia - Three times in a row now Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing have absolutely dominated a Formula 1 GP while Spaniard Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari has finished a distant second and each time the reigning (successive) triple World champion –on target for a comfortable youngest four-times title holder – has been booed.

However, as is to be expected from a world-class athlete, the German’s response was hardly one of contrition: “As long as they keep booing, we're doing a good job...” he said post-race told in Singapore after winning by more than 30 seconds despite a pace car phase neutralising a 13-second gap midway through the 61-lap night race.


That he planned to utterly destroy the opposition became clear the moment the sun set on the glittering yet uncompromising street circuit on Friday night.

Yes, Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) set the fastest time during the late afternoon first free practice session but it was clear Red Bull was simply optimising its considerable package, and, once darkness fell, the rest saw only odd few sparks as the blue car effortlessly rode the highest kerbs on the trail.

If Saturday’s FP3 was a case of same again, qualifying underscored Vettel’s enormous performance advantage: in Q3 the 26-year-old went for a banker on Pirelli’s Supersofts - the weekend’s alternate compound was the Italian company’s Medium– he cockily sat out the rest of session, in the process saving a set of new Supersofts for use on Sunday night.

Vettel said after Nico Rosberg, Romain Grosjean and team mate Mark Webber all shaded his first two sector times: “It's already strange when you stand in the garage with only two minutes left in the session but much worse when you see the others making their final attempt and there's nothing you can do! Fortunately my last sector was fast enough to just stay ahead.”
Vettel’s confidence was not, though, misplaced: He took pole on an uncompromising track recognised for its overtaking difficulty by a tenth from Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), who threw everything (including a set of new rubber) at lining up alongside his compatriot. A long two hours loomed, with humid (but dry) 30-degree weather adding to the discomfort suffered in all garages bar Vettel’s…


At the start Rosberg out-braked Vettel into Turn 1 but slid wide then had the door shut ruthlessly when tried another move going into Turn 3.Thereafter the closest anybody got to Vettel until Lap 24 was while being lapped.

The gap increased progressively, being two seconds at the end of the opening lap, growing to six after as many laps and double that when future team mate Daniel Ricciardo parked his sister Toro Rosso in the unyielding walls lining the rather angular five- kilometre Marina Bay Circuit.

Fernando Alonso, then fifth after running third following some demon opening lap overtakes from a fraught seventh on the grid, anticipated the pace car and rapidly peeled into the narrow pits lane ahead of schedule, as did most of those behind his Ferrari, but the front-runners were past the point of no return when the call for the car came.

This would change the face of what had been a tedious race thus far.

When the pace car came in after Ricciardo’s debris had been sorted the top four (Vettel, Rosberg, Webber, Hamilton) had all made a single stop, while the majority from there back, led by Alonso, benefitted from a mix of fresher compounds.


The gamble for early stoppers was whether they could eke out 30 laps on their Mediums, having initially planned around a 20-lap final stint; those at the sharp end knew they needed to hammer away to negate their stop disadvantage, thus enlivening the race.

It all came to a head at the two-thirds mark, with all bar Vettel, who had by then built a 30-second lead, tumbling down the order during their second (and final) stops as an overtaking fest hit the midfield as faster cars hauled in the early-stoppers, now on worn rubber.

Vettel, though, exited the pits lane on Lap 44 four seconds up on Alonso but despite his gap there was still no halting him: he had re-extended that to 32 seconds when the flag dropped after a race ran to within a minute of the two-hour maximum.

“The last 10 laps seemed to go on for ever from inside the car,” said the winner after his 41st career victory and third consecutive Singapore win. “I kept my concentration by reminding myself how easily you can make a mistake here, the walls are close and if you don’t pay attention it can go wrong pretty quickly.

“I focused on hitting the brakes correctly and saving the tyres. We didn’t expect to be that strong, but it’s a team effort.”

Alonso retained second from Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus), who, with seven laps remaining, pulled off a sublime move around the outside of Jenson Button to deny McLaren its first podium of 2013. The Finn had started 13th after suffering a repeat of the back issues that previously dogged him.


Having been at the centre of an intra-team storm after telling the media he was leaving Lotus after not being fully paid this year by the cash-strapped team, Raikkonen again found himself the darling of the black/gold brigade after his superb performance. No wonder Ferrari took him back after firing him in 2009.

Webber jumped Rosberg during the final stops, the Australian leading the two Mercedes as they fought through the field, overtaking Saubers and McLarens with gay abandon, with Webber, whose departure for sports-car racing with Porsche from 2014 opened his cockpit to Ricciardo, gunning for the podium.

However, he was ordered to roll back, and none too soon: with half a lap remaining his Renault engine blew spectacularly, dropping him out to a classified 15th. “Unfortunately the engine in the ‘wrong’ Red Bull blew,” a rueful-looking Stefano Domenicali, team boss of Ferrari, smilingly told W24 afterwards as he considered the 33-point ‘swing’ retirement by Vettel would have given Alonso, the former’s only realistic title challenger.   

However, Webber’s misfortune secured fourth and fifth for Mercedes, with the three-stopping Felipe Massa, told last week that he would be making way for Räikkönen’s return, taking a fine sixth from sixth on the grid after ‘doing’ team mate Alonso in qualifying.


McLaren’s duo of Button and Sergio Perez was next up in that order, with Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber) and Force India’s Adrian Sutil banking the remaining top 10 slots. Retirements were posted by Ricciardo (crash), Grosjean (Lotus, engine hydraulics) and Paul di Resta (Force India, crash).

With six rounds (of 19) remaining the Tale of the Title is: Vettel leading comfortably on 247 points, with Alonso on 187, the 60-point gap effectively providing the champion-elect with a two-race cushion (and then some).

Put differently, Vettel could retire from both rounds of the next double-header in Korea/Japan and still head to India at end-October with a 10-point margin even if Alonso takes successive victories. Hamilton (151) is a distant third, two points up on Raikkonen. As for the Constructor’s division, Red Bull is again a shoo-in, holding an advantage of more than 100 points.

All of which leaves Red Bull with a major dilemma: continue with the team’s winning ways, thereby risking the wrath of fans who could switch away from drinking said energy drink, or brake Vettel in the interests of marketing.

The brand exists, after all, to sell cans, not dominate GP racing. Alonso can but hope the latter option is chosen, for he has no further hope this year…

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