F1 CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND 14 - SINGAPORE
By Hamzah Rahman
Welcome to the 14th round of the 68th season of Formula 1, where Sebastien Vettel aims to retake his lead over title rival, Lewis Hamilton. Here, at Marina Bay, Singapore, under the dazzling lights of a night-time city, with the Silver Arrows of Mercedes taking the championship lead at Monza, Italy and Spa, Belgium a few weeks earlier, and Ferrari preparing for dominating form- we can expect a thriller of a race.
The slow entry, twisty nature of Marina Bay’s street track gives an advantage to the Ferrari of Sebastien Vettel and Kimi Raikonnen, with their shorter wheelbase and higher ride height giving them and aerodynamic and turning edge over the Mercedes’ of Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas.
With the rain starting to pour down in Singapore, the race will be the first ever night and wet one in the history of Formula 1; undoubtedly, this poses a risk for Ferrari, who know that anything can happen in slippery and difficult conditions.
With all the cars on either the Intermediate or Full wet tyres at 8pm local time, IT’S LIGHTS OUT at Marina Bay! Vettel makes an excellent start, but so does Verstappen, who sees an opening on the inside of Vettel leading to turn one. Vettel covers him off and squeezes him, sending the Red Bull into Ferrari of Raikonnen beside him; who takes a hard hit and goes for a spin. Verstappen’s Red Bull then careers into the sidepod of Vettel’s car, creating a large hole, but unfazed, Vettel turns into the first corner, in the lead. The spinning Ferrari of Raikonnen continues to skid down the track; and with the front right tyre and suspension broken, he is no longer in control. McLaren’s Alonso takes the outside line, and with a brief moment of elation, being in third place from 9th on the grid, gets a hard shunt from the left of Raikonnen’s wrecked Ferrari, and his dreams shatter, much like the underfloor of his car. 20 seconds in, and we already have two retirements, Max Verstappen of Red Bull, and Kimi Raikonnen of Ferrari.
Vettel continues on after the first corner, laying down the power, but then takes a spin, as engine coolant leaking from the hole in his car is sprayed over the rear tyres. He crashes into the wall, and is left rolling backwards, with a broken front wing. He says over the radio solemnly “P-0, sorry guys… P-0”. That’s one more retirement to add to the two we have already. At the end of the dramatic first lap, Hamilton leads, with Ricciardo and Hulkenberg finishing off the top three.
The safety car is sent out at the end of lap 4, with Hamilton leading. He fights off Ricciardo’s valiant charge after the safety car came in, but his teammate Bottas struggles for pace and is overtaken by a few cars, including Palmer. Alonso, who took a heavy hit at the start of the race is dropping places, and is told over the radio to retire the car due to excessive engine damage.
Sainz and Kvyat continue their overtaking spree, with Ocon and Magnussen being their next targets; however, Kvyat for an instant decides to become a torpedo and launches himself into the barriers at turn 7. Another safety car is sent out as the debris is cleared. The leaders of the race with the exclusion of the two Mercedes’ take advantage of the safety car and come into the pits for a new set of Intermediate wets, as the track is starting to dry, albeit very slowly.
On Lap 16, Magnussen takes the inside line and divebombs Ocon to claim P12, and soon thereafter P11 as Massa comes in for a new set of Intermediates; which was bad strategy as he should have done so during the safety car period.
Lap 22, Hamilton sets the fastest lap, a few tenths above 2 minutes, and has made a gap of 4.2 seconds to Ricciardo, who is still in 2nd. Despite a few wet patches here and there, Magnussen dares the change onto slick tyres, pitting onto Ultrasofts on lap 25.
The quickening pace of Magnussen, who is even beating the lap times of the front-runners, confirm that it is indeed high time for changing onto slicks- with the entire grid coming in to pit. Hamilton pits at the end of lap 29, along with Ricciardo and Bottas, such that Hamilton would come back out in front of them and wouldn’t have to worry about playing catchup.
Perez and Sainz are having a scrap for P5, whilst Palmer is defending his P7 from Vandoorne, who is less than a second behind. Grosjean, Magnussen and Ocon fight for P12, with Magnussen eventually losing both places to the other two due to worn out tyres.
Yet another safety car is out, as Ericsson spins out on a wet patch on lap 38 and crashes into a wall, leaving his car stranded in the middle of the track. By lap 40, the thirty-minute expiry time is enabled, as the maximum race length of two hours is certainly going to be surpassed. This means whatever position people are at on the last lap after 30 minutes will decide the finishing order.
12 minutes remaining and the order hasn’t changed much, save for a retirement from Magnussen, who has a MGU-K issue (part of the engine that harnesses from the brakes and deploys it into the driveline), and another from Hulkenberg, who has an engine coolant issue.
On the 58th and final lap, Lewis Hamilton crossed the finish line to take P1, followed by Ricciardo, Bottas completing the podium finishers. Sainz takes an impressive 4th, with Perez and Palmer finishing next. Vandoorne, Stroll, Grosjean and Ocon close off the top 10.
Mercedes have been blessed with a miracle here at Singapore, at a track that was to be a Ferrari domination. First the rain, and then the (first ever) double Ferrari retirements gave Lewis Hamilton valuable points to increase his lead even more over Sebastien Vettel, which now stands at +28.
MALAYSIA AND JAPAN- FERRARI’S CHAMPIONSHIP FIGHT OVER?
Two weeks later brought an opportunity for Ferrari to redeem themselves at the Malaysian GP. But it was not to be; Sebastien Vettel’s Ferrari suffered engine issues, and had to take replacement parts-giving him a penalty that dropped him to 20th position on the grid. Starting from the back of the pack curtailed his chance to catch-up to newly crowned title leader Lewis Hamilton. A vicious fight from Vettel brought him from P20 to P4, and minimised the damage done to his title hopes, with Hamilton leading with 34 points.
A week thereafter heralded the Japanese GP, one where Vettel has excelled in the past. With a mindset to win, Vettel looked unstoppable, qualifying P3, and in dominant form, it seemed to be a victory in the making for Vettel. But the racing gods turned on the prancing horse of Ferrari- and disaster! In lap 4, Vettel’s engine lost power in one of the sparkplugs, reducing power output by 1/6th and forcing him to retire the car. Lewis Hamilton went on to win the race, and he himself was bewildered by the immense lead he had over his rival.
Hamilton’s lead is 59 points. Vettel refuses to go down without a fight. Four races remain. Only one shall be crowned the 2017 Formula 1 Champion.
Photo credits:- Red Bull Racing, Sky Sports