Singapore GP - Sunday - Race Report
Lewis's starry night
Lewis Hamilton demolished the opposition in Singapore in his McLaren-Mercedes. It is too late to do anything about the World Championship, but the World Champion can show his class - and he did...
The race also saw Jenson Button improve his chances of winning the World Championship as he increased his lead over his team-mate Rubens Barrichello for the first time in nearly two months. Button did a great job to go from a lacklustre 11th to finish fifth, while Barrichello blew his hopes of closing the gap when he stalled during a pit stop.
But don't think that this was a great race. It was not. It was spectacular because F1 cars running at speed in the dark can be nothing less than that, but the action was very limited. The cars tended to be stuck in trains. This is a function of the cars, but also the result of the track design. Singapore made some changes this year. It needs to have another think.
But at least this race was a proper win, without any of the duplicity that surrounded Fernando Alonso's win a year ago. Alonso finished third and this gave him access to the world's TV audience and he made a most interesting choice by dedicating his result to Flavio Briatore, the man who has been flung out of F1 for having orchestrated the Singapore plot in 2008. By doing so, Fernando did several things. He virtually confirmed that he is not staying with the Renault team next year - and so will be off to Ferrari, as everyone has suspected for months on end. At the same time he sent out a very bad message by appearing to support Briatore. No good will come of that.
Alonso drove a decent race, as often he does, but it would have been wiser to have been loyal to his team and to the sport, rather than to a discredited friend.
The biggest challenge to Hamilton actually came from Nico Rosberg, but he blew his chances in the middle of the race - not for the first time.
At the start Hamilton got away well but Sebastian Vettel was rather slow. Rosberg was past him in a flash. In the course of the rough-and-tumble on the opening lap Mark Webber pulled off a nice move on Alonso for fourth place, going around the outside of the Renault, in part because Fernando gave him no choice. This however was ruled to have been unacceptable and so he was told by the stewards to give back the place and to allow Glock through as well.
"I had a hell of fight with Fernando in Turn 7 and we both ran wide," Webber said. "About nine laps later I had to let Fernando back through, but unfortunately Glock was in the middle by then, so I had to let them both through. My race was heavily compromised from there. I thought the incident was 50-50, but the stewards decided I had to let Fernando and Glock through so I lost the hard work I'd done during my first stint. It was a hard penalty, I think. Kimi did something similar in Spa and got away with it."
A fair point.
All this meant that at the end of lap one Hamilton led Rosberg, Vettel, Webber, Glock and Alonso, with Barrichello leading Kubica, Kovalainen, Button, Nakajima, Buemi and Raikkonen. In the laps that followed Hamilton tried to break away but Rosberg stayed with him. We soon lost Grosjean who retired with brake problems after just three laps.
The field quickly fell into place with no-one able to make any moves, even if the car ahead was a little slower. Vettel stayed with the top two.
Further back Alguersuari was slow and had a gaggle of cars in his wake, led by the impetuous Sutil. Behind them Fisichella got in Liuzzi's way. On lap 13 Tonio had a go and got alongside the Ferrari but Fisichella chopped across and the pair touched and Liuzzi had to give way.
The Red Bulls needed to make an impression early on if they were to be real challengers and this they failed to do, so we knew that they were not really in the hunt and that the race would therefore be decided between Hamilton and Rosberg. This became ever more clear when Vettel stopped after 15 laps. Rosberg surprised everyone by coming in earlier than he needed to but it really made no great difference because when the stops were coming to an end the order at the front was the same as it had been before. The bad news for Williams was that in his haste to leave the pitlane Nico had slid wide over the white line at the pit exit and that meant a penalty. This was a disaster.
The problem was exacerbated when the Safety Car was sent out because Sutil finally messed up (as we knew he would) and bumped himself into a spin while challenging Alguersuari. He then tried to restart and drove straight into the path of Heidfeld, ruining the BMW Sauber's race and earning himself a fine.
"I tried a few times to pass him but I finally saw a chance," Sutil said. "I tried and it wasn't enough - I was a little late on the brakes, spun and that's it. Then Nick came around the corner and hit my front wing as I was stuck in the corner. I didn't see him coming as I was on the move already and couldn't react to it. It was a race incident."
"I think we need to find Sutil a new brain," Nick tactfully told the German media as he stomped back to the paddock.
Sutil was able to rejoin after picking up a new nose, but he later went out with brake troubles.
The Safety Car was out between laps 21 and 25 and this skewed many of the strategies. It helped Vettel to catch up with Hamilton and for a while it seemed like the German was going to challenge for victory but then Sebastian dived into the pits again and dropped back to seventh. He was caught speeding in pitlane and so had to do a drive-through and so fell back two more places.
After that Hamilton had no challengers. Glock was there and Alonso was behind him but they were really irrelevant.
"There was no serious pressure," Hamilton said. "I was looking after my tyres and it paid dividends later."
Glock finished second after a strong drive.
"This was a timely podium for us," Timo said. "We have had a really good weekend and this is a great reward for the team. After a solid qualifying the pace was good in the race so I am really happy for the team and myself. It was important to get in front of Fernando on the first lap and I was disappointed I didn't do it at the start. I saw he was fighting with Mark and I just dived in and made the pass. It paid off because after that our strategy worked well; it was the key point in my race. I was just concentrating the whole race on my speed and we didn't make any mistakes."
Alonso finished third and was happy because Renault had taken a battering of late.
"This is a fantastic result for us, our first podium of the season," he said. "A very important one for Renault. It's been a difficult time for the team, but now we can put that behind us and concentrate on the remaining races."
Then he spoiled it with his daft dedication.
Vettel ended up in fourth place and had to be happy with that.
"We were on the limit with the brakes, so I was lifting earlier than normal and braking a little more smoothly when I was in traffic," he said. "Sometimes I had to drop off a bit to cool them too before I could push again."
This was wise given that Webber had gone spinning off earlier on when a brake failed and pitched him into the wall. That was the end of his title hopes.
The man who followed Vettel home had more to be cheerful about as Button increased his lead with fifth place. He had started the race with a load of fuel and so was able to make up places when the Safety Car came and others had to stop.
"I got stuck behind Heikki Kovalainen for quite a few laps, but when he pitted I was able to get past him," Button said "I could see Rubens pulling away because he was stopping four or five laps shorter than me and I couldn't do anything. The safety car was frustrating because I was going three or four laps longer than Heikki. When he pitted I should have had three full laps and would have done Rubens and maybe Mark Webber, but it didn't work for me then."
Button was still happy. Barrichello was not.
"I had a problem on my second pit stop when I couldn't engage neutral and the engine stalled which lost me the crucial time needed to stay ahead of Jenson," he said. "After that my brakes were struggling and I couldn't fight anymore so we came home in sixth. I only lost a point to Jenson in the championship despite everything."
Kovalainen was next to get home but he should have done better given what Hamilton achieved.
"I couldn't go quicker," he said. "I drove to the pace I could with this car. I struggle a bit to maintain the tyre's performance and the car gets out of shape if I try to increase my pace, so I can't carry more speed through the corners."
The last point went to Kubica, although he would have done better if the Safety Car had fallen differently. He was also struggling with tyres. He said later that he had never worked so hard for a point.
Towards the end Kubica had Nakajima and Raikkonen on his tail but nothing much happened.
The Ferrari result was decidedly drab.
"The car was sliding everywhere," Raikkonen said. "I had no grip. In the final part, with the softer tyres, the situation improved a bit, but by then it was too late. I closed up to Nakajima and, a few times, I tried to risk a passing move, but here it's really difficult to overtake unless the guy in front makes a mistake."
Behind them the rest were of little import. Fisichella did not look much like a Ferrari driver and spent the race in Liuzzi's way. At the end the Force India dropped away with troubles with the soft tyres.
Toro Rosso lost both cars on the 47th lap. Buemi with a gearbox problem and Alguersuari with fried brakes.