Singapore GP - Sunday - Race Report
Vettel ignites hat-trick challenge
Sebastian Vettel's second victory of the season, his first since Bahrain back in April, has put him back in touch in his quest for a hat-trick of world titles.
Singapore always looked like being a straight fight between Lewis Hamilton and Vettel. The pair dominated qualifying although it was Hamilton who excelled while Vettel did not quite get his Q3 lap together and qualified behind Pastor Maldonado's Williams.
Maldonado, memorable winner in Spain, has not scored a point in the nine races since and it had been impressed upon him in no uncertain terms that strong points rather than a glory run, were required.
When Vettel challenged aggressively through Turns 1 and 2, Maldonado did not fight too hard and Vettel was able to track Hamilton in the early laps. He stayed within 2s until, on lap 9, his tyres dropped off by around a second and a half and he pitted next time around.
Team mate Webber had been in a couple of laps earlier but that was strategic, an attempt to get the Australian into clean air after he qualified seventh. Webber's three-stop plan was ultimately scuppered by a second Safety Car period when Michael Schumacher clobbered the back of Jean Eric Vergne's Toro Rosso after the Red Bull had already made his second stop.
Race leader Hamilton stopped two laps after Vettel, while Jenson Button ran to the end of lap 14, suggesting that a two-stop strategy was very possible for him. The team had planned the same for Lewis but it became immaterial when the lead McLaren stopped after 22 laps with a gearbox failure.
Vettel had already informed his team a couple of laps earlier that he was being sprayed with oil. It was a bitter pill for Hamilton to swallow and amounted to four non-scores for Lewis in seven starts. It dropped him to 52 points behind Alonso in the title fight. Hamilton, however, remains positive that he can still win it.
With Hamilton out, Jenson Button was the main threat to Vettel but the likely payback of a longer first stint in terms of fresher tyres at the end was negated by the two Safety Car periods. In the final analysis Jenson was not as strong on Pirelli's prime tyre and could not offer a challenge to Vettel in the closing laps, finishing 9s down.
Maldonado's promise also disappeared when he was called into the pits to retire with a hydraulic problem just after half distance.
Williams actually suffered a double failure when Bruno Senna, who had driven impressively to make up ground after starting 22nd with a changed gearbox penalty, had to pull off just before the end with a sudden loss of power.
The team suspected a KERS problem and the message to Bruno sounded a little alarming: jump out of the car rather than climb out, and don't touch the car and the ground at the same time. The car may not be safe. Oh, and try to stop beside a fire hydrant...
The respective mechanical dramas up front once again played into the hands of Alonso. On Saturday he proclaimed that the Ferrari did not have race-winning pace here and so the target was to finish on the podium, and ahead of three of his four main title rivals -- which is precisely what he did, in third place 6s down on Button's McLaren.
Mark Webber's three-stop plan, as mentioned, was spoiled by the timing of the Safety car interventions and, after battling through to take the final point for 10th place, he lost it shortly afterwards when the race stewards ruled that he'd put all four wheels off the designated track passing Kamui Kobayashi's Sauber in Turn 7.
Webber, who had been reprimanded earlier in the weekend for going off the circuit in qualifying, suffered a retrospective Drive Through penalty in the form of 20s being added to his race time, which promoted Sergio Perez's Sauber to the final point-scoring position.
Kimi Raikkonen was never a threat to the front runners in Singapore and was frustrated by the amount of time lost behind the Mercedes of Rosberg and Schumacher. He was also unlucky with the timing of the first Safety Car, just after his second pit stop, and in the final analysis Lotus had to be content with sixth and seventh places for Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean respectively, the Frenchman ceding track position to assist his team mate's championship challenge.
Rosberg got his Mercedes to the line fifth, his best result since his runner-up slot at Monaco back in May, but that was fully 15s behind Paul Di Resta, who drove another fine Singapore race from sixth on the grid to achieve his best F1 result.
In the final stint we certainly showed that we had great race pace," the Scot said. "I was very close to Alonso in the closing stages but couldn't quite challenge for the podium."
The Ferrari was less than 4s further up the road when the flag fell at the end of a maximum elapsed two hour race period, which came after 59 laps rather than the scheduled 61.
Behind the two Lotuses, Felipe Massa brought the second Ferrari home eighth after a highly eventful race. The Brazilian was into the pits with a puncture after opening lap contact with Vitaly Petrov's Caterham. He then drove a tremendously spirited race back through the field, which included a final 26-lap stint on Pirelli's supersoft tyres. His passes included an enormously brave move inside Senna's Williams on the run into Turn 13.
Massa called Senna's robust 'defence' unbelievable on the radio, but in fairness to Bruno, he wouldn't have expected Felipe to be there in a month of Sundays...
Singapore has rapidly established itself as the Monaco of the East and while this one wasn't a classic, it has brought Red Bull and Vettel firmly back into the fight for the drivers' championship.
"I am not a genius but it looks 10 points better than it did before..." Vettel smiled. Alonso will feel mighty relieved about a non-score from Hamilton, but he'll now be eyeing Sebastian with caution.