Singapore GP - Sunday - Race Report
Singapore Night Massacre
Sebastian Vettel massacred the opposition as he scored a crushing victory in Sunday night's Singapore Grand Prix. He started from pole and led all 61 laps in a Red Bull that was sometimes two seconds a lap faster than any other car.
"It doesn't happen just like that," Vettel said of his domination in the Singapore streets. "It was surely not easy to get everything right all weekend. The whole team can be extremely proud. I know how much work is going in. Here obviously we have a funny rhythm. When it's nine o'clock the curfew kicks in. That's when our mechanics leave the track on Saturday morning. They are flat out checking everything on the car they can. Same with the engineers, late hours in the office here but also in the factory.
"So there's a lot of team effort going in. If we have results like today where we have the luxury to control the race at some stage, then it's because of those late hours, because of the commitment that goes in from everybody. It's just a privilege to be part of the team and be part of that. To enjoy the moment completely. It's one of my favorite races here. I've won here three times in a row – which is incredible – so I'm just extremely happy with that and extremely happy to be with the team at this stage."
For a few moments after the start it looked like Nico Rosberg, who had qualified second in his Mercedes, might snatch the lead from Vettel.
"The start was quite hairy," Vettel admitted. "Quite difficult with Nico having a good start, better than me. I didn't get going initially and then had to keep the inside clear to him but fortunately he went in a little bit too deep and I could get him back which was crucial because then we had some very good pace, controlled the first stint."
Even if Rosberg had grabbed the lead, he would not have held it for long because the Red Bull was so much faster. Vettel soon pulled out an eight second lead. Like the rest of the top 10 on the grid, he had started with Pirelli's super soft compound slick. Most of those guys pitted before him, so when he came in at the end of lap 17 he held on to his lead.
Then Daniel Ricciardo crashes his Toro Rosso at Turn 18 on lap 24.
"It was my error, trying to make up for lost ground," he acknowledged. "At the start, my car just seemed to sit there without moving off the line. It was very frustrating to lose so many places right away. I think I went down five places from ninth on the grid to fourteenth. So I was on the back foot from then on, just trying to do the best I could. In the second stint, my engineer came on the radio and said 'the pace is good, keep pushing.' I was aware that for the pace we had, we were not doing too badly and maybe at the end I was just trying to get too much out of it and made that mistake."
That brought out the safety car. The top four at the time – Vettel, Rosberg, Mark Webber (who had earlier leapfrogged Rosberg at their first round of stops) and Lewis Hamilton – had recently pitted and put on the medium compound tires, so it made no sense for them to come back in. But guys like Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) and Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus), who had also pitted but even earlier, came in for a the medium tires.
With overtaking so difficult on the narrow wall-lined circuit, track position is crucial. When the safety car came in at the end of lap 30, Red Bull told Vettel to go flat out to build up a big enough gap so that he could make his final stop without losing the lead.
In the next 15 laps Vettel lapped two seconds a lap faster than anybody and built up a 30 second lead.
"We had a very, very strong pace in the car," he said. "The car was incredible."
He made his second stop at the end of lap 44 and went on to win.
Meanwhile, Alonso, who had vaulted from seventh to third at the start, had been nursing his tires that had to last 36 laps. As the others pitted, he moved up to second place.
"The key points of this race were the start and the strategy," he said, "and in both cases the decisions taken proved to be the right ones, even if they were aggressive choices. At the start, I managed to pass four cars, helped by having watched the starts from previous races here, but then I couldn't pass Rosberg.
"The decision to pit when the safety car came out paid off, even if it wasn't easy to get to the finish with the tires on the limit. Fortunately, thanks to the advantage I had over Raikkonen and Webber, we were able to manage the situation over the final laps: if I'd been in a group, it would have been like the end of a horror movie!"
Raikkonen, who was racing with a sore back, also had a long stint on old tires. But, having gridded 13th, he was now fourth and challenging Jenson Button (McLaren). They had a fierce fight, and Raikkonen finally got ahead on lap 54.
"I had pretty okay speed and then I could overtake a few people," Raikkonen said. "And then in the end I was following Jenson and I could see that his tires were going off so I just gave some pressure and then I have to get past him because obviously some people changed to new tires and they were catching us quickly. I managed to pass him and pull away and luckily nobody managed to catch me in the end. So not too bad."
It was too bad for his Lotus teammate Romain Grosjean who qualified third and would have finished third because he was ahead of Raikkonen and on the same strategy when he had to retire.
"The race was going pretty well and I think a second or third place finish was a realistic prospect," Grosjean said. "We had a good strategy pitting under the safety car and we should have finished well, but unfortunately today my engine had other ideas. We lost air pressure and the team tried to fix the problem by topping it up with an additional pit stop, but that didn't work so we had to retire which is never what you want to happen."
The closing stops were thrilling as Webber in the Red Bull, Rosberg and Hamilton in the Mercedes, and Felipe Massa in the Ferrari, who had all pitted late in the race and were on fresh tires, fought each other while at the same time had to fight their way past Sergio Perez (McLaren), Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber), Adrian Sutil (Force India) who were on older tires and also have their own tussles.
Webber up to fourth but his engine was leaking water and it blew up on the final lap.
"I think I did pretty much everything I could today," he said. "We had pace in the car when we needed, we managed the tires and made a very good undercut on Nico, I was really happy with that lap. Then six laps from the end, the guys were getting worried about the car."
Rosberg claimed fourth.
"I had some rubber trapped in my front wing after the safety car period which cost me quite a lot of performance for some laps and had an impact on my race because the tires suffered more than would be normal," he said. "We could perhaps have been second today but events in the race just didn't go our way so it is a little disappointing to only finish in fourth place."
Hamilton wound up fifth.
"That was a really tough race," he said, "probably the most physically demanding of the year. We tried our best and the car felt good tonight but unfortunately we paid the price for not qualifying further ahead yesterday. I didn't have the best start and had to go wide to avoid Mark (Webber) at Turn One. From there, it was difficult to follow the race and my position.
"Whilst the timing of the safety car definitely didn't help us, we need to go back through our strategy and see what we could possibly have done differently in that situation. I'm not sure we could have done what Fernando and Kimi did by staying out on that set of tires for so long, though."
Massa ended up sixth ahead of Button, Perez, Hulkenberg and Sutil.
"After a fantastic start, at the first corner I found myself stuck inside the cars that had braked early and, at that point I lost places instead of making up some," Massa said. "From then on, I was always stuck behind other cars and we all know how hard it is to overtake at this track. When the Safety Car came out, we had two options: to fit the Medium tires, with which we weren't sure to go all the way to the end, or the super softs, to try and regain some places.
"We went for the second option, but Di Resta was ahead of me on the same tires and so I was stuck behind him. In the final stint after the third stop, I managed to retake sixth place, making the most of the fact that many were struggling with their tires."
The stranded Webber flagged down Alonso for a lift back to the pits during the cool down lap. The officials gave both drivers a reprimand, and as this was Webber's third reprimand of the season, he gets an automatic 10-place grid penalty at the upcoming Korean Grand Prix.
Can anyone halt Vettel's charge to the championship in Korea?
"I'm not really looking at the championship too much," he said. "Obviously we're in a very good position, very strong position but I'm enjoying the moment."