Singapore GP 2016
SEPTEMBER 19, 2016
Race Report - Just Barely
By Dan Knutson in Singapore
Nico Rosberg just barely won the Singapore Grand Prix as he managed to stay ahead of a charging Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull to win his third consecutive race and his eighth of the season. Rosberg also retook the lead in the world championship, by eight points, from his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton.
"It's been an awesome weekend here in Singapore for me," Rosberg said, "already yesterday with the pole lap and then today, a great start, had a good car in the race. Of course Daniel tried to pull one up on me with the pit stop in the end there. We knew it was going to be tight at the end, but it worked out, so I'm really, really happy."
Ricciardo was happy with his fighting second place.
"I'm pretty happy because I felt I did all I could," he said. "The perfect race. If there was anything that could have been more perfect it was the start but Nico got off the line well. So, even with an amazing start we wouldn't have got the jump. It looked like his was near-perfect.
"From that point we just tried to do what we could. The team put me on a three-stop at the end. It was fun. It was good to push the whole race and I knew I would get close to Nico at the end. So even if the track's difficult to overtake, it was nice to be able to push to the last lap and know that I was at least putting some pressure on him and giving the crowd still a little bit of hope."
Rosberg started the 61-lap race on the pole while Ricciardo lined up second. Row two consisted of Hamilton and Red Bull's Max Verstappen.
Felipe Nasr (Sauber) and Sebastian Vettel, who lined up last after having a suspension problem on his Ferrari in qualifying, started the race on Pirelli's soft compound tires. Ricciardo and Verstappen had the super soft Pirellis, and all the rest of the drivers had the ultra soft compound slicks on their cars.
Nico Hulkenberg's race was over just after it started as his Force India got clipped by Carlos Sainz's Toro Rosso and careened into the pit lane wall.
"It's extremely disappointing to end my race in the barrier after just 50 meters, especially because I had made such a good start - probably my best getaway off the line this year," Hulkenberg said. "I went for the gap between the two Toro Rossos, which was there, but obviously things got very tight. I had Daniil (Kvyat) on my right and Carlos (Sainz) on my left, and Carlos hit my left rear, which sent me into the wall. I think all the avoiding actions led to the gap I was in disappearing."
The Safety Car was deployed, and it led the cars through the pits so that the marshals could clean up the mess on the front straight.
The order on lap 1 behind the Safety Car was: Rosberg, Ricciardo, Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari), Fernando Alonso (McLaren), Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso), Verstappen, who had dropped back from fourth on the grid) Felipe Massa (Williams) and Kevin Magnussen (Renault). The race was restarted at the end of lap 2.
Hamilton hounded Ricciardo, trying to snatch second place. But Ricciardo soon pulled out an advantage of a couple of seconds. Rosberg, too, was checking out, and had a 2.2 second lead after four laps.
Sainz pitted at the end of lap 7 to have some damaged bodywork removed.
Out in front, Rosberg got a message from his engineer saying: "We do need the brake management." And then another message saying: "This is serious; we do need that brake management."
Hamilton's engineer was passing on the same message to his driver.
On lap 10 the order was: Rosberg, Ricciardo, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Alonso, Kvyat, Verstappen, Massa, Magnussen and Esteban Gutierrez (Haas). Vettel had climbed from last to 13th.
Ferrari got on the radio to Raikkonen, told him about Hamilton's brake problems, and told him to put pressure on Hamilton.
Verstappen pitted at the end of lap 13 for another set of the super soft Pirellis. He was the first of the front runners to stop.
Alonso stopped a lap later and got the super softs. Ricciardo and Hamilton came in at the end of lap 15, Ricciardo for the super softs and Hamilton for the mediums.
"Come on guys," Hamilton said, "you need a strategy that will get me past."
Rosberg pitted at the end of lap 16, had a set of the softs fitted, and handed the lead to Raikkonen. The Finn led lap 17, pitted, and got a set of the super softs.
All that pitting put Rosberg back in front again by 6.2 seconds ahead of Ricciardo who was 3.7 seconds ahead of Hamilton who was 5.5 seconds in front of Raikkonen.
Further back, Kvyat and Verstappen battled wheel to wheel for eighth place.
"Come on, man!" yelled an exasperated Verstappen. But it didn't matter as he began to drop back.
Vettel finally stopped at the end of lap 24 for a set of the ultra softs.
Ricciardo used the extra speed in his super soft compound Pirellis to close in on Rosberg who was on the soft tires. He got the gap down to 4.3 seconds by lap 25.
"We need to start coming out with some plan because this is all the pace I've got with the brakes," Hamilton radioed. And indeed Raikkonen was closing in on the third-placed Hamilton who was just 0.8 of a second ahead at the 26 lap mark. But once he was within a second of the Mercedes Raikkonen could not get any closer. And the gap between Rosberg and Ricciardo stabilized at around 4.0 seconds.
Lap 30: Rosberg, Ricciardo, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Alonso, Kvyat, Magnussen, Vettel, Gutierrez and Sergio Perez (Force India). But Verstappen, who was 11th, soon overtook Perez and then attacked Gutierrez.
Ricciardo pitted at the end of lap 32 and the crew fitted a set of the soft compound Pirellis.
On lap 32 Hamilton ran wide and Raikkonen pounced and took third place.
Rosberg stopped at the end of lap 33 and got the soft tires. Raikkonen did the same and was now back in fourth again.
So Hamilton led lap 34, but then made a pit stop for the soft Pirellis.
Now after 35 laps the order was: Rosberg, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Kvyat, Vettel, Magnussen, Verstappen, Alonso and Perez.
Hamilton was told that they were going to switch to Plan B, and that he should pull Raikkonen in. Hamilton responded by setting the fastest lap of the race - 1:49.263 - on lap 39 of 61.
The running order had changed by lap 40 and it was now: Rosberg, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Vettel, Verstappen, Alonso, Perez, Massa and Kvyat.
Vettel came in at the end of lap 42 for the super soft tires. Hamilton pitted after 45 laps for the ultra soft Pirellis. Raikkonen did the same one lap later and reentered the track behind Hamilton.
Ricciardo got a set of the super softs after 47 laps. He set the race's fastest lap, a 1:47.187, on his 49th tour. Red Bull had decided to put Ricciardo on a three-stop strategy.
"Tires and strategy were always going to be key for today," Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner explained, "and in the end opting to go to a three stop strategy with the tires that we saved from earlier in the weekend brought Daniel tantalizingly close to Nico (Rosberg). Lewis (Hamilton) triggered the final round of pit stops with Kimi (Raikkonen) covering him and then us in turn covering Kimi. That gave Daniel roughly 27 seconds to hunt down Nico who did a good job to manage his pace to the end but Daniel drove an outstanding race to finish 0.5 seconds behind him, splitting the two Mercedes."
Lap 50: Rosberg had a 19.0 second lead over Ricciardo who headed Hamilton, Raikkonen, Vettel, Alonso, Verstappen, Perez, Kvyat and Magnussen.
Rosberg's tires were fading and Ricciardo was closing in. The team told him he would catch Rosberg with four laps to go. On lap 55 the gap was down to 7.0 seconds. Ricciardo had six laps to grab the lead. But could he do it?
Rosberg picked up the pace slightly. The gap was 2.0 with one lap to go. And Rosberg crossed the finish line 0.488 of a second ahead of the Red Bull.
"With ten laps to go, or 15 laps to go, just after the pit stop, the team said he (Ricciardo) would be with me at the end of the race, which was the case," Rosberg said. "So for sure I had to be on it in that last stint and get everything right and nail all those laps. It really worked out, with the management, all the way to the end. The tire lasted just right. By the time I started the last lap I knew it was going to be enough because Daniel also, his tires weren't as fresh anymore, so by that time it was okay."
While the top two finishers were satisfied, Hamilton was not pleased with third that rounded off his rocky weekend. He struggled in the first half of the race but then found speed in the car in the second half.
"I was struggling with my brakes," he said. "They were way overheating, so I just had to slow down. So I just had to watch the other guys pull away and I was just looking at different ways to try and get them back under control. Eventually once I did my second or third stop, all of a sudden my brakes were under control. But of course, towards the end I still got a bit of heat in them."
Having led a lap and having had a shot at third place, Raikkonen wound up fourth.
"We had pretty good speed but for most of the race we were stuck behind the Red Bull and Mercedes," he said. "Nico (Rosberg) had more speed than any of us. We did our own race and we can be quite happy. Obviously we gained one place but that's not what we are looking to achieve. We try to be in a position to win races, so we need to make the car go faster. Third or fourth is not exactly what we want."
Vettel went from last to fifth.
"My start was not good," he said, "and then there was the accident so I took it a bit easy; most important, the car was still intact, but after the restart it was tricky to get the tires working. I was on the primes. I lost quite a lot of time behind the Sauber, it was quite tough to get past. Then it was important to survive until we fitted the last set of ultra softs at the end, where we really could unfold the pace. In the last laps we had a big gap from the front and from the back, so I took it easy."
Verstappen, who had a clutch problem at the start, finished sixth.
"I had a bad start, it wasn't as bad as Monza but it wasn't good, which is disappointing," he said. "I had a lot of wheel spin and then with (Nico) Hulkenberg spinning in front of me, I had to brake even more which compromised my whole start. I got stuck behind slower cars in front of me and after three or four laps you lose the advantage and it completely destroys the tires.
"I had some pretty intense battles which I enjoy but it's tricky to pass here, so you do get a bit stuck. Dani (Kvyat) and I fought quite hard, but we didn't touch so that's always a positive."
Perez wound up eighth.
"To be able to do 36 laps on one set of soft tires, in this heat, and to keep my position under pressure from (Daniil) Kvyat is a big achievement," he said. "Pitting on lap one put us behind (Esteban) Gutierrez and that impacted on our strategy: we lost a lot of time behind him and it was very hard on my tires, which was not good for what was effectively a one-stop race. We knew stopping one time less than our rivals was the only way we could score points, so managing the tires was crucial."
Alonso finished seventh for the third time in five races.
"The crash (at the start) didn't affect me much because I was already sixth at that position," he said, "so the start was very good. At one point I dreamed of the podium because on lap one being P5 in Singapore you think things will happen in front of you. But nothing happened today and they arrived very quickly behind, Vettel and Verstappen, so best of the rest, seventh was the maximum. I think today we maximized what we had in hand and hopefully next time we can improve."
Kvyat had his best result since he finished third in the Chinese Grand Prix in the Red Bull as he brought the Toro Rosso home ninth.
"I did the most I could out there today," he said. "I had good fun and enjoyed some great battles! Unfortunately, after a first good stint things didn't come together as expected. We ended up behind (Sergio) Perez and didn't have enough straight-line speed to overtake him. I pushed until the very last centimeter and left my soul on the track."
Magnussen was in the points for the second time this season with his tenth place.
"Today shows why we fight and why we never give up," he said. "The team nailed it with the strategy, with the start and with the balance of the car. To drive a race like this and not to win it; it feels strange because for me it felt perfect."
Rosberg certainly had a perfect weekend.
"I'm just happy to win the race because that is what I came here to do," he said. "And now I'm going to celebrate after this. I can't wait to get home. Next up is Malaysia, where I want to repeat that because I'm feeling good at the moment."