Singapore GP: Review

The Singapore Grand Prix is the ultimate representation of modern F1. It is fantastically exuberant, exudes glamour and wealth, and has firmly established itself on the calendar as the Monaco of the East. The humid, high-octane setting means that concentration and physical fitness for the drivers is paramount. Although the evening time-slot is to help cater to the European fan-base, the spectacle it creates gives the race a character that few new circuits have been able to establish. The still shots of an F1 car blasting through the Marina Bay streets, under artificial light with sparks flying from the under-tray, provide one of those rare moments in life where elegant beauty and raw savagery are reconciled on film, to produce a true work of art.

Under the imposing Singapore Flyer, the 23 corners and 61 laps of the tight Marina Bay circuit produced a pulsating race this weekend that added to an already captivating season.

1st practise provided an opportunity to see how the cars could negotiate the twisty layout in changeable conditions. Drainage was poor under the veil of night, and some corners remained wet whilst other parts of the track dried quickly. Schumacher maximised his running in order to learn the circuit, and only a few drivers were caught out by the damp conditions, merely scraping the newly-painted walls. The second session seemed to indicate the race would be a walk in the park for Red Bull, with the two RB6′s comprehensively faster than Button’s McLaren in third. The turn 10 ‘Singapore Sling’ chicane claimed a victim in Adrian Sutil, who damaged his suspension when his Force India was launched over the kerbs. In FP3 Vettel was once again quickest, 6 tenths quicker than the trailing Alonso. The track was damp but drying, and this time turn 5 caught out several drivers including Webber, Rosberg and Hamilton.

The track dried-out fully in time for qualifying. Massa departed Q1 just as quickly as he had entered it; his Ferrari coming to a halt in sector 3, bringing out the red flags. Knowing that he couldn’t be demoted to 34th on the grid, Massa was able to introduce his 9th engine of the season for the race. Singapore specialist Timo Glock was fastest for the new teams, indicating that Virgin may be about to jump Lotus in the development stakes. Notably, Christian Klien, who was thrust into the HRT seat on Friday due to Yamamoto contracting food poisoning (nothing at all to do with the new sponsor on the engine cover, I’m sure) out-qualified Bruno Senna by over a second. Klien’s pace put both Chandhok and Senna’s performances in the Hispania this season into perspective, and it will be interesting to see if the gap is maintained should Klien get another run in the car.

Alonso set a blistering lap in Q3 to claim provisional pole, whilst Vettel tried and failed to string a perfect lap together; various small errors meaning he had to settle for 2nd in a car it transpired was only marginally quicker than the Ferrari on raw pace. Hamilton again extracted the most out of his McLaren with 3rd. Special mention must be given to Jaime Alguersuari, who out-qualified team mate Sebastien Buemi to take 11th, and was just six-hundredths of a second away from reaching Q3.

As the lights went out on race night, Alonso cut sharply across Vettel’s line, forcing him to get out of the throttle. It was a move reminiscent of the German’s usual tactic from pole, but executed perfectly in the hands of the Spaniard. All 5 championship leaders came out of the first few corners in the same order they went in; discretion the better part of valour in a race they knew was crucial for championship hopes. Further down the order Heidfeld and Luizzi made contact, and Luizzi’s stricken Force India brought out the safety car. This split the field, with some choosing to pit whilst most of the front runners stayed out. Webber gambled on pitting, and it effectively placed him into a separate race with the two McLarens. The different strategies would converge later on, however the gamble meant Webber needed to overtake cars on-track to make it work. Glock was despatched quickly, and the Red Bull driver expertly lined up and passed both Kobayashi and Schumacher after pressuring them into mistakes at turn 3. Barrichello halted his progress but was running at a competitive enough pace to bring Webber back into play.

Up front Vettel and Alonso were a class apart. Alonso gradually opened up a 3 second gap, though in subsequent messages to the pit-wall Vettel revealed he ‘wasn’t pushing at all’. The concern in the Red Bull garage for the brake temperatures was eclipsed by the anxiety in the Ferrari pits about the potential pace of Vettel. The McLarens fell into Webber’s clutches as their tyres deteriorated, and the disappointing showing on full tanks demonstrated how much the team needs to improve in the closing races if they are to keep up the fight for the championship.

Timo Glock ran as high as 12th in the Virgin having stayed out during the safety car period. A superb display of consistency and defensive driving saw him maintain the position for 9 laps until Sutil and the queue of cars behind finally forced their way past.

On lap 29 Hamilton pitted and rejoined behind Webber. On the next lap Alonso came in. He was followed surprisingly by Vettel, who might have stayed out and tried to jump the Ferrari. The two leaders exited in the same order, and the next few laps saw Vettel start to eat into Alonso’s lead, appearing to have more speed on the prime tyres. His charge was halted by the return of the safety car as Kobayashi became better acquainted with the walls, and then Senna with the rear of the Sauber.

At the restart Hamilton attacked Webber. Whilst concentrating on lapping one of the Virgins, Webber lost traction coming out of turn 5, spinning his wheels on the exit kerbs. This gave Hamilton a run on him up to the sharp turn 7. He drew alongside on the outside line and seemed to be clearly ahead. Webber braked hard and late and just about made the apex. Hamilton took a tightening line in, and his left rear made contact with Webber’s front right tyre. As the world unclenched it was obvious that Hamilton had too much damage to continue; he was engulfed by the swarming mob of cars behind as he limped into the turn 8 escape road. His head-bang against the cockpit in the parked McLaren mirrored the thoughts of most British fans. The stewards decided that no further action was necessary, and as Sutil and Kubica proved later on in the race, the incident was the fault of both drivers. It takes two to tango, and Webber should have yielded a bit more than he did, whilst Hamilton should have given more room – especially as he had the inside line for the next turn.

The race lulled for the next few laps. Button was urged to push Webber to the end, but never got close enough to attempt to pass. Kubica was brought in on lap 46 due to a suspected puncture, putting him back into 13th. On fresher tyres and under the focussed TV cameras, the immaculate Pole exhibited his credentials as a world-class driver as he scythed his way past both Toro Rossos, team mate Vitaly Petrov, Felipe Massa, Nico Hülkenberg and finally Adrian Sutil. The move on Sutil was the most memorable: a carbon copy of the Webber/Hamilton accident, but with a clean outcome.

Towards the end Buemi and Kovalainen made contact, severing a fuel line in the Lotus. This caused a spectacular fire at the rear, which took hold and started to engulf the car as the Finn elected not to pit – stopping instead on the start-finish line. Media, fans and team-personnel watched in amazement as Kovalainen grabbed a fire extinguisher and set about dousing the flames while the other cars completed the final two laps.

Schumacher had a bruising run to eventual anonymity in 13th, clobbering both Saubers in the process. The second impact put Heidfeld out of the race on his return to F1.

Vettel pressured Alonso again during the final laps, but a pass never seemed likely. The Spaniard drove a perfect race and led every lap. They ended just 0.2 secs apart, a close gap, but impossibly far apart for Vettel. Alonso has now gained more points than any other driver in the last 5 races, and has the scent of a 3rd championship. Few would bet against the eclectic Ferrari driver, who has been on top form since the Hockenheim fiasco.

In the era of cost-cutting, the anomaly of Singapore allows F1 to demonstrate to the world its finest qualities. The car liveries take-on new, vibrant shades, and the barriers reflect the sound of the wailing v8′s. 2010 was the sport’s 3rd visit to the enchanting circuit, and whilst F1 and Singapore have both had their fair share of controversies, they are a perfect marriage.

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