The Singapore Grand Prix 2011 edition could be the one that sealed the deal for Sebastian Vettel´s second straight title, making him the youngest double world champion in history. But instead the race offered some other mayor players to showcase themselves and in the end, we saw some of the closest racing all season.
Granted, there are readers who think that I have lost it now, because the race itself was never as tooth-and-nail as it could have been, I´ll give you that. But the small battles between the drivers, all down the field, were exhilarating to watch and gave us all a chance to see some proper racing.
Ahead of the race, some of the kerbs had some work done to them, one was even removed. The rule book states that a kerb cannot be more than 10 centimetres high and the kerbs in Singapore were exactly that. It meant that the Singapore Sling chicane was dangerous, which is a good thing, because suddenly you have a race jam-packed with 240,000 people watching your every move, all the while you negotiate your way through the streets, lined with concrete walls. And if you fail in your approach into the chicane, you´re done.
Several times did we see drivers almost flying across the chicane, most famously was the crash of Kamui Kobayashi during qualifying on Saturday, but no drivers crashed in the chicane during the race. Pin-point accuracy is needed for that part of the circuit, and this is one place where you really get to see the individual driver styles.
Now Vettel might have gotten a great start, as so many times before this season, but behind him was a power-struggle of massive proportions being played out. Felipe Massa managed to squeeze past Lewis Hamilton, so did Fernando Alonso and coming into the first corner, both Ferrari drivers wanted to be in front of the other. Mark Webber then came and mingled with them, but Button was already up to second. Hamilton and Schumacher had a nice little fight going on and soon after Rosberg was overtaken by the Briton. And so it went. All through the race there was small battles all over.
This is not a race report, but a personal account of how I saw the race. I saw a flawless Vettel completely…no, dominating is the wrong word, it´s too potent. He cruised, is what he did. For some reason he makes it look effortless no matter where he races. Looking at the drivers, the difference in the balance and driving style is evident. Schumacher, who have always been extremely smooth, now suddenly has to counter-steer a lot in the Mercedes, he constantly needs to make small adjustments, while it looks like Vettel is playing an Xbox game. So…velour. Vettel had the chance to, once again, make his first Grand Slam . pole, win, fastest lap and lead every lap – but he graciously conceded fastest ap to Jenson Button. Greatness.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching Paul Di Resta up in third place for a large part of the race, Force India´s strategy worked great, and after his late first stop, he didn´t drop down through the field to stat. He had the speed, so did Adrian Sutil, and even though the Force India racers look boxy, they do have good speed.
But alas I need to make a top three of Hot or Not. No way around it.
Jenson Button: The Briton did the best he could, and that was good, to make sure Vettel wasn´t crowned champion yesterday, and though no one expects Vettel not to score a single point in the remaining five races, at least we got to see the smoothness driving from Button, securing 18 points. he has emerged as the only McLaren driver, nee the only driver capable of challenging the dominance of Vettel, albeit a little too late. Brilliant to watch, Button will be a powerhouse next year.
Lewis Hamilton: Hamilton started fourth, dropped to seventh and passed Schumacher, then Rosberg and then he and Massa pitted at the same time. They exited at the same time as well, but Hamilton got too aggressive, and smashed into Massa´s right rear tyre. That cost him a new front wing and a drive-through penalty, and sailed down to 18th. At one point he even told the pitwall that there was no reason to race, but was told to keep driving. Sure it has had to be enormously frustrating to start a race smelling the podium, then losing everything because of a fault of your own. Still, Hamilton set some blinding laptimes and managed to claw his way back into striking distance of the top four. He ended in fifth, after three regular pit-stops, one for a new front wing and then the drive-through. His second place on the hot list is for his fight back into the top.
Paul Di Resta: The Scotsman scored his fifth top ten finish of the season, his first in F1, and have really impressed me. Sixth place in Singapore is not only impressive, it´s the best result the Force India team could have hoped for, because the car still needs a little more umph…But if the curve continues this way next season, I expect Force India to sit nicely in fourth place in the standing after a couple of rounds…
Michael Schumacher: Schumacher made some good headway in the race, he did lose positions to Hamilton and Rosberg along the way, but made a great overtaking manoeuvre on Kobayashi, made it to fifth and set a fastest lap on lap 29, but then threw it all away when he tried a move on Sergio Perez. An optimistic move saw Schumacher coming too close to the rear of Perez´ car, and the Mercedes was airborne a little while, then slammed into the barriers. A rookie mistake for Schumacher and certainly not something I´d expected from the former seven time world champion. This could easily have been the first podium for Schumacher for years, but he lost it. Not good enough.
Felipe Massa: No. Just….no. I have made my opinions clear on several occasions regarding Massa. Yes he had a puncture caused by Hamilton. Yes he did lose a lot more time than Hamilton, because he couldn´t go around the track as fast as he did. yes he dropped down the field. But he failed to fight back, as so many times before this season. Sorry, but that is a fail.
Lotus Renault: They started on the podium in the first two races in the season, then everything seemed to just fall apart. Sure a point here, two there, it makes a difference, but not enough. Petrov redeemed himself in Canada, scoring fifth, but this is a season to forget for the team. Singapore was the lowest point in two years for the team. They are fifth in the standings, but if Sutil and Di Resta continues to impress us in the last five races, they could drop to sixth. Back to the drawing board, lads.