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Untouchable Vettel wins in Singapore

Sebastian Vettel took a dominant victory for Red Bull in Singapore (Image: Pirelli)

Sebastian Vettel took a dominant victory for Red Bull in Singapore (Image: Pirelli)

Sebastian Vettel has taken his third win in a row in 2013, and his third consecutive win in Singapore, with a display of dominance hardly seen since the era of Michael Schumacher at Ferrari. Such was Vettel’s pace, he was over two seconds a lap faster than the rest of the field at points in the race where he needed to build up a gap. He led every lap of the race from pole position, and set the fastest lap on the way to victory. Fernando Alonso finished second for Ferrari, with Kimi Raikkonen third for Lotus.

Not even Fernando Alonso could challenge Vettel for victory today. Alonso was simply the best of the rest, taking second place as a result of a stunning start and bold tyre strategy. After qualifying seventh yesterday, Alonso rocketed off the line when the lights went out in Sunday’s race and emerged from the first three corners in third place. But he didn’t have the pace to challenge Vettel and Rosberg ahead, and was only able to finish in front of Rosberg due to the safety car.

On lap 25, Daniel Ricciardo made a mistake on the entry to turn 18 and ploughed into the barrier on the outside of the corner. As Ricciardo’s car was stuck on the track around a blind corner, there was no choice for race control but to deploy the safety car. As soon as that happened, a number of drivers streamed into the pits to change tyres, among them Alonso and Raikkonen. Both Red Bulls stayed out on track, as did both Mercedes drivers.

It soon became clear what the plan was for those drivers who pitted under the safety car: They intended to run to the end of the race without pitting again. Considering that the safety car period ended at the end of lap 30, that meant those drivers would have to do 31 racing laps on a single set of tyres to make it to the end of the 61 lap race. Pirelli confirmed to the BBC commentary team that it was possible, but the tyres would be right on the edge of grip by the end of the race.

And so it proved to be for many of the drivers who attempted the bold strategy. Jenson Button and Sergio Perez found themselves going backwards in the last few laps, from third and fifth with ten laps to go, to seventh and eighth by the chequered flag. Nonetheless, it was another good haul of points for McLaren, who are looking good for fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship this season.

Kimi Raikkonen finished 3rd from 13th on the grid, despite suffering from back pain (Image: Alastair Staley/Lotus F1 Team)

Kimi Raikkonen finished 3rd from 13th on the grid, despite suffering from back pain (Image: Alastair Staley/Lotus F1 Team)

Alonso and Raikkonen made the strategy work. Whether through superior driving or simply having cars that were gentler on their tyres, Alonso and Raikkonen managed to drive the entire second half of the race on a single set of medium tyres each. For Alonso, that meant being patient after the safety car until the two Mercedes drivers and Mark Webber made their second pit stops. For Raikkonen it meant he had to push hard and make some aggressive passing moves. Most notably, Raikkonen passed Jenson Button around the outside of turn 14 on his way to securing a podium place.

Raikkonen’s drive was more than a little impressive. He qualified 13th yesterday after back pain compromised his setup work in third practice. But in the race he used his bold tyre strategy and some skilled, aggressive driving to fight through the field, all the while preserving his tyres so that he could avoid a pitstop in the last 31 laps of the race. He said on the podium that his back had not been too bad during the race, but was starting to hurt once he got out of the car. Sore back or not, it was a storming drive by the popular Finn.

The driver who lost out most in the safety car period was Nico Rosberg. After a stunning start, Rosberg led for a few metres before running wide at turn 1 and losing position to pole-sitter and eventual winner Sebastian Vettel. Rosberg was then in a secure second place until the safety car came out. At that point, Mercedes had a decision to make: pit under the safety car and try to run to the end of the race, or stick with the plan and stop for a second time later on. They chose the latter option, based on their expectation that the Mercedes W04 would not be able to make its tyres last to the end of the race.

Rosberg pitted from second place on lap 41, and from then on found himself chasing after cars who were not intending to stop again. Somewhat bizarrely, Rosberg and his race engineer had a small argument on the team radio, when Rosberg was told to push to make sure he could capitalise on a possible last minute stop for Alonso. Rosberg was adamant that he needed to preserve his tyres, and disagreed with his engineer for a few corners to the general entertainment of television audiences who got to hear the conversation.

In the final laps of the race, Rosberg and Hamilton, who had pitted two laps after his team-mate, found themselves coming across cars who were running out of grip. The two Mercedes drivers were quite effective at fighting through the traffic and ended up fourth and fifth by the end of the race.

Mark Webber was the unfortunate victim of unreliability in his Red Bull. Like the Mercedes drivers, Webber spent his last stint on fresh tyres fighting through the field. It looked like he had the pace to reach the podium, but a few laps from the end he was told by his team to short-shift (i.e. change gear early, instead of waiting for the engine revs to reach their limit before up-shifting). The instruction was repeated with increasing urgency, suggesting that Webber had a gearbox problem. On the penultimate lap, it was clear that something was very wrong, and Webber confirmed over the team radio that he had lost power. Nonetheless, he attempted to complete the final lap, although by that stage he was so slow that drivers who had been quite far behind were passing him easily.

While he was cruising around on the final lap, Webber’s Red Bull caught fire, presumably as a result of a fuel or oil leak related to his lack of power. He pulled off and jumped out of the car while flames licked at the bodywork of the Red Bull. The retirement cost Webber fourth place and 12 championship points.

To add insult to injury, Webber was handed a reprimand for rejoining the track without the permission of the marshals after the race. Webber accepted a lift back to the pits on Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari, but apparently breached the regulations in the process. Alonso also received a reprimand, for stopping on the track against the instructions of the marshals, and causing two cars to take evasive action as a result. Webber’s reprimand is his third of the season, which means he will receive a 10-place grid penalty for the next race in Korea.

Felipe Massa had a strong if sligthly frustrated drive to sixth place from sixth on the grid. Massa made a flying start, but found his way blocked in turns one to three and could not capitalise on his surge off the line. He spent almost the entire race trying to pass one car or another, but on the tight Marina Bay street circuit, passing was always going to be difficult. When the safety car came out, Massa pitted, just as Alonso did. But Ferrari chose to split their strategies, sending Alonso out on the medium tyres in the hope of making it to the end of the race without another stop, while Massa put on a set of supersoft tyres, intending to make another stop for supersoft tyres later in the race.

As it happened, Massa ended up stuck behind Paul Di Resta, who was also on supersoft tyres, in the period after the safety car. When it was time for Massa’s final pit stop, Di Resta also pitted, which meant Massa faced the prospect of staring at Di Resta’s gearbox until the end of the race. But Di Resta crashed out in turn 7 in the final few laps of the race, releasing Massa to chase after the cars ahead that were on older tyres. He made up a few places and finished sixth, where he had started.

Nico Hulkenberg picked up 2 points for 9th place (Image: Sauber)

Nico Hulkenberg picked up 2 points for 9th place (Image: Sauber)

Nico Hulkenberg had a frustrating race for Sauber. He made a very strong start and found himself battling with the two McLarens early on. At one point, Sergio Perez tried to pass him in turn 7, but Hulkenberg did not yield and held position around the outside. On the exit of the corner, Hulkenberg bottomed out on the kerb and ran off the track. He rejoined without losing position. The stewards ruled that he had gained an advantage by running off the track, which seemed very harsh considering that Perez had at no point been ahead of Hulkenberg and there seemed to be some minor contact between them as Hulkenberg ran wide.

But there was nothing Hulkenberg could do about the decision, and he had no choice but to yield to Perez. He spent the rest of the race behind the McLarens, eventually finishing in ninth place to collect another two points in a season that has been tough for the young German in an underperforming Sauber.

The final points position went to Force India’s Adrian Sutil. He had a fairly uneventful race but found himself at the back of the train of cars that included the McLarens at the end of the race. At that point, however, his tyres were starting to go off and he had no way of getting past Hulkenberg and had to settle for tenth place.

Full results from the Singapore Grand Prix:

Pos No Driver Team Laps Time/Retired Grid Pts
1 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 61 1:59:13.132 1 25
2 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 61 +32.6 secs 7 18
3 7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 61 +43.9 secs 13 15
4 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 61 +51.1 secs 2 12
5 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 61 +53.1 secs 5 10
6 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 61 +63.8 secs 6 8
7 5 Jenson Button McLaren 61 +83.3 secs 8 6
8 6 Sergio Perez McLaren 61 +83.8 secs 14 4
9 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 61 +84.2 secs 11 2
10 15 Adrian Sutil Force India 61 +84.6 secs 15 1
11 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams 61 +88.4 secs 18
12 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 61 +97.8 secs 10
13 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 61 +105.161 secs 16
14 18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 61 +113.512 secs 12
15 2 Mark Webber Red Bull 60 Engine 4
16 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 60 +1 Lap 20
17 23 Max Chilton Marussia 60 +1 Lap 22
18 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia 60 +1 Lap 21
19 20 Charles Pic Caterham 60 +1 Lap 19
20 14 Paul di Resta Force India 54 Accident 17
Ret 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus 37 Pneumatics 3
Ret 19 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 23 Accident 9
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About Chris Cameron-Dow

I'm fanatical about racing. Driving, watching, following, analysing, everything.

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