Sebastian Vettel Snoozes His Way to Victory at Nighttime Singapore Grand Prix
Another Formula 1 Grand Prix means another commanding Sebastian Vettel victory, this time at the Singapore GP, where he left Fernando Alonso, Kimi Räikkönen, and every other driver in the dust for the third race in a row. The German started in pole position, led the entire race, and finished 30 seconds ahead of the second place Alonso. Barring some sort of catastrophic incident, a Vettel victory in 2013 is all but guaranteed. Second and third place are still up for grabs, however, as Alonso, Hamilton, and Räikkönen are separated by only 40 points combined.
Prerace commentary thankfully skipped the standard 30 minutes of tire wear speculation and refreshingly focused on the track itself. The Singapore street course is defined by narrow lanes, an extremely bumpy road, and tight corners with little runoff. If anyone overshoots a corner, they quickly make friends with the track walls. The Singapore race is also known for extreme heat and humidity that the drivers must overcome to finish (drivers can lose up to 6 pounds of water weight in only two hours as a result of the stifling conditions).
So Vettel started in first, with Nico Rosberg again setting a strong qualifying time to begin in second. On race start, Rosberg got a little too eager and briefly overtook Vettel for a whopping one turn before blowing past a corner and allowing the World Champion to regain his spot. As usual, the Red Bull needed a quick lead to escape the 1 second DRS detection zone and Vettel happily obliged. Alonso quickly erased his 7th place start and dispatched his teammate and a few others to settle in at a strong third. By the end of the first lap, Vettel led Rosberg by 2 seconds; a lap later, the gap widened to 4.1.
The challenge of leapfrogging other racers was almost immediately apparent, due to Singapore’s right angle turns and miniscule track width; it is easy to understand the track’s comparison to Monaco. This was illustrated in the middle of the pack, when Räikkönen had to battle fiercely for several laps to overtake the Sauber of Esteban Gutiérrez.
The next dozen laps were largely uneventful. As per his usual strategy, Vettel commanded enough of a lead by Lap 17 to exit pit row and remain in first; 3 laps later, Vettel had built a safe 8 second cushion between himself and Rosberg. Lap 25 saw the first inevitable crash of the Singapore GP when Daniel Ricciardo took a header into a barricade. This was good news for anybody not on a Red Bull team, and the gap was closed over the course of 5 laps under watch of the safety car.
When the race properly restarted on Lap 30, Rosberg, along with Webber and Hamilton, were given the chance to bring the heat to Vettel. As is customary, Vettel destroyed his competition with little worry and enjoyed a 3 second lead by the end of the 23-turn lap. Lap 34 marked the first signs of trouble for Romain Grosjean, as he incurred a 40 second pit stop to correct for problems with his valve control system. Despite the pause, Grosjean’s Lotus succumbed to its injuries and he retired in Lap 40.
Things began really heating up in the last quarter of the race. Räikkönen had overcome a lackluster qualifying session and an untimely reemergence of a back problem to make it all the way to 5th place in Lap 44. By Lap 52, he was battling Jenson Button(!) for 3rd, and again Singapore’s svelte rails prevented him from easily overtaking an inferior driver.
Lap 55 out of 61 saw the final crash of the race as Paul di Resta attempted to prove his car could swim by attempting to ram it through a lakeside supporting wall. Physics prevailed and the Force India driver dejectedly left the course dry. It looked like the drama was over for the rest of the race, until communication from Red Bull to Mark Webber brought the two dreaded words he first heard at Monza: “short shift.” While the cause of his car troubles was not immediately clear, Webber was commanded to keep the revs low. This affected his acceleration, especially out of the corners, and he was quickly passed by a cavalcade of drivers, including the sparring Mercedes’ of Rosberg and Hamilton. The goal for Webber at this point was to just cross the finish line, but due to Webber’s trademark truckload of bad luck this season, his car caught fire on the last lap and he pulled off the side of the track. Alonso was more than happy to give the Aussie a lift back to pit row on Alonso’s victory lap.
Alonso finished in second, while Räikkönen, his future Ferrari teammate, finished in third despite persistent back problems. All Mercedes and McLaren cars finished in the top 10, and Felipe Massa finished in a respectable 6th. This leaves Räikkönen only 2 points behind Lewis Hamilton in 3rd, while Alonso extends his lead in second place.
The Singapore Grand Prix is the only strictly nighttime race on the calendar (the Abu Dhabi race commences at twilight) and one of three street circuits alongside Monaco and the Spanish GP when it is set on the roads of Valencia. It is set in the Marina Bay area near the Central Business District, the financial hub of the island chain.
The Korean Grand Prix is the next race on the Formula 1 calendar, and is held on October 6th.
Photo courtesy of Red Bull