“You beauty Seb! Well done!” shouted Christian Horner to Sebastian Vettel after he took the chequered flag in the Singapore Grand Prix. “You’re back in this championship.”
There was uncertainty about how long the soft and super soft tyres were going to last during the race, but everyone was pretty sure that there would be a safety car; such is the nature of this street track.
Both predictions were spot on with varying tyre strategies – some more successful than others, and two safety cars – one for a Narain Karthikeyan crash and one for another huge misjudgement from Michael Schumacher on an unsuspecting Jean Eric Vergne.
One thing no one could predict was Lewis Hamilton’s gearbox coming to a grinding halt on lap 23. The problem spelt the end of his race and another victory for Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel. Even after the two safety cars Vettel held onto the lead, putting him second in the championship behind Alonso.
Hamilton had been having a perfect weekend up to the beginning of lap 23. Vettel may have held the advantage in the three practice sessions, but come qualifying Hamilton put in a lap at the start of Q3 that no one could get close to. The Red Bull driver was visibly cross after the session as he felt he’d missed his opportunity at a track when so much depends on grid position. He didn’t even make it onto the front row in the end after Pastor Maldonado had a great qualifying session and split the two cars. Jenson Button lined up fourth on the grid, after struggling with his setup, and Alonso fifth.
Hamilton got away cleanly from Maldonado, but Vettel managed to squeeze past the Williams in the first two turns, the Venezuelan running wide with understeer in Turn 1. There was the usual scrapping in the midfield, but after the end of the first lap it was Hamilton, Vettel, Button, Maldonado, Alonso, di Resta, Webber and Grosjean who lead the field.
Vettel was the first of the three leaders to pit on lap 10, after a ragged couple of laps on his old tyres, but a few minutes later Hamilton was on the radio complaining that he had “a funny feeling with his tyres”. He had clipped the wall in his second Q3 run with his right rear so the team quickly pulled him in and put him on a fresh set of softs. Button pitted two laps later on lap 14, but having closed the gap to the two leaders before their stops he emerged behind Vettel once again.
Things were looking good for Hamilton as even though Vettel was clinging onto the back on him, Button was closing up and with no realistic chance of the championship this year his job would be to distract Vettel. That was before lap 23, though.
With Hamilton out it was Vettel’s race to lose. The first safety car was out soon after Karthikeyan understeered into the exit of the tight Turn 18. Everyone dived into the pits, bar Webber – who had pitted only five laps before, and Alonso. Soon after the pack calmed down behind the safety car Maldonado had to retire his Williams from fourth, a harsh finish to what had been one of his better weekends.
There were no changes from the leaders when the safety car pulled in at the end of lap 38 with Vettel leading from Button, Alonso, di Resta, Hulkenberg and Webber. Only a lap later, as the middle of the field was desperately jockeying for positions, Schumacher made a huge braking misjudgement and ploughed into the back of Jean Eric Vergne. He was so deep into the corner before braking it prompted his team to ask “what happened there?” This was the longest race of the year and the flag had to be waved before the correct number of laps were completed at the two-hour mark. Some will be questioning whether or not Schumacher can still handle such a punishing race.
Despite another restart, and a close call with Button nearly sliding into the back of Vettel when they were warming up their tyres, the Red Bull driver didn’t look threatened.
“I want to dedicate this win to a very, very special man – Sid Watkins,” he said on the podium afterwards. “He’s the reason why we can go out on a circuit like this and enjoy ourselves.” One man who was certainly enjoying himself was Alonso, who once again climbed through the field in the Ferrari and walked away with yet more valuable points.