Driver insight: 2017 Singapore Grand Prixby Karun Chandhok on 19th September 2017
From the startline crash to the dominant Lewis Hamilton – Karun Chandhok offers his take on Singapore
First off, I must say Singapore is one of my most enjoyable race weekends to go to. It’s an interesting event and it’s always a race where something interesting happens – this race is no exception.
It’s surreal in the dark when just the race track is lit and you know everyone is asleep. We do a lot of walking around to and from the hotel and the paddock, I also love running the track – I did 46km of walking according to my pedometer. It’s tiring but enjoyable, and the fact that we stay on European time means there’s no jet lag!
The big talking point is the incident literally off the start. The stewards decided not to penalise anyone for it, but I think Sebastian Vettel will regret the whole thing. Starting on pole position, knowing his world championship rival is down in fifth position, knowing he has a great chance to retake the lead of the championship and get a huge haul of points on the board; he’ll regret closing out Max Verstappen in the way that he did. It wasn’t a risk he needed to take.
At the start, you can completely shut the guy out instantaneously and cause them to lift, like Michael Schumacher used to do, but the way Seb did it meant he was actually covering more distance. If he had just gone straight Max might have come alongside him, but in the wet you tend to have more grip around the outside. Fernando Alonso did that and was unlucky to get caught up by going around the outside, that is the risk, but if you watch the videos from the last eight years he has done that and won a lot of places. The low-risk strategy for Seb would be to go dead straight and if Max comes up on the inside you’d have the speed and the grip to just drive around him.
In reality, even if he had lost the lead it’s a two-hour race and a lot can happen, and it wasn’t like he was losing it to Lewis. You would have known a lot can happen in those conditions and know there was going to be a safety car. This could have been the weekend where he scored heavily against Lewis because everything was stacked so heavily in his favour. The grid was made for Sebastian, he had two Red Bulls and Kimi between him and Lewis, the opportunity was there for him to score 10/15 points over his rival.
We can’t blame Max at all, he held the steering wheel absolutely straight and there was nothing he could do. Seb would not have known Kimi was further to the inside of Max, and therefore his thought process would have been ‘I’m going to close it down and Max will move further left.’
It was interesting having NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon on our show on Channel 4 after the race talking about how they would have had a spotter telling them it’s three wide. I remember watching onboards of Takuma Sato years ago and Jock Clear – who’s now at Ferrari, funnily enough – was on the radio straight away saying ‘go left’, or ‘go right’, ‘somebody on the inside’ just watching it on TV. It’s hard to say whether that is something Seb should be doing now, but judging by how things transpired you have to say there’s some merit in what Jeff Gordon is saying.
The dominant Hamilton
Once Lewis got into the lead and it all settled down after three corners he was superb. There was absolutely no way anyone was going to stop him. In those tricky conditions it was easy to say ‘oh, well that was a bit dull’, it was quite anti-climatic frankly, but you can’t underestimate the concentration levels, the focus levels or the pin-point accuracy that the drivers were having to use at every braking zone, with every steering input, and every time they applied the throttle. You can’t drive on auto-pilot, you have to be so in the zone and at a heightened level of concentration. It’s easy to underestimate that.
On a weekend when he knew Mercedes was on the back foot and knew from Friday that it was probably the third-favourite team, Lewis was brilliant. He drove away from Daniel, who had no chance of fighting and he’s no slouch in the dry or the wet – and we know the Red Bull is very good in the wet. The fact that Valtteri was so far behind Lewis underlined what a great job he did. Unless he has a couple of DNFs the title is his to lose. It’s firmly in their back pocket unless they have some unreliability issues or incidents of their own.
We often hope for rain to add an element of jeopardy and to make the race more interesting but I was actually quite disappointed the rain came down. We had all the ingredients there for a fantastic contest: we had three teams who were all very close and competitive, Seb against two Red Bulls that had great race pace – better than anyone else. Red Bull could have had two dogs in the fight against one, so there were a lot of opportunities for the race to really unfold in an interesting way.
Eyes on Sainz and Palmer
The big news was that Carlos Sainz has taken Jolyon Palmer’s seat for 2018 and both had their best-ever career results. Carlos drove a superb race and didn’t put a foot wrong, he really outperformed Kvyat all weekend yet again. He was unchallenged in fifth place, which became fourth, and thoroughly deserves that works Renault drive.
Jolyon finally got some points on the board, but he’s been extremely unlucky this year. He’s had reliability issues, and not just in qualifying or the races but also in practice and that has a knock-on effect. I was very pleased for him, Renault has proved it probably is the fourth fastest car in terms of speed. Hülkenberg was the best of the rest in qualifying and could have challenged Bottas for the podium, he was going to have fourth until he ran into reliability problems and that has been an Achilles heel – with Red Bull cars or the works cars. That needs to be sorted out if they genuinely want to be contenders and now that McLaren has been confirmed, that battle between Red Bull, McLaren and the works team is going to be a fascinating sub-plot for next season.
The championship is really now Lewis’s to lose and we go on to Malaysia for the last Grand Prix there. That’s a shame, I think, Sepang was the first F1 circuit I drove at back in 2001. It’s a great track, a great challenge that the temperature only makes harder, it has fast flowing corners, overtaking zones, and width to go three or four wide. Something always happens there and I’m looking forward to it.