It was approaching 1.30am as I walked from the paddock and threaded my way between scaffolding trucks and deconstruction staff on the long run between Turns Five and Seven. Little more than three hours after the podium ceremony, the Marina Bay circuit’s concrete-and-mesh perimeter was being pulled apart with the same kind of speed so recently espoused by Sebastian Vettel.
During the sixth Singapore Grand Prix, I lost count of the number of times I heard comments about a “boring” race, but that’s not how I saw things. It certainly wasn’t closely fought, but that’s not the same thing as dull.
Highlights included Fernando Alonso’s start – his mood might have been tetchy during the build-up, not helped by Ferrari bringing a raft of updates that earned him next to no performance upgrade, but his racecraft was wonderful. And some way behind the leader, there was a frantic finale as different tyre strategies came into a play at a venue that doesn’t really allow for such things. Most moves, though, were beautifully judged. The pick was probably Kimi Räikkönen’s annexing of third place, when he ignored Jenson Button’s defensive stance and swept around the outside at Turn 14. As ever, the Finn seemed less impressed than the rest of the world. “Maybe it looked trickier than it was,” he said. “I was on the racing line and obviously had more grip, so knew more or less where I had to brake. It was much easier for me than it was for Jenson, on the inside.”
The best bit, though, was the way Vettel handled every aspect of the race. He admitted he’d been lucky to recover from a slightly deficient start, during which Nico Rosberg briefly gained the upper hand, but then the championship leader braked at the correct point for the opening corner and his rival didn’t – not so much luck as fractionally better judgment. Once he’d eased ahead into Turn Three, he was faultless – a master craftsman at the pinnacle of his powers. He might have enjoyed a car advantage – and he acknowledged the part his less celebrated colleagues had played – but he used it to perfection. That was especially true after the safety car restart, when circumstance obliged him to recover the cushion he’d just lost and his pace was simply devastating. “On days like this,” he said, “it’s a pleasure to be in the car.”
If teams hadn’t spent the first part of the season using brittle tyres that masked true performance, he might already have world title number four.
It was a privilege to witness a performance such as this, but Vettel’s partial reward – increasingly the norm, these days – was to be jeered by a section of a mostly exultant crowd. The noise subsided when podium interviewer Martin Brundle asked the minority to desist, but Vettel reacted with good grace. “They are on tour, in a bus,” he said, with a grin, about his detractors – a boos cruise, perhaps? – “and are wealthy enough to go to lots of races. Fortunately we keep winning, so they have a reason to boo…”
Red Bull has a cyclical policy when it comes to team members ascending the podium – and in Singapore it was team principal Christian Horner’s turn. “There was a small, collective group doing the booing,” he said. “It was a bit of a pantomime, but it’s not sporting. Seb’s pace today was outstanding, particularly after the safety car’s intervention. He was in a class of his own out there and at no point did he look under pressure.
“What you witnessed was one of the best performances I’ve seen him produce. He’d just driven his heart out and it wasn’t fair that he didn’t get the reception he deserved…”
It was a bitter-sweet conclusion to a day on which F1 drivers weren’t the only world-class sportsmen roaming the Singapore paddock. David Beckham was present and watched events unfold from the Mercedes garage. Even he, though, didn’t take corners quite as precisely as Vettel’s RB9…