Singapore Grand Prix Analysis: A strategy call, can lose you it all…


World © Octane Photographic Ltd. Singapore pit buildings. Friday 16th September 2016, F1 Singapore GP Practice 2, Marina Bay Circuit, Singapore. Digital Ref : 1717LB1D9948

As far as Singapore Grand Prix’s go, this weekend’s was relatively innocuous in terms of activity, with just one safety car deployment right at the very start, strategy however was to come into its own at Marina Bay.

For whatever reason this weekend, Lewis Hamilton appeared to have lost his focus, unable to get a clean run on the ultra-soft tyres throughout the weekend practice sessions, with hydraulic issues in FP2 not helping matters, but also uncharacteristically for the Brit, he was unable to put that perfect lap together in qualifying that he is so well known for.

Team-mate Nico Rosberg on the other hand, was pretty much flawless all weekend, and once again a points advantage and welcome boost in confidence were more or less gifted to the German’s side of the Mercedes AMG PETRONAS garage…

Crucial qualifying…

Qualifying was probably where Sunday’s race was lost for Hamilton. The Brit was unable to do enough to hold off the flying Red Bull Racing machine of Daniel Ricciardo, who pipped the current world champion to second spot, and a front row start with his final run, the Australian being the only one of the top ten runners to go quicker on their second lap.

That saw Hamilton start from third place, and although his getaway off the line was much improved on last week’s effort, the Brit was never really close enough to challenge the Red Bull man for the duration of the race.

Safety first…

Rosberg meanwhile was able to maintain his lead of the race at the start, whilst his team-mate battled with Ricciardo for second place rights. A safety car, deployed for a collision with the pit wall for Sahara Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg, put paid to any further movement up the order for Hamilton.

The German, who had made one of his best starts of the season from eighth on the grid, was punted off track by Carlos Sainz Jnr, who in turn had moved right to avoid the struggling RB12 of Max Verstappen, who once again had gotten a woeful getaway, a shame for Hulkenberg who could no doubt have pulled out a strong result on the day.

At the re-start Rosberg pulled away, narrowly missing a marshal who had still been on track clearing up debris and had not been made aware the race had got back underway, whilst Hamilton got to work at getting the better of Ricciardo.

Put the brakes on…

Hamilton tried his best to pass the Australian, as his team-mate stretched out a lead of four seconds up ahead, before both Mercedes drivers were told they would need to manage their brakes. The call saw the Brit almost immediately start to drop back from the Red Bull, whilst Rosberg, with no traffic or obstacle in his way, increased the gap to Ricciardo.

Interestingly, after the race Mercedes Technical Director Paddy Lowe insisted that neither driver had a problem with their brakes, but that managing them was a requirement to allow for the quickest performance.

Ricciardo was one of the first men to pit for new rubber on Lap 15, having started on the super-soft tyre along with team-mate Verstappen whilst those around him had gone with the ultra-soft compound. The team bolted on another set of the super-soft tyre and the Australian was on his way. Hamilton followed suit, but switched to the soft tyre, and looked set to be playing the long game.

Rosberg made his stop one lap later, taking the same tyre option as Hamilton, which put the Scuderia Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen briefly into the lead, before he too pitted for the super-soft tyre next time around, and the original running order was resumed.

Always have a plan…

Maintaining the gap to Ricciardo was no problem for Rosberg, who appeared to have this one in the bag at that point in the race, whilst team-mate Hamilton was being steadily caught by the advancing Ferrari of Raikkonen, who was on the softer tyre and much faster than the Brit in fourth.

On lap 32, Ricciardo was again first of the front-runners to make a stop, this time switching to the more durable soft tyre, and perhaps a bid to make it to the end of the race without further pitting?

Hamilton meanwhile was still unable to shake off the unforced errors he had been making all weekend, and on locking up and running wide at Turn 7 he was almost immediately passed by Raikkonen, who by now was right up behind the Mercedes driver. A strong but decisive move from the Finn saw him take third place, before pitting on the next lap for the soft tyre.

Rosberg also made his second, and what was to become his final stop, of the race which meant Hamilton pitted one lap later, allowing Raikkonen to stay ahead and clear of the Brit by the time he re-joined the track.

That called for Hamilton to ask his team to come up with a plan over team radio to rectify the situation, and that they did, switching him to a three stopper and allowing him to up his engine power in the process. The extra boost allowed the Brit to close up to Raikkonen, before he made his third and final stop of the race for the super-soft tyre.

That new curve ball to proceedings prompted an immediate reaction from Ferrari, as is often the case for the Scuderia, who at first were unsure how to play it. In the end they opted to pit Raikkonen, rather than keeping him out, and that call set all sorts of wheels in motion, as well as calling into question the Maranello based squad’s tactics.

Hamilton’s extra pace and earlier stop allowed Hamilton to take back third place, following the Finn’s final pit stop, a cause of bemusement for the 2007 world champion and his team, who appeared unsure as to how that could have happened. Did the red team made a misjudgment, and cost Raikkonen a visit to the podium?

Red Bull also reacted to the strategy of Mercedes and opted to pit Ricciardo one further time, two laps later, to a fresh set of the super-soft tyres. That left the Australian twenty-seven seconds behind leader Rosberg, with fourteen laps remaining.

Ricciardo ramps up the pressure…

Then Ricciardo really got moving, immediately setting the fastest lap of the grand prix, catching the German who was by now on a well-used set of the soft rubber having only made two stops, back on lap 32.

The Australian was really carving into Rosberg’s lead, going more than three seconds a lap faster than the German on occasion, the race was now well and truly on!

For eleven laps Ricciardo’s Red Bull chased down the silver arrow, but as he got within four seconds of Rosberg, backmarkers started to agonisingly delay his progression. Once out of his way, Ricciardo’s charge began once more, and he was able to catch the German on the final lap, but the Australian ran out of time, and Rosberg was able to hold onto the win by just 0.4 seconds from Ricciardo at the line.

Hamilton was able to stay ahead of Raikkonen to come home third, but that result sees the Brit lose the lead to his team-mate in the championship standings, and now sits eight points adrift in second place.

Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd
Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

And the rest…

Sebastian Vettel was an admirable fifth, having started from the back of the grid due to suspension problems in qualifying, and calmly made his way through the field to finish behind his team-mate who had started the race from fifth on the grid.

That salvage job from the German, means that Red Bull did not make as much of an advance on Ferrari for second place in the Constructor’s Championship as had been expected, with Red Bull now fourteen points clear, having been eleven points ahead before the race.

Verstappen recovered to sixth after his terrible start, with Fernando Alonso coming home in a very creditable seventh for the McLaren-Honda F1 Team, who despite struggling in qualifying and practice, performed well with the Spaniard, after Jenson Button was forced to retire from the race early on.

Force India driver Sergio Perez, who had started from eighteenth on the grid following penalties for two separate yellow flag infringements in qualifying, had a strong race with a perfectly worked two-stop strategy to come home in eighth. His efforts also saw the Silverstone based squad take fourth place in the Constructor’s Championship standings back from the Williams Martini Racing team, with just one point now between the two squads.

The Mexican finished just seven tenths ahead of the advancing Scuderia Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat, who recorded his best result of the season following his return to the Faenza based squad. The Russian, who has had a torrid time of things since being demoted by Red Bull, must be relieved to finally get a strong performance under his belt.

Not only did the 22-year-old finish ahead of much revered team-mate Sainz Jnr, he also performed some of the best racing of the day as he fended off the advances of Verstappen, the man who replaced him at Red Bull.

Thirsty work…

Kevin Magnussen rounded out the top ten, to score the first points for the Renault Sport F1 Team since his seventh place at the Russian Grand Prix back on May 1.

It was revealed after the grand prix that the Dane had raced without any water available to him, which in a temperature of thirty degrees Celsius and high humidity, will have made for a very hot and gruelling outing for the 23-year-old, who looked visibly exhausted on getting out of his car.

Early retirements…

Romain Grosjean did not even make it to the start of the Singapore Grand Prix, after experiencing a brake-by-wire issue that the Haas F1 Team were unable to rectify prior to the race.

Button and Valtteri Bottas both retired with differing technical issues. The Brit forced to stop the car after concerns over the brakes, following an unavoidable collision at the start, when Hulkenberg’s car speared across the track. The Finn meanwhile came in just a few laps after a very long pit stop to tighten his seatbelts, which worryingly for Williams, became undone whilst out on track.