2017 Singapore Grand Prix: Analysis – The Pendulum Swings


The most dramatic start of the season as both Ferraris clash with Max Verstappen before turn one in Singapore. Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

In the annals of history, the 2017 Singapore Grand Prix will go down as a chaotic, rain affected race that failed to go the full distance. More pertinent to the here and now however, it was a race that saw the championship pendulum swing very much in Lewis Hamilton‘s favour.

The initial prospect was tantalising; qualifying had provided one of the best battles for pole-position in the hybrid era as Scuderia Ferrari and Red Bull Racing had both drivers in contention, while you couldn’t discount the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team, even on a track where they had struggled in Friday’s practice sessions.

Based on practice pace, the two Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen where perhaps the favourites for a front row lock-out but Sebastian Vettel pulled out his qualifying lap of the year to place his Ferrari on pole. What’s more, with Hamilton only fifth, Vettel had placed both Red Bulls and his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in between him and his main title rival.

Sebastian Vettel pulled out all the stops in qualifying to beat both Red Bulls to pole-position. Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

So all was set for Vettel to romp to victory, reclaim the lead in the title race and pop the cork on a bottle of champagne…

But Formula One is rarely that simple. In the nine previous Singapore Grand Prix, not so much as a pipette-full of rain had fallen, so when a sizeable downpour began just as the national anthem was warbled in front of a contingent of thrilled looking formula one drivers, nobody quite knew what to expect.

With the field split between intermediate tyres and extreme wets, the standing start was always going to be interesting. Just how interesting caught everybody by surprise, perhaps not least Lewis Hamilton who emerged at the end of the first lap in the lead.

His cause was helped dramatically of course, by that crash…

Vettel’s start was poor, his intermediates finding little grip on the wet surface of the grid. As a result, Verstappen, who judged his start somewhat better, pulled marginally alongside Vettel, who in return pulled left to cover off the Red Bull’s charge.

It would have ended one of two ways: Verstappen would have held firm and taken the lead on the inside of Vettel at turn one, or, seeing Vettel coming over to cover him off, Verstappen would have backed out of a turn one move and followed the Ferrari through the first complex of corners.

It was all undone of course, by the lightning start made by Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn, starting in fourth, also on intermediates, leapt from the sodden line without delay to vault ahead of Verstappen as Vettel came across towards the pair of them. All three met in the middle and the further impact involving Raikkonen and Verstappen at turn one that also ultimately ended Fernando Alonso‘s race will doubtless make it onto many a YouTube compilation video in years to come.

The luckless Max Verstappen climbs from his Red Bull having been collected twice by Kimi Raikkonen. Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

What it meant for the driver’s championship was seismic: as both Ferraris eliminated themselves – as well as the luckless duo of Verstappen and Alonso – Lewis Hamilton had crucially rocketed passed Daniel Ricciardo. Once Vettel had spun on the wave of fluid pouring from the hole left in his sidepod, Hamilton inherited a lead he would never relinquish, and it was Ricciardo who chased him home.

It was far from a straightforward victory for Hamilton; he had to manage three safety car restarts and treacherous conditions on a track that the Mercedes appeared earlier in the weekend to be lost at sea. All the while chased by Singapore-specialist Ricciardo, but as he so often does, Hamilton made it look easy.

On the first restart Hamilton amassed a remarkable advantage of over 3.5seconds, by lap 10 it was up to 5.1. He repeated this after each restart despite Ricciardo running fresher tyres, despite the challenging conditions and despite being on a circuit that since the start of the season was deemed a lost cause for the Silver Arrows. He may have been fortunate with the demise of three key runners but nonetheless, it was, in short, a champion’s drive. And with it comes a twenty-eight point advantage in the driver’s world championship.

Was Vettel the architect of his own downfall in Singapore? Ferrari think not, Verstappen thinks so. Either way, the final nail isn’t in Vettel’s championship coffin just yet, but the hammer is certainly ready.

Carlos Sainz Jr. made the most of the early race carnage to score a career best fourth place in Singapore. Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

On a day when neither Ferrari completed the first lap for the first time in Formula One history, an opportunity was created for mid-field runners to come to the fore and prove their worth.

After the top “survivors” of Hamilton, Ricciardo and third place Valtteri Bottas, there came a top 10 littered with career best results.

Scuderia Toro Rosso‘s Carlos Sainz Jr, delivered a remarkably mature drive on Super-Soft tyres when all around had switched to Ultra-Softs to claim fourth place. The Spaniard showing that the faith placed in him by the Renault Sport F1 Team for 2018 is justified.

Meanwhile, Renault’s out-going driver, Jolyon Palmer claimed a career’s best sixth – all too little too late to save his F1 career, it would seem. Rumours continue to circulate that Sainz will replace Palmer at Renault from the next race, despite Palmer pointing out the status of his “watertight contract”.

And finally, McLaren-Honda Formula One Team‘s Stoffel Vandoorne posted his career best result of seventh to add six points to McLaren’s small haul of points. For McLaren, the race may well have been bitter-sweet however, as the elation of Vandoorne’s best result was countered by Fernando Alonso’s demise from what the Spaniard claimed was a “guaranteed podium”.

A bold claim from the two-time world champion but consider his position as he was clouted by the out-of-control Raikkonen/Verstappen at turn one; Alonso would have been third had he escaped the incident unscathed, second once Vettel had exited stage right. And who would bet against Alonso fighting every inch of the way to hold on to a podium position in tricky conditions?

As it was, it wasn’t meant to be, and for Alonso, his difficult season moves on to Malaysia and the final six races of 2017 where all eyes will be on Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari; how will they come back from their Singapore nightmare?