With Lewis Hamilton’s title hopes fading, and Sebastian Vettel returning to the top step of the podium, DAVID HOOPER reviews the Singapore Grand Prix.
SEBASTIAN Vettel put his championship challenge back on track under the lights of the Singapore Grand Prix after Lewis Hamilton’s gearbox failed, forcing him to retire from a comfortable lead.
The young Brit was clearly disappointed, but put on a mature, brave face, having led from pole position and comfortably controlling the race from the front of the field.
With his future at McLaren still unconfirmed, you have to question whether this latest setback, which could well have put paid to his title bid for this season, will affect his decision to stay with the team which has been his home since he was a 13-year-old karting star.
The race got off to a fairly clean, if slightly chaotic start, with many cars missing the first corners, but despite investigations by the stewards, these were put down to racing incidents.
The first half of the race settled into a bit of a procession with the first pit stop phase making little difference to the running order.
There was much more action in the second half of the race which ran to the full two-hour time limit for the first time this season. The first safety car of the race was deployed after Narain Karthikeyan clipped a wall and took the front right wheel off his HRT.
While the safety car was controlling the pack, there was plenty of action in the pit lane with a flurry of pit stops as teams took advantage of the slow-moving field.
The race was restarted on lap 39 – but it nearly wasn’t, after Button somehow managed to miss Vettel’s car after the German driver accelerated and then braked sharply. After the race, Jenson said he shut his eyes – along with millions of viewers, I suspect!
Back up to speed, the bunched up pack soon encountered more problems. As Sergio Perez in his Sauber and Torro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne battled for position, the pair braked early for a corner, catching out veteran Michael Schumacher who was late in spotting what was happening and by the time he reacted, locking up his wheels, he was too close to stop and ploughed into the back of the Toro Rosso with some force at turn 14, destroying both cars.
The stewards later gave Schumacher a 10-place grid penalty for the next race in Japan after his second DNF in Singapore on the trot.
Massa also had me on the edge of my seat as he tried to force his way past Bruno Senna’s Williams. Senna probably didn’t know he was there and squeezed Massa against the wall, the two touched, and somehow, Massa magically managed to control a huge sideways moment under braking into a corner, and take the position, as Senna, realising what was happening, gave him some room. Massa’s race engineer Rob Smedley was shaking his head in disbelief in front of his monitors on the pit wall, but it was a committed performance from Massa who will have done his claim on his Ferrari seat no harm with a strong drive.
Vettel was chased home by Button as the pair took it in turns to post fastest laps in the closing stages, but it was Vettel who comfortably took the chequered flag after the two hours had elapsed.
Alonso, again drove the wheels off his Ferrari, making it out-perform its true ability to claim third place on the podium.
The impressive Scot Paul Di Resta drove well in Singapore and finished fourth after starting from sixth on the grid, finishing in front of Nico Rosberg in his Mercedes and the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen, who now sits in third place in the driver’s championship, behind leader Alonso and the resurgent Vettel.
Lewis Hamilton’s gearbox failure cost him dear and he is now in fourth place with his chances of winning this year’s title fading fast.
There are still six races to go however, and although Alonso’s consistency is serving him well, he’s having to do it the hard way this season and anything could happen.
As we head to Japan on October 7, it’s certainly still all to play for.
Don’t miss our preview of the next race, coming soon – and keep up the with all the action as it happens during the race on Twitter with reporter Tom Wilkinson at #F1 and #TWF1.