Friday, 7 October 2011

Formula 1 - Singapore Grand Prix 2011

Marina Bay Circuit
The Race In A Nutshell:
- Vettel wins from pole, not losing the lead at any point
- Hamilton and Massa make contact during and after the race, Hamilton penalised but climbs up to fifth place
- Schumacher gets airbourne trying to pass Pérez and brings out the Safety Car
- Vettel not crowned Driver's Champion...... yet

Top 5 Finishers: Vettel, Button, Webber, Alonso, Hamilton

Since 2008, Formula 1 has had a night race at Singapore. The artificial lights running over the cars makes them look much prettier somehow, and despite a lack of overtaking opportunities (I would straighten out turn 2 completely, make turn 1 faster and make 2 a high-speed braking zone for a less tight turn 3), it still makes for eventful racing. Recently, local government types criticised it for being "a playground for the rich", but isn't every GP?

Start: This was the first race where Sebastian Vettel could be crowned the 2011 champion, making him the youngest ever back-to-back winner. He needed the nearest rivals to finish far enough back, and they knew it. Behind the ever-dominant Vettel - so eager to escape trouble he's not even in this picture - the start was busy as the other 23 cars piled into the left-right-left of the first corners. We saw something that has been true in most of the races: a very fast-starting Fernando Alonso, and a disappointingly slow start from Mark Webber, which allowed the Spañard and Jenson Button past him. More grid shuffling happened further back, with Nico Rosberg being forced wide and cutting turn 2 without gaining a place (the grid was oddly amusing actually, with both Red Bulls leading both McLarens, then both Ferraris, both Mercedes GPs and both Force Indias. It mixed up a little after that, then the last three teams (Lotus-Virgin-HRT) were paired up as well). Lewis Hamilton had a look down the inside of Webber as well, but was squeezed out, allowing both Ferraris and Rosberg past him. After turn 6, Michael Schumacher also worked his way past Hamilton, but with memories of Monza, he wasn't going to sit behind him long, and got past him a lap or two later in the DRS zone (between turns 5 and 7).

Hamilton vs Massa: A lap later he pulled the same move on Nico Rosberg, to get 6th place, but taking 5th from his old sparring partner Felipe Massa wasn't as straightforward. Not managing to get past him before or in the braking zone, he was on the outside and tried to cut back under him, which would make a straighter exit and get him alongside the Ferrari again for the next corner, or even past him, alas it didn't quite work, perhaps because of a locked up inside wheel at the end of the braking zone, and his front wing sliced through Massa's right-rear tyre, causing a puncture and taking off some of Hamilton's left front wing. They both dived into the pits, and a few laps later the stewards decided that Hamilton shouldn't get away with a botched overtake that had put Massa miles behind where he was, and gave him a drive-through penalty (his 5th of the season), messing up his race as well by putting him way down in 19th. He later succeeded in passing Massa for 12th place, but the Brazillian second fiddle at Ferrari was keen to show his displeasure after the race, saying that he "doesn't use his mind", and even finding him in the press pit later to tap him on the shoulder a few times and sarcastically say "good job", which BBC pundits reckon would've resulted in a fight in other less sponsor-driven sports...

Schumacher Flies, Safety Car Out: After a few pits stops and Fernando Alonso swapping places with Mark Webber a couple of times, Michael Schumacher was trying to overtake Sergio Pérez at turn 7, but after this failed, tried going up the inside into turn 8, only to miscalculate and hit Pérez's rear wheel, sending the nose of his Mercedes GP car flying into the air. When he landed, his final destination was only ever going to be the tyre wall, and sure enough he crashed into it, bringing out the safety car and continuing Marina Bay Street Circuit's annual tradition for needing Mayländer's AMG Mercedes to calm things down. There was concern over any lower back injuries after an incident of this nature, but over the years Schumacher has probably had to become quite thick-skinned, so that may have served as light body armour. He was subsequently unhurt. Massa's "Plan B" however was hurt, as he had just stopped for Super Soft tyres when this happened, and when the SC came out most of the leaders pitted for Soft tyres (yellow ones) that would take them much further, whereas Massa's albeit superior red SS tyres would run out of grip much earlier. This closed up the grid and evaporated Vettel's substantial lead over Jenson Button, but when the race restarted there were three lapped cars between the two of them, so Button couldn't do anything about it. In fact, the first two positions didn't change at all throughout the entire race.

By this point Hamilton was 8th, and over the next few laps he made the most of the closed-up field and climbed to 5th, dropping back behind them after a pit stop but passing all three of them once more to finish 5th, not bad considering his penalty dropping him to 19th on this streeet circuit, but what could he have achieved if he wasn't penalised?

Finish: From the end of lap 1 to the chequered flag, Vettel was first and Button was 2nd, although with another 3-5 laps, Button could've easily been in with a shot of winning, as he was really on a surge in the final stages and, partly due to backmarkers (athough they both had to navigate another set of them), the win was by just 1.7 seconds. 30 seconds behind was Mark Webber, who ended up ahead of Alonso by 25 seconds at the flag. Hamilton finished 5th. This finishing order was enough to keep Sebastian Vettel from winning the World Driver's Championship, but this weekend at Suzuka, he only needs 1 point if Button wins, otherwise it's all over. It will all be over too early in my opinion, with four more races still to go after the Japanese Grand Prix, and Vettel's dominance arguably undermines how exciting the racing has been this year, and true enough the race for second place has been excellent viewing, but unless Button wins every race left this season and Vettel finishes lower than 10th at Suzuka, 2011 will always go down in history as going one man's way pretty much all year (no-one remembers who came 2nd in the championship), and only YouTube will remember the rest of it.

Results & points below, click to enlarge:

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