Nico Rosberg won his third successive ‘first ever’ race, by clinching a dominant victory in Singapore. His previous ‘first ever’ wins were in Spa and Monza, the two back-to-back wins he scored after Formula 1 returned from its summer break. This was also his 22nd career win and eight of the current season, two more than his team-mate, title rival and reigning World Champion, Lewis Hamilton. All of this after starting his Singapore Grand Prix weekend – also his 200th in Formula 1 – with a crash on Friday’s Free Practice 1 session.
Four out of the last five drivers who won in Singapore have gone to win the Drivers’ Championship in the same year. Will Nico Rosberg follow suit? There’s nearly a third of the season ahead of us, so it would be tough to take a call, but the signs are there more than ever before. After being beaten by a mile (four-tenths) in Monza last fortnight, Rosberg took revenge by qualifying a little more than a mile (seven-tenths) ahead of Hamilton to clinch pole position. It was one of those laps that most paddock insiders described as the ‘lap of his life.' At a street race such as Singapore, pole is the best place to start your race from.
In our race preview, we had pointed out that the result of the Singapore Grand Prix might just have a larger bearing on the Drivers’ Championship and it certainly did.
Rosberg’s win, followed by Hamilton’s P3 now sees the points pendulum swing back in Rosberg’s favour by eight points. Never before in this Hamilton vs Rosberg battle has the points’ advantage swung with such frequency – 43 points (in favour of Rosberg) after five races, 19 points (in favour of Hamilton) after 12 races and now, eight points (in favour of Rosberg) after 15 races. This battle does seem like it’ll go down to the wire and for both the contenders, it’ll be a case of mind over matter as the season nears its end.
Mercedes managed to salvage Lewis Hamilton’s race by helping him get to the podium with a smart tyre strategy. Hamilton was running in P3, also his starting position, when a rare error saw him lose track position and the final spot on the podium to a fast-charging Kimi Raikkonen. The credit for this podium finish and limited damage to Hamilton’s points’ difference (he could’ve been 13 points off Rosberg) should also be given to Ferrari who panicked and wrongly pitted Raikkonen to cover Hamilton. The Italian team, who haven’t won a single race since a year, seemed rusty in their moment of quick-footed thinking.
However, did Hamilton’s final pit stop, which eventually helped him back on the podium, almost cost Rosberg his victory? As strange as it may sound, it could well have. Hamilton’s pit stop triggered a series of pit stops for the other front-runners – Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo. But when it was time for Rosberg to pit, he had lost his pit window and that meant that he remained on track on his old soft tyres as Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo chased him on new super-softs for the last 14 laps of the race.
Mercedes’ Toto Wolff claimed that the closing stages of the Singapore Grand Prix almost made him ‘pee in his pants’, but for the fans, it was a display of what Formula 1 should actually be – cars racing on the limit for the win. Ricciardo used his pace advantage to close the gap to Rosberg from nearly 22 seconds to 0.4 seconds in 14 laps. And of course, it is inevitable to ask, what if the race was a lap longer? For Red Bull Racing, it was Ricciardo who scored the podium once again as their prodigy Max Verstappen could only manage sixth, behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
It was a case of ‘what could have been’ for Ferrari who didn’t (or couldn’t) optimise their chances in Singapore. Since the last few races, there’s an evidently renewed rigour and pace in Raikkonen that sees him match / beat Ferrari’s blue-eyed boy, Vettel. The team didn’t do themselves any favours with Vettel’s anti-roll bar failure in qualifying that saw him qualify and start last (22nd) and Raikkonen’s botch tyre strategy in the race. Their only solace? Vettel’s charge from 22nd to fifth in the race that earned him the ‘Driver of the Day’ vote. But then again, there’s no points or trophy for that.
Ferrari should have left Singapore with a podium finish. Especially since this was the one track where everyone knew that Mercedes wouldn’t be as comfortable as they are elsewhere. One could argue that Hamilton could’ve charged Raikkonen on new tyres just as Ricciardo did, but then again, this is Singapore, it maybe easy to close the gap, but it still is difficult to overtake. Ferrari need to and should’ve done differently to finish ahead of the Mercedes of Hamilton.
Mclaren’s Fernando Alonso finished a strong seventh place (his third seventh place finish in the last six races), which could also be classified as the ‘best of the rest’, and surprisingly ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez in eighth who worked to his typical tyre strategy of using one less pit stop to finish the race. The Mexican’s hard earned four points saw Force India take back fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship from the former World Champion team, Williams. With only one point separating the two, this battle too will go down to the wire and basis current form, Force India should finish fourth.
Lastly, though the Drivers’ Championship battle is heating up, the Constructors’ Championship could well be decided in the upcoming Malaysian Grand Prix. If Mercedes finish eight or more points ahead of Red Bull Racing, their third consecutive Constructors’ Championship will be sealed. While it is great for Mercedes, we hope the new owners will work hard to ensure the boring dominant eras are a think of Formula 1’s past.