The formula 1 circus returned from the summer break with an air of anticipation after Lewis Hamilton brilliantly won the Hungarian grand prix. Hope abounded that Mercedes driver Hamilton, or even Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso or Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen could put in a run of results that would enable them to put up a fight for the 2013 world drivers’ championship. Three races on, and three victories for Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel, have pretty much ended the championship aspirations of the rest, though.
Victory in Singapore, by an astounding 32.6 seconds from Alonso’s Ferrari, looks to be the final nail in the coffin, and it was never in doubt from the point at which Nico Rosberg failed to make his first corner overtaking attempt stick. As usual, Vettel seemingly effortlessly moved away from the rest, building a comfortable lead, which allowed him to control the race.
Things might have changed when the safety car was deployed mid-race after Vettel’s future team-mate, Daniel Ricciardo, crashed his Toro Rosso on lap 25. The safety car was not well-timed for Vettel or indeed Rosberg, Mark Webber or Hamilton, all of whom didn’t stop while the rest of the field, including Alonso and Raikkonen pitted for fresh rubber. You’d never have guessed it at the restart, though.
If Vettel’s gap building at the start of the race was impressive, his pace compared to the rest after the safety car came in to the pits at the end of lap 30 was nothing short of amazing. The gap to Rosberg grew exponentially as the triple world drivers’ champion lapped around 2 seconds a lap faster than his rivals. While Rosberg was at the front of a train of cars Vettel streaked into the distance. Webber, Rosberg and Hamilton all stopped in quick succession on laps 40, 41 and 42, but Vettel stayed out until lap 45.
Where his team-mate and the two Mercedes cars had rejoined way down the field, temporarily out of points scoring positions, Vettel emerged from the pits still in the lead of the race, ahead of Alonso who made a two stop strategy work, where numerous others failed. Vettel, though relentlessly built up a huge lead to finish well clear of the field in what must rank as one of his most comfortable victories.
Vettel fans will obviously be delighted with the German’s form after the summer break, and indeed with the manner of his victory in Singapore. For the rest of the world’s formula 1 fans it might be getting a bit boring. Certainly, the race in Singapore was pretty dull. Had it not been for some frantic action in the last 15 laps or so of the race as Webber, Rosberg and Hamilton made their way through the field, passing cars that were two stopping with tyres that were ‘falling off the cliff’, the race would have been virtually absent of action. .
It would be unfair, though, to leave it at that, without mentioning the performances of Raikkonen and Alonso in more detail. As I’ve already mentioned, Alonso managed to make a two stop strategy work for him where many of the cars and drivers that tried the same tactic failed, including the McLaren’s of Jenson Button – tantalisingly in a podium position in the closing stages of the race – and Sergio Perez. Raikkonen also made a two stop strategy work, and as a result Alonso and Raikkonen finished second and third respectively, doing as much as they could to hang on to the coattails of Vettel in the championship.
The two stop strategies of Alonso and Raikkonen were impressive in themselves, but considering that both drivers had poor grid positions their performances were impressive in themselves. Raikkonen overcame the discomfort of a bad back to move steadily through the field from his 13th place starting position. Where Raikkonen was steady, Alonso was anything but, putting himself in contention with another stunning start, moving himself up from seventh on the grid to third place by turn two. In contrast, his Brazilian team-mate, Felipe Massa, could only finish where he started in sixth place.
Another man who could only finish where he started was Hamilton, who followed home his team-mate, Rosberg, in fifth place. That fifth place finish was enough for him to maintain third place in the standings, albeit now just two points ahead of Raikkonen. Alonso has certainly strengthened his grip on second place in the standings, with a 36 point lead of Hamilton, but it seems that he’s destined to lose out on yet another championship. Vettel now stands 60 points clear at the head of the championship; more than two race wins worth of points in the lead.
Vettel’s performance in Singapore was incredibly impressive, matching his lead in the championship. Not only has the German got the best car on the grid, but he’s also got lady luck on his side. There was no greater illustration of that as the 26 year-old crossed the line to take victory, seconds after his team-mate, Mark Webber, retired; his car bursting into flames after a water pressure issue.
We move on next to Korea, in two weeks time. At this stage, though, there’s nothing to suggest that the result will be any different. Vettel may well take a fourth straight win next time out, perhaps also signally a fourth straight world drivers’ championship for the German.