Quicksilver Hamilton shines in Singapore

The result couldn’t have been much better for Lewis Hamilton in Singapore. Pole position on Saturday was followed by a race win on Sunday. That win, coupled with his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg’s retirement, meant that Hamilton also took the lead in the world drivers’ championship; for only the second time this season.

Last time out in Italy it was Hamilton who had electronic problems at the start of the race, but in Singapore it was Rosberg who had his own electrical problem, a problem far more severe than the one his team-mate experienced in Monza. Rosberg’s issue started before he even left the pit lane and once he made it to the grid the team worked frantically on the steering column of his car, switching steering wheels and hoping for the best.

Rosberg's stricken Mercedes is pushed away from the grid

Rosberg’s stricken Mercedes is pushed away from the grid

As it turned out, despite all the team’s efforts, Rosberg’s problem was far from fixed. The German couldn’t pull away on the parade lap and although he did manage to start from the pit lane, the problem with his car was far from resolved. Rosberg had no control over his car’s systems. No ERS, no engine mode control, no DRS. Indeed, nothing at all other than the ability to change gears, and even that was severely hampered.

Rosberg struggled at the back of the field

Rosberg struggled at the back of the field

As Hamilton streaked into the lead from pole position, Rosberg struggled to pick his way through the Marussias and Caterhams at the tail of the field. When his first pit-stop came on lap 14 of the race, he didn’t even have an operational pit lane speed limiter, meaning he was forced to crawl into his pit box at a snail’s pace.

As it turned out, he couldn’t even manage to pull back out again. Even gear selection finally failed and as a result Rosberg was going absolutely nowhere. The team was forced to retire the car and Rosberg was forced to watch on while Hamilton took complete control of the race, pursued, at an ever-increasing distance by Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel and the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso.

Despite Hamilton’s iron grip of the race in the opening 32 laps, his victory turned out to be far from plain sailing in the end. Reliability was not the problem for Hamilton, though, the safety car was. Force India’s Sergio Perez suffered a front wing failure after contact with Adrian Sutil’s Sauber on lap 31.

The safety car disrupted the race in Singapore

The safety car disrupted the race in Singapore

The resulting debris triggered the safety car and put Hamilton and Mercedes in a difficult position. Both Red Bulls and Williams cars had already used both tyre compounds and would not stop again. Alonso decided to stop under safety car conditions and switch on to the softer compound tyre, meaning that he, too, had run both compounds. Hamilton and Mercedes, though, didn’t, meaning that they would have to stop again in the closing stages of the race.

The safety car finally returned to the pit lane on lap 38. Hamilton would have to build a gap of around 30 seconds over his rivals to be able to pit again and emerge in the lead. It was a massive ask, but Hamilton set about his task with relish, building a 3.3 second lead after just one lap. By lap 51 the gap was over 25 seconds, but his super soft tyres had had enough. He pitted on lap 52, emerging from the pits on fresh soft tyres behind Vettel, but crucially ahead of Ricciardo in third and Alonso in fourth.

A clearly delighted Hamilton celebrates his win

A clearly delighted Hamilton celebrates his win

Just two laps later, Hamilton wasn’t even behind Vettel. The Briton took maximum advantage of his far fresher tyres to make the move on the reigning world drivers’ champion at turn seven, with DRS assistance. And that was pretty much that. Hamilton once again pulled away from his rivals at a staggering rate of knots. In the remaining few laps – one less than the scheduled 61 due to the safety car period – Hamilton built an impressive lead over Vettel, with Ricciardo and Alonso close behind. The Stevenage-born racer eventually finished 13.5 seconds clear as he took his seventh victory of the season.

Second was a great result for Vettel in the end.  The quadruple world drivers’ champion has endured a miserable 2014  so far, watching on as Ricciardo managed three wins and usurped the German as the lead Red Bull driver.  In Singapore, though, Vettel beat Ricciardo fair and square.  It’ll be interesting to see whether this marks a shift in the Red Bull pecking order this year.  Ferrari were also much improved at Marina Bay, with Kimi Raikkonen looking fast all weekend and unlucky not to supplement Alonso’s fourth place finish with more than an eighth place finish.  But behind Hamilton the star of the race was undoubtedly Jean-Eric Vergne in the Toro Rosso.  The Frenchman has lost his drive for next season to rising star Max Verstappen, but he made a great case for a drive elsewhere with sixth place in Singapore, matching his best ever result in Formula 1.

The man of the moment was definitely Hamilton, though.  His 25 point haul in Singapore means that he wiped out his 22 point deficit in the world drivers’ championship in one fell swoop. He now takes a three-point lead into Japan and, with two consecutive wins from pole position, the momentum is very much behind him. There are still five races to go, though, and with double points in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton, and for that matter Rosberg, will need no reminding that the championship battle is far from over.

The championship is as close as it’s ever been, though. It looks like it’s going to be a thrilling climax to the season. I suspect that there are twists and turns yet to come…

Racing instinct delivers victory for Hamilton in Italy

After the drama of the Belgian grand prix the focus of the Formula 1 world was very much on the Mercedes team and their two world drivers’ championship protagonists, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. The pressure was on both drivers to deliver a clean race and a positive result for the team. The big question was, which of the two drivers would handle the pressure and intense scrutiny the best?

The answer to that question, at least at Monza, appeared to be very much Hamilton. That might be somewhat of a surprise to some given that it’s Rosberg who is supposedly the mentally stronger of the two drivers, but he simply had no answer to Hamilton in Italy.

Both drivers had experienced some reliability issues through free practice, with Hamilton missing an hour of free practice two with an electrical issue, while Rosberg failed to set a time in free practice three after experiencing his own reliability issues. Going in to qualifying it was pretty even in the reliability stakes, but not so in terms of pace.

Hamilton celebrates pole position ahead of Rosberg and Bottas

Hamilton celebrates pole position
ahead of Rosberg and Bottas

Hamilton had the edge throughout all three segments of qualifying, and in Q3 he really stamped his authority on proceedings with a first effort that was just under half a second quicker than his Mercedes team-mate. Rosberg closed the gap on his second run, but he still qualified over a quarter of a second behind Hamilton on the front row of the grid.

Rosberg led at the start while Hamilton was swallowed up by the field

Rosberg led at the start while Hamilton
was swallowed up by the field

Hamilton’s stunning qualifying performance counted for nothing on race day, however. The Briton got an awful start, through no fault of his own (car related software glitch), which dropped him down to fourth position and handed Rosberg the lead.

Hamilton had to make his way ahead of Kevin Magnussen in the McLaren and Felipe Massa’s Williams, both of whom had passed him at the start, before being able to set about Rosberg, who had pulled well clear in the lead of the race. He started to make his move on lap five, taking advantage of Massa’s move on Magnussen to make his own move on the Danish driver.

Hamilton passes Massa for second position

Hamilton passes Massa for second position

Massa and Hamilton then started to close the gap to Rosberg, who made a mistake on lap nine, running straight on at turn one and losing nearly two seconds to the pursuing duo. That was all the encouragement that Hamilton needed, pulling off a great move on Massa in the same place as Rosberg’s error just a lap later, before setting about closing down his team-mate.

Although Hamilton was able to get close to Rosberg – closing to within 1.1 seconds at some stage – he was unable to get to within DRS range on the first stint on the medium tyres. Rosberg got the advantage of the “undercut”, pitting first for fresh tyres on lap 25, briefly handing the lead to Hamilton before the 2008 world drivers’ champion pitted just a lap later and returned the lead to his championship rival.

Rosberg, under pressure from Hamilton, goes straight on at turn one

Rosberg, under pressure from
Hamilton, goes straight on at turn one

As battle resumed between the two Silver Arrows Hamilton’s race engineer suggested that his driver might want to hang back a little and preserve his tyres for attack in the closing laps of the race. Hamilton had other ideas. He decided that the time to make his move was there and then and started to eat in to Rosberg’s lead at an incredible rate of knots. On lap 28 he had closed to within 0.7 seconds of his team-mate and with the pressure very much on Rosberg cracked, making an identical error to the one he made on lap nine, going straight on at turn one, losing time and handing Hamilton the lead of the race.

Having taken the lead, Hamilton pulls away from Rosberg

Having taken the lead, Hamilton
pulls away from Rosberg

It was a lead that Hamilton never looked like relinquishing, pulling relentlessly away from his team-mate and building a comfortable 4.5 second gap. While there were some fierce battles, and great racing, behind the two Silver Arrows, Rosberg could never get close to Hamilton out front. Despite his own lock up at turn one in the closing stages, Hamilton had everything under control and took what was a comfortable victory in the end, with Rosberg completing a Mercedes one, two and Massa and team-mate Valtteri Bottas bring the two Williams cars home in third and fourth.

Rosberg’s championship lead is now down to 22 points – still a big margin – but the psychological impact of the events of Spa and Monza might be more significant to the outcome of the 2014 world drivers’ championship than the loss of seven points to Hamilton in Italy. Will we see more mistakes start to creep in to Rosberg’s driving? Is the knowledge that he would be at risk of being completely vilified should he make contact with Hamilton again affecting him?

It’s too early to answer those questions, but what is clear is that Hamilton’s racing instinct won him the race at Monza. He knew when to push, when to apply pressure and when to attack. He recovered brilliantly from the technical problems that caused him to lose the lead of the race at the start to win. Irrespective of the psychological impact on Rosberg, events in Italy will certainly give Hamilton a lift.

Has the momentum swung in his direction? I can’t wait to find out in Singapore.