Lewis said he’d need “a mir­a­cle” to win this race from fifth on the grid. That’s ex­actly what he got

F1 Racing (UK) - - RACE DEBRIEF -

Since its 2008 de­but, the Sin­ga­pore Grand Prix has never failed to of­fer some­thing spe­cial. This year would prove no dif­fer­ent, thanks to a pre-race rain shower and a multi-car first-lap shunt that tipped a closely bal­anced driv­ers’ cham­pi­onship dra­mat­i­cally in Lewis Hamil­ton’s favour. Postsin­ga­pore, the 2017 ti­tle looks like his to lose. QUAL­I­FY­ING Seb Vet­tel was a driver fully in the zone on Sin­ga­pore Satur­day. His Fer­rari SF70H had been re­con­fig­ured overnight af­ter a scrappy Fri­day, thanks to a track­side en­gi­neer­ing all-nighter and live sim­u­la­tor ses­sions at Maranello with Fer­rari pro­tégé Charles Le­clerc at the con­trols. But even then, Seb came oh-so-close to blow­ing it.

On his sec­ond and fi­nal Q3 run, gun­ning for pole against a brace of fired-up and fast Red Bulls, he was maybe just a touch too quick through T19 and – bang! – his left-front whacked hard into the wall. But he got away with it to post a stun­ning pole time of 1:39.491s, al­most 0.3s faster than his near­est chal­lenger Max Ver­stap­pen, and more than 3s bet­ter than last year’s pole set by Nico Rosberg.

His only true ri­val, Lewis Hamil­ton, lan­guished in fifth, hav­ing posted a lap some 0.7s slower at 1m 40.126s. Team-mate Valt­teri Bot­tas, along­side him in sixth, was a fur­ther 0.7s down, con­firm­ing the team’s fears that this sim­ply would not be their track. Red Bull, though, had cut­ting-edge pace and it was a sur­prise that Vet­tel pipped them for pole, since Fer­rari had looked out of the hunt on Fri­day.

Even so, Ric­cia­rdo reck­oned the long-run pace of the RB13 would make him a con­tender, while Ver­stap­pen, too, was char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally res­o­lute: “We’ve been a bit down on power all week­end,” he said, “but hope­fully that won’t be a prob­lem when I’m in the lead and I can just cruise home.” RACE For about two sec­onds at the start of the 2017 Sin­ga­pore GP, the form card looked good. A so-so get­away on a damp track for Vet­tel, from pole; a Räikkö­nen flier, from fourth. Both reds on the march into Turn 1, with Vet­tel look­ing to im­pose him­self on an in­ter­lop­ing Max Ver­stap­pen (chal­leng­ing from P2), via his char­ac­ter­is­tic sweep across the bows from right to left.

With­out Kimi’s mega-launch, Vet­tel’s tac­tic would prob­a­bly have suc­ceeded as a rude-but­le­gal as­ser­tion of pole-sit­ter’s rights. He and Max would likely have gone into the left-han­der of T1 more or less side by side, where­after Vet­tel should have edged ahead into the right sweep of T2, giv­ing him the lead and line into T3.

Trou­ble was, Räikkö­nen’s cat­a­pult had cre­ated a three-into-two sce­nario: Vet­tel’s di­ag­o­nal had ush­ered Ver­stap­pen to the left and Räikkö­nen was al­ready ahead of Max and al­most neck and neck with Seb. Kimi was oc­cu­py­ing track real es­tate on the far left of the track, right be­side the pit­wall. There was nowhere for Ver­stap­pen to go, but Max wasn’t go­ing to back out… why should he? Contact!

Ver­stap­pen’s front-left clipped the right flank of Räikkö­nen’s Fer­rari, flip­ping it in­stan­ta­neously into Vet­tel’s right side­pod. Vet­tel’s Fer­rari con­tin­ued briefly, de­spite car­ry­ing pieces of front wing from Räikkö­nen’s car, but his mo­ment in the spot­light would last only two more cor­ners. He spun his



SF70H into the wall be­tween Turns 2 and 3, re­tir­ing just mo­ments later.

Be­hind Vet­tel, Max and Kimi had bounced apart af­ter their ini­tial contact but they col­lected each other again, where­after their bro­ken ma­chines speared to­wards a help­less Alonso, who’d launched bril­liantly from P8 to mo­men­tar­ily hold third, as he took a wide en­try into T1. But as Fer­nando be­gan to round the cor­ner, one bro­ken Red Bull and one bro­ken Fer­rari were drawn to­wards him as if by mag­netic at­trac­tion. His Mclaren was launched and spun through a midair pirou­ette, al­though, re­mark­ably, the da­m­age was in­suf­fi­cient to force in­stant re­tire­ment. He con­tin­ued, at the tail of the field, be­fore be­ing called in by his crew on lap 8.

All of this T1 car­nage prompted a stew­ards’ en­quiry, the out­come of which was that “no driver was wholly or pre­dom­i­nantly to blame”. Ver­stap­pen saw it dif­fer­ently, how­ever: “Both of the Fer­raris mis­judged the amount of space they needed and I couldn’t move be­cause they started to squeeze me be­tween their tyres,” he said. “I’m happy that the three of us re­tired, so it’s not only me.”

A Safety Car pe­riod was in­evitable, but rac­ing re­sumed af­ter three laps with Hamil­ton lead­ing from Ric­cia­rdo. With both Fer­raris and one Red Bull out, and in the slip-slidey con­di­tions Lewis adores, a race that had promised to be a Fer­rari field day sud­denly pre­sented an open goal for Lewis.

Would he, though, be able to meet the challenge of Ric­cia­rdo, whose RB13 had been the most con­sis­tently quick pre-race per­former? In short, yes, de­spite two more Safety Car pe­ri­ods and race-long pres­sure from the Red Bull that never al­lowed Hamil­ton to re­lax.

His mod­est winning mar­gin of 4.5s be­lied the wheel-per­fect na­ture of his per­for­mance and the sheer com­mand of his an­swers to ev­ery ques­tion Ric­cia­rdo posed. On lap 32, for ex­am­ple, Dan set what was then the fastest lap of the race: 1:50.994s. But a lap later, Lewis slapped him down with a 1:49.453s. And so it went on. Hamil­ton was able to extend his lead to more than ten sec­onds be­fore a third Safety Car, trig­gered by Eric­s­son spin­ning on the Anderson Bridge. Even af­ter that ad­van­tage had been erased, Lewis set about re­build­ing it with re­morse­less re­solve, once re­leased. His first fly­ing lap af­ter the restart was a stun­ning 1:47.133, al­most two sec­onds bet­ter than Ric­cia­rdo could man­age.

And while Hamil­ton was doubt­less very for­tu­nate to see three of his ma­jor ri­vals elim­i­nated on the first lap, he bossed ev­ery sec­ond of the race there­after to take his sev­enth win of the sea­son and his 60th vic­tory over­all. He left Sin­ga­pore with 263 points, 28 clear of Vet­tel, and sud­denly looked very much in com­mand of the 2017 driv­ers’ cham­pi­onship.

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