HEAVENS OPEN FOR HAMILTON
Lewis said he’d need “a miracle” to win this race from fifth on the grid. That’s exactly what he got
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
OF THE FERRARIS MISJUDGED THE AMOUNT OF SPACE THEY NEEDED… I’M HAPPY THAT THE THREE OF US RETIRED, SO IT’S NOT ONLY ME” max verstappen
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.