Free Practice, FP1/FP2/FP3:
There is little to dwell, into the FP1 and FP3 lap times from Singapore. It was because, the race was to happen under artificial lights, and so FP2 became the most important session out of all. The field was bunched up closely on Friday and Saturday; Alonso and Ferrari were up for the challenge, topping both FP1 and FP3 sessions. Even the Red Bull duo, along with Vergne lapped some fast times. Although, Mercedes looked to be struggling with the right balance, they always looked fast on the long runs. McLaren’s were closely matched with SFI; Williams were the only team, looking out of shape.
The Singapore track was termed, as one of the strongest track for Sahara Force India team; more so because, the team had brought a major update package, for the race. It was hard to judge, if the updates worked because of the nature of the track, but it certainly gave the team a push, in the fight against McLaren. Both Hulkenberg and Perez matched each other closely and the McLaren drivers were not far off either. The race pace was good, but qualifying remained a question mark. Q3 with both cars was a possibility looking at the practice times, but it was hard to count Williams, McLaren and even STR out from the fight.
After what happened during the practice sessions, it made qualifying much more intense. There was a real feeling of a non-Mercedes pole. It didn’t happen of course; Hamilton piped Rosberg by 0.007s in the end. Ricciardo completed the top 3 with Vettel lining at P4 and Alonso at P5. Both the rookies Magnussen and Kvyat, made it the top 10, qualifying P9 and P10 respectively. While, on the other hand, Button lost out on a Q3 run, qualifying P11. It was usual proceedings at the back with Marussia leading Caterham while Sauber and Lotus just managing to stay ahead of those teams.
For SFI, the qualifying session ended slightly on unexpected terms. Both the drivers didn’t make it to Q3 and qualified lower than the team’s expectation and aim. None of the drivers made any mistake on their fast lap; it was the case that they just didn’t have the pace to get through. Hulkenberg expected more but was happy with P13, having got the free tyre choice. Perez meanwhile tried something different heading out for an early run in Q2, but it didn’t work and thus, only managed P15. The team had race pace and were optimistic to score good points.
The helicopter shot of the Singapore track is one of the scenic shot of all the circuits; it being the night race makes it even special. There were some tensions within the Mercedes camp, even before the start of the race. This time, it was Rosberg though, who was forced to a pit lane start when he couldn’t get going at the formation lap. Hamilton got away perfectly, Vettel behind him, with Alonso third and Ricciardo fourth. Both SFI drivers made places at the end of the first lap, as Hulkenberg was up at P12 and Perez at P14. It was fairly good start for all drivers with none losing major positions; Kobayashi was unfortunate to have suffered a DNS. And Rosberg got going at the back but was having all sorts of problem still.
Hamilton led the way, as the big news of Rosberg retiring might have allowed him to push even harder for the win, because it would have given him a championship lead. Behind him, Alonso gained a place by an undercut, to move ahead of Vettel but then lost two positions due to the safety car period. The next big battle was happening behind Massa as Bottas, was keeping Button and Raikkonen at bay for the most part of the race. The last few grid positions were up for grabs as Vergne, Hulkenberg, Magnussen, Kvyat, Perez, Maldonado and Grosjean were fighting hard to stay in the hunt. At the back, Ericsson was having a fine battle with Bianchi.
In the middle stages of the race, both SFI drivers were among the few drivers, to score some good points. It was evident that both of them were going for the three stop race. Both were always involved in some fight or the other. But all was not well, a contact between Perez and Sutil brought out the safety car, fortunately, Perez only required a front wing change and was able to race on. At that moment, it seemed like Hulkenberg was on course to score points and for Perez, it was a big task ahead, to score points coming from the back of the pack.
The post safety car stint from Hamilton was the decisive moment in the race, which helped the Briton to secure the win. It was tough stint on the super soft tyres, but he managed it well and after his late stop, he had only Vettel to cover. With his seventh win of the season, Hamilton regained the championship lead with three points in hand. Vettel secured his best finish this season with a fine P2, as Ricciardo fought with his car problems to finish P3 and Alonso right behind at P4. It was a dramatic last lap, which saw Bottas losing four places to find himself out of points at P11. Vergne even with two penalties fought well to finish a superb P6, his best finish ever.
Perez was another star, coming from behind to finish P7 after a late tyre change, his fourth stop. Hulkenberg also managed to finish in P9, after a long stint on the soft tyres, like others on the grid. It was a gritty drive from Maldonado to end P12 and Ericsson to finish P15, ahead of Bianchi.
The battle is on for the championship now with five races remaining, every point counts for Hamilton and Rosberg. Over in the Constructors’ championship, it is all to play for Williams who are still ahead of Ferrari. The major movement after Singapore, was SFI regaining their P5 position from McLaren, in doing so the team has now scored 117 points, which is their best tally of points in a season. Surely, the aim for the team will be to get to 150 points and finish ahead of McLaren.
Next the teams move on to Japan, heading to one of the classic track in Suzuka, in two weeks time. See you then, it’s getting tighter by every race, as we get closer to the season finale.