Practice Sessions, FP1:
The first session taking place under normal lights as opposed to artificial light but it is still tricky for drivers to adjust. The track had a bit of re-design after driver’s opinions on it from previous years. Hamilton lead the way with Webber & Vettel behind him. It was a tough start for the SFI duo as di Resta ended P15 while Sutil was just behind him at P16. With track changes, there was slight change in the top times from previous years.
The lights were fully on as the second session began. It is always a treat to watch cars go by under lights shiny like a diamond. RBR duo got back to the top as Vettel topped the sheets while Webber ended P2 and Rosberg at P3 maintaining Mercedes charge as well. It was a slight improvement from SFI mainly on through their super soft tyre performance as Sutil ended P9 while di Resta ended P13 but was upbeat with the long run performance of the tyres.
Always a short & quick session where that 30 minutes makes you believe that there is not much time to try out many things. Most of the sessions towards the end is devoted for qualifying run after having checked with the overnight changes. Vettel continued his charge leading the pack with Grosjean jumping up and Rosberg behind the duo. SFI had a tough session after an improvement shown during the second session. Here di Resta only managed P16 while Sutil was down at P18 just ahead of the new teams. It might also be with them focusing more on long run performance which they were trying during the session.
RBR were clear favourite for pole without any doubt but Mercedes & Grosjean in particular were also in the fringes to target the RBR duo. But from outside it was expectedly a RBR domination. SFI had a mixture of sessions, it was hard to predict their actual positions. I still believed that Q3 was possible for one car if not both of them and clearing Q1 was expected pretty much as well.
In a street circuit, qualifying becomes very important business as qualifying lower would mean charging up the field in difficult circumstances. The tyre choices also became essential as the difference between medium & super soft was about 1 second. Hamilton led the field with Button & Alonso behind him, all having run on super soft whereas only the RBR’s & Grosjen did a run on medium only. Sutil made it through to Q2 but a late improvement from Massa saw di Resta bowing out in Q1 itself. It was disappointing to see him go out so early but the pace just wasn’t there for one lap performance. Along with him Maldonado, two Marussia’s & Caterham’s went out.
A much more heated competition in Q2 with as many as 12-13 drivers could have made it to top 10. RBR didn’t come out until there were some 4-5 minutes were left and they were bang on as Vettel lead the way with Webber & Rosberg behind him. At the back of the field, it was a bit of shock as Kimi bowed out in Q2 but a lot was because of the bad back he had. Sutil qualified only P15 in the end, not a best Saturday for the SFI team but there plenty of hope for Sunday considering the race pace.
It was unusual to see a driver sitting out of the car waiting with his mechanics to check whether or not he has clinched the pole position or not. Vettel having completed his one run elected to stay in pits and watch his rivals on TV, it was nice to see the anxious face which in the end turned out to be relaxed one. Rosberg came close but just couldn’t get over the line with Grosjean behind. Once again Ferrari’s were reeling in the bottom half with a nice addition of Estaben in top 10.
Expectedly Vettel took the pole, it was quite a gamble in the end but paid off with ease. His nearest rivals Alonso & Kimi, both once again down in the sheets and in a track like this, Vettel could have had a sigh of relief. It didn’t turn out to be the best of qualifying for SFI duo, very much out of position in a street circuit but both had good race pace to bank on. A good start and right strategy could be very useful to score some much needed points.
Lights took full force at the start of the night race, commendable job by the organisers for putting up quite a spectacle for the fans watching Live from the stands as well as on TV. I do wish to be there at least once in my life but that’s far off. For now, we have a GP to discuss on as Vettel tried to take another step forward to get his hands on the 4th title. The crowd was shouting like anything at the start when Rosberg almost managed to leapfrog Vettel for the lead. But Rosberg just couldn’t hold on as Vettel took his position back and never looked back an inch as lap by lap he was going some 0.5-1s ahead of the field. Behind him Alonso made a superb start once again to find himself at P3 just behind Rosberg and ahead of Webber. Sutil lost some ground considerably at the start as he was the only driver starting on the medium tyres while di Resta made a good progress to move up to P13 in the starting few laps starting on the super soft tyres and showing a good pace.
There was no to stop Vettel at the front of the field, at one point it seemed that he would lap everyone on track but a SC period disrupted his plans as he was back close with Rosberg. But that too didn’t give any chance to the field to catch up with him as once again he took a healthy lead within now time. A strategic move by Alonso, Kimi proved to be working quite well as they moved up the field at be at P2 & P3 respectively. McLaren’s, Hulkenberg too tried the same move as Alonso & Kimi but towards the end their tyres were almost finished unable to keep up with charging Mercedes, Webber, Massa and for some time di Resta too. At the back van Garde was enjoying a nice battle with Bottas but lost out in the end but still he was the lead driver among the new teams.
The medium tyres on Sutil’s car wasn’t working out well as the team would have expected and that is why they changed it pretty early when most other drivers were changing from super soft to either medium or super soft. He was fighting strongly in the midfield pack eyeing for the points, be it the bottom half of top 10. Meanwhile di Resta was enjoying his first stint as he was upto P3 keeping Alonso at bay for a long time. His pace was going strong and it was looking more that he will come home with some good points. Even after his first pit stop, he was always in the hunt to score good. The SC didn’t hinder his run by a big margin as he duelled with Massa most of the time towards the end.
In the end Vettel took a comfortable victory and continued his dominant form he has shown in the past few races. He has now taken a 60 point lead over his rivals which is very significant was the season is coming to an end. Yet again Alonso was up there, this time with some luck & strategy involved and alongside him was Kimi who came up through the field having a little back issue to go with it. The Mercedes duo, Massa caught up the McLaren’s & Hulkenberg and went past them as Webber retired on the last lap. It was heartbreak for di Resta in the end as with about 5 laps to go, he crashed out after perhaps braking hard into the corner. It was almost certain that he would have finished P6 if he had not crashed. Sutil scored one point in the end, thanks to Webber & di Resta but he too fought his way back to score the points.
Pretty much done and dusted for RBR for both the titles as far as I am concerned. I don’t think anyone would be able to beat him now, it remains to be seen as to when can he clinch it. It will be a battle for P2 position now, be it it DC or CC. We have Kimi, Alonso, Hamilton for DC while their respective teams for CC. SFI now have lost some ground as McLaren takes a 14 point lead which could be hard to score unless the team can get a podium finish. It’s unfortunate that the team are in this position but I am sure they will keep fighting and in Singapore they showed that there is still fight left in the tanks, with some luck, you never know they could be back to P5 by the end of the season. See you after Korea.
Thanks for reading,