I have to say I am pleasantly surprised by the 2012 Singapore Grand Prix. I personally don’t like the circuit and have been largely unimpressed by the races since the opening race in 2008.
Nevertheless, the 2012 event provided shocks, crashes and far more overtakes than I would ever expect at such a venue!
Whilst Qualifying 1 (Q1) did provide a shock exit when Kamui Kobayashi failed to make it through, the overall result was predictably similar to every other Q1 since the F1 entry of the "slow six."
Track conditions were evolving with every new lap, and it was clear that a juicy fight was developing between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. As expected, the HRT, Marussia and Caterham cars all tumbled out, but as I said, it was a shock to see Kobayashi drop out as the Sauber driver struggled with his car.
It’s worth mentioning Jean-Eric Vergne, as it looked as though he would be taking his relatively normal exit from qualifying at his first attempt at Singapore’s streets. However, despite occupying the last drop spot for most of the session, the Torro Rosso man pulled his way up and took a deserved place in Qualifying 2 (Q2). It’s also worth mentioning that both Marussias were able to beat the HRTs despite having no KERS!
Q2 was a much closer fight. The usual faster cars had good battles, but it was no surprise to see both Red Bulls, Fernando Alonso and both McLarens easily get through (despite Jenson Button struggling with car setup).
It looked as though the Mercedes cars were going to take a shock exit in the second session, but last-minute blinders from Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg saved the teams' blushes. Bruno Senna had been clipping the walls throughout practice and Q1, but he took an early exit in Q2 when a clip to his right rear proved terminal for his car. The Williams man was clearly upset, and he later took a further five-place drop for changing his gear box.
It was disappointing to see Felipe Massa drop out again in Q2 and slightly shocking to see Kimi Raikkonen and Sergio Perez fall out of qualifying early.
Qualifying 3 was shaping up to be a tantalising duel between Vettel and Hamilton, but in the end the McLaren man was simply too fast. Hamilton’s first time shot him straight to P1, and he never dropped from there.
Alonso was never really fast enough but did well to finish P5. The Red Bulls were OK but couldn’t do anything spectacular. The only man who came close to taking Hamilton’s headlines was Pastor Maldinado, who just scraped through to Q2 before a superb P2 finish in Q3.
Qualifying results after five-place penalties for Pedro de la Rossa and Bruno Senna:
Lewis Hamilton, Pastor Maldonado, Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Paul di Resta, Mark Webber, Romain Grosjean, Michael Schumacher, Nico Rosberg, Nico Hulkenberg, Kimi Räikkönen, Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez, Daniel Ricciardo, Jean-Eric Vergne, Kamui Kobayashi, Vitaly Petrov, Heikki Kovalainen, Timo Glock, Charles Pic, Bruno Senna, Narain Karthikeyan, Pedro de la Rosa
The start was hectic but controlled. Lewis Hamilton pulled comfortably away, but Fernando Alonso back in P5 struggled to get off the line.
Pastor Maldinado got off to a good start but went slightly wide into Turn 1 and lost P2 to Sebastian Vettel and then third to Jenson Button. The Williams man was clearly driving very cautiously.
Several cars went wide at Turn 1 (including Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber), the Caterhams collided causing front-wing damage to Vitaly Petrov, and Filepe Massa’s race was ruined by a puncture.
Here were the positions after one lap:
Hamilton, Vettel, Button, Maldinado, Alonso, Di Resta, Webber, Grosjean, Rosberg, Schumacher, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Perez, Ricciardo, Vergne, Kovalainen, Glock, Senna, Kobayashi, Pic, de la Rosa, Karthikeyan, Massa, Petrov
The race cooled significantly within the first five laps. Few positions were changed, and two leaders began to pull away gradually from the rest of the pack. The real question at this stage was how long the tyres would last on a track with very unpredictable tyre wear. The teams seemed to be in agreement that the super soft tyres were significantly less favourable than the harder "soft" compound.
Around Lap 8 teams began thinking very carefully about their tyres. It was very strange though to see Mark Webber being the first man to stop on only Lap 9 for a set of soft tyres. The Red Bull man dropped from P7 to P19 after his change of tyres.
Just two laps later, Vettel pitted too after a difficult lap on his worn tyres. This showed that the super softs were "falling off the cliff," but also that at this stage it seemed that McLarens were handling their tyres slightly better.
Just one lap later, Alonso and Schumacher pitted for soft tyres too. So, although many thought Webber was premature with his stop, it wasn’t long before everyone else was coming in too.
The only man not struggling on his tyres was Jenson Button, who by Lap 13 was in the lead after his teammate pitted after complaining of a "funny feeling."
After these early stops, Hamilton and Alonso were able to rejoin in relatively clear air, but the Red Bulls had to fight to regain positions in traffic.
Button finally stopped on Lap 14 but was unable to capitalise on staying out longer when he found himself back in P3 when he rejoined. Despite some great overtakes from the likes of Alonso, Vettel and Maldinado to regain positions, the standings were hardly changed by the stops. After the tyre changes for the front runners, the top ten were as follows:
Hamilton, Vettel, Button, Maldinado, Hulkenberg (yet to stop), Alonso, Perez (yet to stop), di Resta, Webber, Rosberg.
Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez both started on the soft tyres and did well to hold on to Lap 19, but I was disappointed to see how powerless the pair quickly became as their tyres fell away. The Force India man went from P6 to P14, and the Sauber driver dropped from P7 to P16.
Again, the race cooled for a number of laps. However, on Lap 23, the race (and, more crucially, the Championship) took a spectacularly unpredictable turn when the cameras shot to Hamilton’s McLaren coming out of Turn 1. The McLaren driver was stuck in neutral gear and was desperately flicking the gear selection paddle.
Hamilton had complained of "feeling funny" earlier in the race, and when the team radioed to apologise, it was clear they had been aware of a possible issue since qualifying. Another disappointment for Mclaren, then, who record their second straight mechanical retirement after Button’s failure in Monza. Hamilton had done everything he could this weekend, but he was simply a victim of bad luck.
After the shock of Lap 23, the race again cooled until Webber started the second phase of stops around Lap 29. Again, little changed, but it was interesting to see the pit lane battle between Alonso and Maldinado as the two drivers pitted on Lap 30. Ferrari kept to the soft tyres but Williams strangely changed to the super softs. This meant that Maldinado would be pitting sooner than Alonso, but the Ferrari man still had to pass his foe.
There was some close fighting between the two on the following laps, but the sting was taken out of the race when Narain Karthikeyan crashed into the corner at Turn 18. The safety car was deployed and the grid all bunched up after desperately stopping for new tyres (including Maldinado).
After the frantic stops, the top 10 positions under the safety car were as follows:
Vettel, Button, Alonso, di Resta, Hulkenberg, Webber, Perez, Rosberg, Grosjean, Maldinado
We received our third retirement of the race on Lap 35 under the safety car when Maldinado was unfortunately retired by the team for hydraulic failure. This promoted Vergne to 10th place.
The restart of the race was explosive, and we didn’t even have one lap before the safety car was needed again!
Before the race re-started, Button nearly took Vettel out when the Red Bull man slowed right down into a corner. Button expected Vettel to suddenly take off and start the show again, the Red Bull man didn’t and it took spectacular reactions from the McLaren not to pile into the race leader.
The start caught a couple of drivers off guard, and Alonso struggled to keep up with the first two drivers. In all the confusion, a few places changed hands, but the most significant event happened when a struggling Perez took to Turn 14 next to a resurgent Vergne.
As the two drivers slowed to take the corner, they caught the following car of Schumacher unaware, and the Mercedes man drove straight into the back of the Torro Rosso driver.
It was such a shame because Vergne was doing so well, but I think it is worth mentioning that Schumacher did very well to crash squarely into the back of the Torro Rosso. It may sound strange but this was the safest way to crash if you know there is going to be one.
The re-re-start was cleaner the second time around, but we did see a fantastic overtake from Massa on Senna in a very unlikely part of the track.
These were the top ten positions after the restart on Lap 44:
Vettel, Button, Alonso, di Resta, Rosberg, Grosjean, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Massa, Senna
Again, the race cooled after this, but Button began to push Vettel at the front, conscious of the fact that the race would reach its time deadline of two hours before all the laps were completed.
With about 15 laps to go, we witnessed some close racing and excellent fights. On the clean side of things, we saw some fantastic passes from Massa. However, on the messy side, we unfortunately saw some collisions as the Saubers fought with Hulkenberg and Webber just outside the points positions.
Webber came away cleanly, having won P11 from Kobayashi, but Perez made contact with Hulkenberg as the two jostled. The Force India man unfortunately suffered a puncture whilst trying to navigate past an out-of-sorts Kobayashi, who was licking his wounds after being passed by Webber. Kobayashi and Hulkenberg both had to pit, and both men’s races were ruined.
In the end, the top 10 positions didn’t change much save Senna’s unlucky loss of P10 to Webber in the final few laps, and the race ended after reaching the two-hour mark.
The 2012 Singapore Grand Prix quite simply left me scratching my head. It isn’t a race I usually enjoy, but this year’s event was simply fantastic. The battle for the win was negatively hindered first by Hamilton’s exit and secondly by the relatively uneventful "battle" between Button and Vettel. It was extremely interesting to watch battles up and down the grid for all kinds of positions.
I think today’s real winner was Fernando Alonso, though. In fact, I‘d probably say Ferrari were the winning team.
Alonso did yet another superb job to quietly fight from a relatively poor qualifying position. The Ferrari driver has always maintained that points, not wins, get you the Championship, and obviously the more podiums you get on the way, the better. I also think Massa did a fantastic job to fight hard for P8 after a terrible qualifying and race start.
So as Hamilton’s Championship takes a nose dive, Vettel’s is re-invigorated, but Alonso continues to build on his lead with careful clever racing.
Roll on Korea!
Drivers’ Championship Top Three
Fernando Alonso 194
Sebastian Vettel 165
Kimi Raikkonen 149
Constructors’ Championship Top Three
Red Bull 298
1, Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull
2, Jenson Button, McLaren
3, Fernando Alonso, Ferrari
4, Paul di Resta, Force India
5, Nico Rosberg, Mercedes
6, Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus
7, Romain Grosjean, Lotus
8, Felipe Massa, Ferrari
9, Daniel Ricciardo, Toro Rosso
10, Mark Webber, Red Bull
11, Sergio Perez, Sauber
12, Timo Glock, Marussia
13, Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber
14, Nico Hulkenberg, Force India
15, Heikki Kovalainen, Caterham
16, Charles Pic, Marussia
17, Pedro de la Rosa, HRT
18, Bruno Senna, Williams
19, Vitaly Petrov, Caterham
DNF, Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso
DNF, Michael Schumacher, Mercedes
DNF, Pastor Maldonado, Williams
DNF, Narain Karthikeyan, HRT
DNF, Lewis Hamilton, McLaren