Singapore Grand Prix 2016: Winners and Losers from Marina Bay Race
Nico Rosberg claimed his eighth victory of the 2016 Formula One season in Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix at the Marina Bay Street Circuit.
The Mercedes driver produced a stunning lap in qualifying to secure a comfortable pole position and was flawless at the front during the race, withstanding a late charge from Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo to retake the lead of the drivers' championship.
Joining Rosberg and Ricciardo on the podium was Lewis Hamilton, who—with the help of the Mercedes pit wall—salvaged a third-place finish from a frustrating weekend when the three-time world champion was unable to come close to his team-mate.
With a look at the tales of the two Ferrari drivers, the trials and tribulations of Haas' Romain Grosjean and timely results for two youngsters fighting to remain in F1, here are the main winners and losers from Singapore.
Winner: Nico Rosberg
It was surprising that, in the buildup to the Singapore GP weekend, the Marina Bay circuit was regarded as something of a "bogey track" for Rosberg.
While it was true he had failed to stand on the podium since Mercedes became F1's dominant force, the German has been incredibly quick at the street venue—one of the few places where the drivers can make the difference—ever since the event joined the calendar.
Rosberg finished third in the inaugural race in 2008 and, after qualifying as high as third in the '09 race, he was in contention for victory—for Williams!—before a silly error at the pit exit gave him a drive-through penalty.
Over the 2013 weekend—the absolute peak of Red Bull's four years of dominance—he was the only driver who came close to Sebastian Vettel over a single lap before coming within 0.007 seconds of pole position the following year.
When Hamilton was unable to establish a rhythm in practice and qualifying, then, Rosberg's pole margin of 0.531 seconds was almost a natural result, and he managed to outdo himself in the race.
After allowing himself to be exposed by Hamilton at the start in Hungary and Germany, Rosberg slowed his pace at the end of the formation lap—backing up the pack and regulating everyone's tyre, brake, engine and clutch temperatures—and, as a result, enjoyed one of his best getaways of the season to keep the lead.
From there, it was a typical Rosberg race as he managed both his brakes and the gap to Ricciardo until the Red Bull driver—with a comfortable advantage over Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen—pitted for fresh ultrasoft tyres on Lap 47 of 61.
As he was hunted by the honey badger in the closing laps, the paddock was waiting for Rosberg to lock a wheel, to run wide or to be blown off track by another mysterious gust of wind as he was at last year's United States GP.
But Rosberg—at risk of being caught in the trap between managing his brakes and scurrying out of Ricciardo's reach—remained calm to mark his 200th grand prix start with the most impressive, grittiest victory of his career to date and reclaim the lead of the championship.
After celebrating like a world champion in Italy, Rosberg drove like a world champion in Singapore.
Loser: Lewis Hamilton
As Rosberg returned to form after the summer break, cutting his points lead from 19 to two, Hamilton could rationalise his team-mate's victories in the Belgian and Italian grands prix.
Rosberg only won at Spa, after all, because Hamilton was forced to start from the back for exceeding the engine-component usage regulations—an inevitable consequence of his early-season reliability problems.
And Monza? Sure, Rosberg took an assured win, but only because Hamilton—after outqualifying his team-mate by 0.478 seconds the previous day—had a poor start from pole position.
But in Singapore—a place where Hamilton claimed two victories and three poles in eight previous appearances—the difference between the Mercedes drivers was not so easy to explain away.
Hamilton, of course, was hindered by a lack of running on Friday—when a "small hydraulic issue" prematurely ended his practice running, as he told the team's official website—but he was visibly the less confident of the championship protagonists throughout the weekend.
After a scruffy FP3, when he twice locked up and ran wide at Turn 7, he was 0.704 seconds adrift of Rosberg's pole time and—unlike in 2014 and '15, when he made a habit from responding from difficult days—Hamilton was unable to hit back.
Indeed, he was on course for a fourth-place finish until Lap 45, when the geniuses on the Mercedes pit wall decided to pit Hamilton for a set of supersoft tyres and panicked Ferrari into doing the same with Raikkonen, who threw away third in the process.
With Rosberg holding a slender eight-point lead—and with favourable circuits in Malaysia, Japan and the United States coming up—there is no need for Hamilton to panic just yet.
But with his team-mate showing no sign of fading away this time, he should be increasingly concerned about his chances of winning a fourth world title.
Winner: Daniel Ricciardo
There was something very Nigel Mansell-esque about the way the honey badger hunted Rosberg in the closing laps in Singapore.
Fitted with the supersoft tyres and with a licence to push as hard as he could, Ricciardo was relentless in his search of a first grand prix victory in more than two years.
As noted by the team's official website, the Red Bull driver took more than 10 seconds out of Rosberg's lead in the space of just five laps and was catching the leader by almost three seconds per lap at one stage.
Ricciardo's pace during that pursuit was so fast, in fact, that by the time he caught the best car in F1 with just a couple of laps to go, the Red Bull's supersofts could take no more and the Australian was unable to extract that little extra pace that would have surely seen him take the win, and he ultimately finished just 0.488 seconds behind Rosberg.
Roughly 24 hours earlier, Ricciardo had channeled the spirit of another all-time great—four-time world champion Alain Prost, who was renowned for his more methodical, percentage-based approach—in qualifying.
With the ultrasofts requiring plenty of tender-loving care in Q3, Ricciardo nursed his rubber around two-thirds of a deceptively fast lap before unleashing all that grip in a final sector that was quicker than anyone, stealing second on the grid from Hamilton.
At a circuit where Red Bull, with the standard-setting chassis of 2016, were hoping to win with style, qualifying and finishing second may seem like a disappointment for Ricciardo, who told Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble he arrived in Singapore determined to make up for his missed opportunity in Monaco.
But as the Australian told the team's official website: "I don't really leave here with any regrets. Obviously we came here to win and we didn't, but I felt we left it all on the track."
The wait for a win goes on, but on this occasion, the result almost felt secondary to the performance as Ricciardo confirmed his status as the most complete, versatile driver in F1.
Loser: Kimi Raikkonen
Time for a quick quiz: What links Bahrain 2015, Abu Dhabi 2015, Bahrain 2016, Russia 2016 and Austria 2016?
Well, they were all weekends when Vettel ran into trouble and Raikkonen effectively became Ferrari's No. 1 driver, benefiting from the full force of Prancing Horse to reach the podium.
Even before a broken anti-roll bar prevented Vettel from setting a competitive lap time in qualifying, Raikkonen was the faster of the two drivers in Singapore, outpacing the four-time world champion in two of the three practice sessions as his team-mate chased setup.
And just like the five races listed above, Raikkonen seemed set to stand on the podium in Vettel's absence when—after an underwhelming qualifying lap left him fifth on the grid—he passed Hamilton for third with an aggressive move at Turn 10 on Lap 33.
With a two-stopper the preferred strategy, that should have been enough for the 2007 world champion to secure his fifth podium finish of the season and his first since July.
But Mercedes had a little trick up their sleeve.
The Silver Arrows' out-of-the-blue decision to pit Hamilton for supersofts on Lap 45 created sheer mayhem on the Ferrari pit wall as the Prancing Horse quickly worked out how to respond.
Over team radio, Raikkonen was suddenly told to increase his pace significantly by Dave Greenwood and, when the driver asked whether he too would be pitting at the end of Lap 46, the race engineer was at first unable to provide a clear answer.
Although he had pitted for soft tyres as recently as Lap 33—the same as eventual winner Rosberg—Raikkonen did pit for ultrasofts at the end of that lap and promptly lost track position to Hamilton, who despite running on a harder compound was not challenged by the Ferrari driver in the closing stages.
Third place slipped through his grasp as a result of yet another panicked, ill-considered strategy call.
Winner: Sebastian Vettel
As noted by Sky Sports' Ted Kravitz, Ferrari had viewed Singapore—the scene of their last grand prix victory—as their "best chance" of recording a win in 2016.
With doubts over Mercedes' ability to recover from their strange off-weekend in 2015, and with Vettel the most successful driver in Marina Bay history with four victories, a repeat of last year was possible in their minds.
Yet Mercedes are not the type of team who fall for the same trick twice, and Ferrari are certainly not the team they were this time 12 months ago.
The Prancing Horse's hopes of a second consecutive Singapore GP victory were all but extinguished on the first day of running, when Vettel told the team's official website how he was "not entirely happy" and "struggling a little bit with the car balance."
That balance was disturbed even more at the beginning of qualifying, when Vettel suffered his anti-roll bar problem and was rooted to the very back of the grid.
His recovery drive in the race, however, offered a reminder of how formidable the Seb-Ferrari partnership will be when the team resolve their current issues, eradicate the errors and fully rediscover their equilibrium.
With a range of tyres to play with in the race, Vettel was the only driver to start on the soft-compound tyres and made his opening stint last until Lap 24 before completing two stints on the ultrasofts.
Having started 22nd, the four-time world champion finished a comfortable fifth—just 17 seconds behind Raikkonen and more than 40 seconds ahead of Max Verstappen.
Loser: Romain Grosjean
It was at last year's Singapore GP where Grosjean effectively announced he would be leaving his spiritual home of Team Enstone to join Haas for 2016.
"I've made my decision, everything is clear in my head and I know what’s going to happen for me in the future," he happily addressed an FIA press conference, confident that a brand-new team could meet his high standards.
For a while, his bold career move looked like a masterstroke as he started the season with two top-six finishes in Australia and Bahrain.
But almost ever since his strong run of results came to a shuddering end at the third round in China, Grosjean has been simmering, frequently criticising Haas over team radio and treating F1's newest team—in need of patience in their debut year—like a bunch of amateurs.
And his frustration finally reached boiling point upon his return to Marina Bay, where he endured one of the most degrading weekends of his career.
Per Autosport (h/t Eurosport), Grosjean admitted his confidence was "close to zero" on Saturday after crashing in both qualifying and the second practice session, having been prevented from setting a time in first practice due to a engine-inlet air leak.
A five-place gearbox penalty dropped him even further down the grid before his car developed a brake-by-wire issue shortly before lights out, leading to him failing to start a grand prix for the first time.
As the remaining 21 cars set off for the formation lap, television pictures showed Grosjean—red-faced as he ripped off his crash helmet and balaclava—being consoled by team principal Guenther Steiner in the garage, confirming what we knew all along.
When the car is good, Grosjean is among the best in the business; when it's not, he only adds to a team's problems.
Winner: Daniil Kvyat
Daniil Kvyat had been living by the weekend since the August break, unsure whether Toro Rosso would decide to replace him with junior driver Pierre Gasly for the remainder of 2016.
Gasly added fuel to the flames at the Belgian GP, telling Motorsport.com's Jamie Klein and Oleg Karpov he would happily give up the chance to become the first Red Bull-backed driver to win the GP2 feeder series if it meant he could gain a head start with Toro Rosso ahead of 2017.
But Red Bull adviser Helmut Marko finally addressed those questions over the Italian GP weekend, telling Sky Sports' television coverage how Kvyat will be afforded the "chance to recover" his form and confidence, insisting Toro Rosso will not finalise their 2017 driver lineup until mid-October at the earliest.
That public show of support has given Kvyat a minimum of three races to save his skin, and the Russian—after feeling sorry for himself for so long following his demotion from Red Bull—finally seems to be responding.
Ahead of the Singapore GP, the 22-year-old explained he is now more comfortable at Toro Rosso and is beginning to work more effectively with his race engineers, per Autosport (h/t Eurosport).
And that showed under the lights in Singapore, where he produced his most convincing performance since rejoining the Red Bull B-team.
After qualifying seventh, one position and 0.272 seconds behind team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr., Kvyat ran solidly in the top six in the early stages of the race and—on the first real occasion they have met on track since their mid-season seat swap—defended robustly from Verstappen.
The sight of Red Bull's fallen star refusing to be overwhelmed by the chosen one was hugely symbolic, confirmation that Kvyat—when he feels "well," as team principal Franz Tost put it, per Motorsport.com's Noble and Kate Walker—is still worthy of a place in the most exciting driver stable in F1.
Kvyat eventually conceded the position to Verstappen, ultimately finishing ninth, but his best result since his podium appearance in April's Chinese GP is important at the beginning of a career-defining month.
Winner: Kevin Magnussen
It is common knowledge that Esteban Ocon, despite his links to Mercedes, will be driving for Renault next season.
But with the team—who have decided to delay the announcement of their 2017 lineup, per Motorsport.com's Noble and Roberto Chinchero—seemingly unable to lure Sergio Perez from Force India, you would hope one of their current drivers will be given a second chance.
And as affable as Jolyon Palmer may be, there is little doubt Kevin Magnussen carries the most long-term potential of the two.
Regarded among the drivers most likely to join the elite group of Hamilton, Vettel and Fernando Alonso just two years ago—as esteemed driver coach Rob Wilson told F1 journalist Peter Windsor—Magnussen has struggled to extract the most out of an undeveloped, underpowered car in 2016.
It is not so much his slack, scruffy performances on track but a "perceived lackadaisical attitude"—as reported by a print edition of F1 Racing magazine—that has left him fighting for his future, but the Dane offered a timely reminder of his qualities in Singapore.
Following an underwhelming Saturday, when both Renaults were eliminated from the first segment of qualifying, Magnussen benefited from a strong getaway—avoiding the start-line collision between Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg—to run inside the top 10 for most of the race.
A strong strategy, which saw him start on ultrasoft tyres before completing two stints on supersofts, allowed him to secure Renault's first point since May's Russian GP with an assured 10th-place finish.
As he later told the team's official website, Magnussen's "perfect" race performance felt worthy of a grand prix victory.
Although he might not be challenging for the top step of the podium anytime soon, his display should move him one step closer to another season with Renault in 2017.