Mercedes Benz rules Singapore

2018-09-19 06:02

THE Singapore Grand Prix was not a classic by any stretch of the imagination. But Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

A stunning lap on Saturday assured Lewis Hamilton pole position and, arguably, meant half the job was done come Sunday. He wasn’t challenged off the line either and was well in control of all of the 61 laps.

Max Verstappen, who produced an equally impressive lap to qualify second, fell behind third-place starter Sebastian Vettel just as the safety car was deployed on the opening lap.

While those at the front were well behaved through turns one, two, and three, the Force India pitwall watched on in dismay as their drivers collided. On-board footage showed Sergio Perez steering into the side of Esteban Ocon with the latter ending up in the wall and out of the race. Though stewards deemed it a “racing incident” the Force India team principal Otmar Szafnaeur called the incident “completely outrageous” and instituted team orders for the remainder of the season.

This wasn’t Perez’s only adventure during the Singapore Grand Prix either. Later on his strategy saw him stuck behind Sergey Sirotkin for a number of laps during which he became increasingly frustrated.

As he finally managed to make his way past the Williams he clearly lost his mind as he deliberately crashed into the side of Sirotkin. Surprisingly, race stewards deemed a drive-though penalty enough of a punishment for Perez.

It’s a shockingly light punishment in view of other penalties given to drivers throughout the season.

The British Grand Prix and the Raikkonen/Hamilton incident come to mind. In that case, Raikkonen had locked-up and banged wheels with Hamilton sending the Brit into a spin on lap one. Normally, stewards take a more lenient approach to lap one incidents but in this case they slapped a 10 second penalty on Raikkonen. And because it was on lap one it effectively turned into a 10 second stop-go penalty.

In this case, Perez had deliberately crashed into the side of another car and, unbelievably, got away with a mere slap on the wrist.

The stewards have set a dangerous precedent with how they have handled this situation.

While the midfield were involved in quite a battle for positions those at the front were trundling around in a procession with Hamilton firmly in control. Though Vettel was relatively close behind Hamilton he was never able to make a move for the lead. Clearly frustrated with proceedings Ferrari rolled the dice on strategy.

The problem with this approach is that in Formula 1 you don’t roll the dice or take a chance on strategy. It must be a well thought out decision-making process that is going to improve the driver’s position in the race.

This is an area where Ferrari have been, plainly, mediocre.

While there is no telling if Vettel had the ultimate pace to beat Hamilton, Ferrari’s strategy made sure he never had the opportunity to find out. The opening stint of the race was characterised by drivers trying to eke out their tyre life which saw the frontrunners run, mostly, at the same pace.

However, as soon as Hamilton started pumping in fastest sectors Ferrari didn’t respond in kind. Instead they called Vettel in and armed him with a set of Ultrasoft tyres that could have “potentially” made it to the chequered flag.

Though Hamilton pitted the next lap he fitted the Soft compound tyre, which were sure to easily make it to the end of the race.

Even if Ferrari wanted to try the undercut strategy to get ahead of Hamilton, fitting the Soft tyre was still the better strategy, as it was a long shot to work no matter which tyre he left the pitlane with. It was as if Ferrari were too impatient to see how things would pan out and, therefore, pulled Vettel in too early.

Conversely, Raikkonen and Ricciardo were able to run 26 laps on the Hypersoft before switching to the Soft compound. As a result Ferrari left their driver without the ability to fight Hamilton and Verstappen, who also got ahead because of Vettel’s early stop. Because he didn’t know if the Ultras would last to the end of the race he couldn’t push as hard as he would have on the more durable Soft tyres.

In fact, Raikkonen’s strategy would’ve been much better suited to Vettel. The worst-case scenario, with the Raikkonen-strategy, is that he would’ve finished third which he did anyway. There’s some irony in that.

As it were, Vettel slinked home in a distant third ahead of Valtteri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo in fourth, fifth, and sixth.

Some 50 seconds behind the Red Bull in seventh was Fernando Alonso while Carlos Sainz, Charles Leclerc and Nico Hulkenberg completed the top 10.

This win on the Singapore streets could be the most significant of the lot as far as 2018 is concerned. It wasn’t too long ago that Mercedes were woeful around the slow corners of the Marina Bay Circuit. And while Hamilton produced an exquisite lap to take pole and controlled the race on Sunday, the win in Singapore is a true testament to the might of the entire Mercedes team.

Hamilton and Mercedes have struck a hammer blow, pardon the pun, to Vettel and Ferrari’s chances of winning the 2018 title.

This result gives Hamilton a mammoth 40-point lead over Vettel heading to Russia in two weeks’ time.

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