Six things we learned from the Singapore Grand Prix

Formula 1’s visits to Singapore, the scene of the sport’s first ever night-race, have always provided plenty of talking points, with safety cars, collisions and the odd conspiracy involving a wall and a driver never being far away.  Last weekend turned out to be no exception, with several talking points emerging while the world’s most talented drivers weaved their magic under Singapore’s glittering lights…

Objective achieved for Ferrari

The tight and twisty nature of the Marina Bay Street Circuit was always likely to reduce Mercedes’ engine advantage, but nobody could have imagined the fairy-tale weekend that Ferrari would enjoy in Singapore. 

After a blistering charge to the line on Saturday to claim pole by more than half a second, Sebastian Vettel zoomed off the line as the lights went out on Sunday, and while Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo kept him honest the result was never truly in doubt, with Vettel notching up the victory that takes him past Ayrton Senna in the all-time winners standings. 

The victory was Ferrari’s third of the season, and with team principal Maurizio Arrivabene saying back in February that he would settle for two victories but that three would be perfect, it is fair to believe that the powers-that-be at Ferrari will be putting a firm stamp of approval on the Italian stable’s 2015 season. 

While the recent dominance of Mercedes made it appear unlikely that Ferrari would win again this season, Vettel’s clinical victory along with Kimi Räikkönen’s third place put the team in a strong position going forward. 

Ferrari will never be satisfied as long as they are second to Mercedes, but seeing the team meet a target that they set at the beginning of the year is very encouraging. Of course, Arrivabene also mentioned something about running 100km with no shoes on if Ferrari won four races in 2015.  He might just need to start training. 

Questions at Sauber

While Sauber debuted a well-designed and competitive package in Australia at the start of the season, the team’s challenge has faltered as time has passed, mostly due to a lack of development on the car. This was meant to change in Singapore, with the team introducing a heavily-revised challenger that included, amongst other things, a shorter nose along with new front and rear wings. 

While the idea of a large update to the car was encouraging, the results in Singapore were less so as Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson managed tenth and eleventh places respectively and were solidly in the middle of the pack all weekend. 

With Nasr saying that the new package would have a direct impact on Sauber’s 2016 challenge, it has to be questioned whether the team can truly be pleased with the performance of their car in Singapore. 

A bittersweet day for Nico Rosberg

With championship-leader Lewis Hamilton retiring due to a loss of power on his Mercedes, Nico Rosberg’s fourth-place finish allowed him to close to the gap between himself and Hamilton in the championship standings. 

While this is good news for the German, the increased competitiveness of Ferrari and Red Bull is not.  Rosberg is undoubtedly a good racing driver, and nobody wins eleven grands prix by accident.  However, the general perception seems to be that he lacks the final edge, or the final tenth of a second to truly duke it out with Hamilton over the course of a season. 

This has been masked for a long time by the dominance of the Mercedes, because even on bad weekends he could still finish second or at worst third, mitigating the damage of Hamilton’s victories.  If Ferrari and Red Bull were to become a more immediate threat it is likely that the gap in performance between Rosberg and Hamilton would become more obvious, as a lacklustre weekend could suddenly see him finish in fifth or sixth place rather than on the podium. 

Drama at Toro Rosso

To say that the Formula 1 world was enamoured with Max Verstappen would be an understatement.  The youngster has impressed the F1 community with his raw speed and maturity. Singapore was no exception as he fought back from a disastrous start to challenge for points, pulling off some very composed overtaking manoeuvres along the way on a circuit that does not lend itself to overtaking. 

It seemed like a perfect comeback for the young Dutchman, until the team asked him to yield to team-mate Carlos Sainz in the closing stages of the race.  The youngster stubbornly refused to move over despite repeated requests from the pitwall and proceeded to finish the race in front of Sainz. 

While the team were complimentary over the radio to Verstappen after the race for his strong performance, there will certainly be some pretty straight discussions between him and the powers-that-be about the end of the race. 

Team principal Franz Tost is not known to be pushed around by his young charges, and he is unlikely to take kindly to being refused by Formula 1’s youngest ever driver.  As members of the F1 community, we can only hope that any tension that may now exist within the Toro Rosso team do not detract from the performances of one of Formula 1’s brightest young talents. 

Rossi takes the first step

For a driver, making their Formula 1 debut is never easy, especially not when it comes in the middle of the season and they haven’t had any chance to take part in pre-season testing.  However, despite being faced with these challenging circumstances, Alexander Rossi made the most of his debut around the streets of Singapore. 

Despite an accident in free practice that he conceded was his fault, the young American got the better of team-mate Will Stevens (who has been driving for Manor all season) in the race, coming home a handy fourteen seconds ahead of his relatively more-experienced team-mate. 

In fairness, Stevens is hardly considered a top driver at this point in time, but given the lack of competitiveness of the Manor cars Rossi can only focus on beating the driver he is matched with.  If he continues to do so towards the end of the season he will certainly do his chances of a full-time seat next year no harm. 

We can’t all take a step forward

For several teams on the grid, including Red Bull, Force India and McLaren, Singapore was touted as a light at the end of the tunnel, a race where they would “take a step forward” and kick-start the rest of their seasons. 

Of course, if all the teams take a step forward at the same race, the status quo simply remains because a team’s performance in Formula 1 is always relative to what other teams can produce.

While Red Bull certainly enjoyed a strong weekend thanks to a fine second place by Daniel Ricciardo, Singapore was not the shining light that Force India needed it to be, although Sergio Perez did finish seventh in Sunday’s race. 

As for McLaren, despite claims that they had, in fact, found some more performance, the same could not be said for the reliability of their cars, as both Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso were constantly being reminded to manage some or other problem before retiring well before the chequered flag fell.  

Adriaan Slabbert

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