Six things we learned from the Singapore Grand Prix

Formula 1’s visit to the streets of Singapore last weekend produced a race that featured a little bit of everything. There was drama at the start, at the end, and in the middle.

While the race took a little while to heat up, it served up a thrilling finish that saw Nico Rosberg pip Daniel Ricciardo to victory by less than a second after 61 laps of racing. As such, it is no surprise that there were several things to learn from Formula 1’s visit to Singapore…

The pendulum swings again

The 2016 title battle between the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg has ebbed and flowed over the course of the season. First, Rosberg pulled out a 43-point lead over Hamilton, only for the Briton to fight back and reduce the deficit before claiming a 19-point advantage of his own. The German, however, has now triumphed in the last three races and has retaken top spot in the Driver’s World Championship, albeit by the slender margin of 8 points.

While his margin may be small, Rosberg can take immense satisfaction from his weekend in Singapore. He produced a top drawer qualifying lap that Hamilton never looked like beating on Saturday. On Sunday, he controlled matters superbly and displayed nerves of steel to see off the challenge of Daniel Ricciardo, whose Red Bull was growing closer by the corner.

Hamilton, by contrast, appeared out of sorts for much of the weekend, and although he drove well on Sunday, the Briton never seriously looked like he could challenge his teammate for victory. Rosberg has now triumphed at Spa, Monza and Singapore in successive weekends – all circuits where he had never tasted victory before. There are still 150 points left to play for in the title fight, but Rosberg will be riding a wave of momentum heading into the next race in Malaysia.

Ferrari’s strategy fails again

Ferrari were a little down on the pace of both Mercedes and Red Bull this weekend, and it showed as Kimi Räikkönen qualified in fifth place, behind both sets of drivers from their closest rivals.

On Sunday, the Finn did everything right, maintaining strong pace and looking after his fragile ultra-soft tyres in the first stint. He reeled in Hamilton’s Mercedes and took advantage of a mistake by the Silver Arrow driver to pull off a top-tier overtaking manoeuvre, claiming third place in the process. After another round of pit stops, Räikkönen enjoyed a six-second advantage over the Briton, with both cars on soft tyres and looking to go to the end of the race. Mercedes advised Hamilton to push hard and pit, with the idea that he could hunt the Ferrari down on fresher, softer rubber.

Ferrari pitted Räikkönen on the next lap after much confusion, leading to the Finn losing position to Hamilton. That was a woeful decision, to be frank. The Finn was on soft tyres that he would have been able to take to the end of the race with relative comfort, and Hamilton would have had to make up 28 seconds on the Ferrari in approximately 15 laps.

While Ricciardo’s heroics proved that the Briton may have succeeded in this objective, overtaking the Ferrari would have been difficult for Hamilton, given the circuit layout and Räikkönen’s ability to manage his tyres.

Overall, Ferrari were smartly duped out of what had appeared to be a likely podium finish, letting themselves down with poor strategy for the umpteenth time in 2016.

Verstappen’s starts are becoming a concern

Max Verstappen provided a swash-buckling display of courage in Singapore, throwing his Red Bull car into overtaking attempts where other drivers may have thought twice. However, all of that bravery was only necessary because, for the third race in a row, the Dutch youngster started poorly.

In both Spa and Monza, Verstappen lost several places off the line, and in Singapore he threw away a fairly promising second row grid spot by dropping back to eighth place. From there, it was a long afternoon of clawing back lost ground. Given the impressive pace of Ricciardo in the other RB12, Verstappen may well have been capable of finishing on the podium.

Formula 1’s youngest winner is certainly a hot prospect for the future, but his poor starts and one-lap deficit to Ricciardo are evidence that he still has some more development to do before he joins the sport’s elite list of champions.

Kvyat shows some fight

Daniil Kvyat has looked out of sorts and generally utterly defeated since his demotion from Red Bull earlier this year. However, in fairness, the summer break seems to have done the Russian youngster good as his performances have been on the up in recent weeks. Singapore presented a good opportunity for Kvyat to make headlines for the right reasons due to the strong performance of his Toro Rosso STR11 around the Marina Bay Street Circuit.

On Saturday, the Russian qualified on the tail of stablemate Carlos Sainz, who has generally been out-pacing him by a handy margin over one lap for much of their time together. Sunday saw him produce a fighting drive, which included a robust yet clean defence of position against the faster Red Bull of Verstappen. In the end, the Russian crossed the line in P9, claiming two points and rounding off a solid weekend. While his future in the sport remains up in the air, Kvyat certainly did his prospects of a 2017 drive no harm in Singapore.

The frustration is building for Romain Grosjean

Romain Grosjean got his first season at Haas, F1’s latest entrant, off to an ideal start, claiming two strong top-ten finishes in the opening two races of the season. Since then, the Frenchman has been growing slowly and visibly more and more frustrated with the state of affairs within the American team, making his thoughts on his VF-16 challenger clear in public.

In recent races, Grosjean has often found himself put under pressure and even out-paced by teammate Esteban Gutierrez, despite having the measure of the Mexican early on in the season. In Singapore, the Frenchman bluntly stated that he had “zero confidence in the car” after spinning off into the barriers during qualifying.

On Sunday, brake problems prevented him from starting the race, and his demeanour in the garage in the immediate aftermath made it clear that emotions are running high on his side. On the whole, however, Grosjean should be of good courage. Haas have already achieved far more than most new teams could hope for in their first year, and the rookie outfit is simply experiencing the teething problems that come with entering the pinnacle of motorsport against more established rivals.

A lost opportunity for Force India

Force India lost fourth place in the Constructor’s Championship to Williams last time out in Monza, with the Grove-based team performing better around the high-speed circuit. Singapore, however, was expected to be a difficult race for Williams as the Marina Bay Street Circuit does not play to the strengths of the team’s FW38 challenger.

This expectation became a reality as both Williams cars failed to score any points on Sunday. However, despite Force India seeing both their cars progress to the top-ten in qualifying, the weekend failed to produce the desired points. Sergio Perez earned a grid penalty for committing two separate offences on Saturday, while Nico Hülkenberg saw his race end due to a collision on the first lap.

Although Perez fought back to finish in eighth place, the Silverstone-based squad will be left thinking about what could have been. Although they managed to regain fourth place from Williams by a single point, the team would have hoped for more from a circuit that saw their rivals struggle for performance.

Adriaan Slabbert

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