Class of the field once again, the dark blue cars seem to now be able to unlock their qualifying speed in the races, especially in the hands of Vettel. Vettel was cruising in stints two and four, and Button was never a real threat. Webber had a curiously slow second stint, but once past Alonso showed speed almost matching his team-mate. Double podium and within touching distance of both titles. And well deserved.
While Lewis Hamiton continued the story of his turbulent season with punctures and fuelling problems in qualifying and driving into the back of Massa in the race, Jenson Button continued his sublime recent performances with a textbook drive to second place in the second fastest car. Curiously, Jenson was about 0.5s faster in the second half of the race than in the early stages, suggesting that McLaren had quite racily underfuelled the car, and that the comfortable second place allowed him to save fuel. The safety car then meant there could be a final stint blast. The salvage job from Hamilton meant a good helping of points for the boys from Woking.
At Singapore the Ferrari was adrift as third fastest car, without the benefit of being kind to its tyres as the tyre limitation was heat generated in traction (of which the red cars have bucketloads) and not the performance under lateral load in fast corners. Both cars moved to the primes after the first stint and never went back. Alonso was solid, if unspectacular, and fourth was more than the car was worth. Massa was assaulted by Hamilton and recovered less well, especially struggling to overtake an ailing Barrichello in the latter stages. Should have made it back to a couple of places higher than his eventual ninth. Adding in a disasterously timed safety car for the Maranello team, pretty much everything went wrong and they will be glad to leave Marina Bay behind and head for Japan.
Once again Mercedes were in the no-mans-land between Ferrari and the midfield in pure pace, but were unable to translate that into beating the Force Indias – due to a combination of being the team with the highest tyre wear and a badly timed safety car (which admittedly was self-inflicted). The only team to stay with the pre-race most likely strategy of option-option-option-prime, Schumacher looked very fast (0.5s up on Rosberg) and he at least looked like he could just have the pace to beat the Force Indias with a later final stop. The safety car left Rosberg behind Di Resta, and on the same age tyres. Without the pace to get past, Rosberg’s tyres degraded faster and he ended up defending seventh from Sutil.
Faster in qualifying than the races, Williams were adrift of the battle at the front of the midfield, but in Singapore were at least ahead of the Toro Rossos (in track position, with similar race pace) and the Renaults (genuinely on pace). Barrichello had the edge on Maldonado, but the strategy of going non-stop after the safety car was demonstrated here to be slower than stopping, as the (slightly) slower Williams passed the sister car ailing on its old tyres with a few laps to go. An improvement on Monza.
Oh dear. Struggling from the moment practice started, the Renaults were battling with the Lotuses for track position instead of naming rights. Bruno Senna made about as much of things as he could, with a recovery drive from hitting the wall early on – Renault are getting quite a return from putting Senna in the car. He went past Petrov and pushed Alguersuari into a mistake to salvage some pride from the weeked. Petrov? More than 0.5s slower and couldn’t overtake Kovalainen. Oh, and gave up on getting past the Lotus in the final stint. Not good.
Played the correct strategy card, got lucky with the safety car, and gained a fantastic result. Given that the primes were expected to be 1s slower than the options, and that they were a full 2s slower on the golden lap in qualifying, the performance of Di Resta in the first stint was a surprise and changed most teams view of the race strategy. The two cars were more or less equal in pace, but traffic for Sutil after his stop meant that Di Resta was ahead when the safety car came out, and this settled the intra-team battle in his favour. Opted against an extra stop for Sutil as this would have dropped him behind Massa, which worked out as everyone else stayed out too, and Massa only caught him on the final lap. A great result.
This is a story of what might have been. Kobayashi was compromised by his qualifying accident from which he never really recoved, and then got a penalty for blocking the cars a lap ahead on release from the safety car. Has he been talking to Lewis Hamilton? Perez was 0.5s faster the Japanese, and on the prime tyres was also 0.2s faster than the Force Indias. Of all the teams Sauber have the smallest gain in going from primes to options (the opposite problem to their engine supplier) and thus qualify behind slower cars. On pure race pace, Perez should have been ahead of the Force Indias, but he didn’t have enough pace advantage to get past. An extra stop would have given him a chance, especially as he finished behind Massa anyway. A point, but it could have been more…
There are races in which some cars are anonymous, and this was the case for Toro Rosso in Singapore. They had the pace of Williams, and were faster than Renault, but got stuck in traffic in the first stint and never really recovered. Buemi was solid, following the Williams home (and beating Barrichello as his tyres died) and Alguersuari went for a quite incredible non-stop on options (having been penalised for hitting Trulli) after the safety car. The big degradation kicked in with just over ten to go, and under pressure from Senna, he stuck it in the wall. Not a bad performance, just nobody noticed.
After the naming saga, it must have brought a smile to Tony Fernandes’ face to see a genuine battle on-track between his cars and the black-and-gold enemy. Kovalainen had a slight pace advantage on Trulli (0.2s) in clear air, but Trulli made the good start and was holding position well until hit by Alguersuari just after the first stops. The Finn then took up the gauntlet, and although Senna got past on his recovery drive, Petrov was unable to, and after Kovalainen kept ahead at the final stops, the resolve of the Russian was broken and a midfield scalp was taken. They were almost 5s off the pace, though, and 1.5s behind the midfield.
A long way behind. With Ricciardo being damaged on the first lap, and Liuzzi being nearly 8s off the pace, theirs was a lonely race. The interest here is in the Australian being the best part of a second a lap quicker than the Italian – Helmut Marko must be pleased with the placement at HRT, what price slotting in Jean-Eric Vergne next season? The Toro Rosso boys must be looking over their shoulders a little apprehensively.
Something might have been expected from Timo Glock, but some damage meant an early off and his race was over before his pace could really be assessed. D’Ambrosio did a solid job, 6.5s off the pace and about 1.7s off Lotus, and brought it home. Entertainingly, he was able to hold up Petrov for a couple of laps after the Renault’s final stop when fighting for position. Need to stay ahead of Ricciardo through the remaining races.