The Marina Bay Circuit isn’t exactly known for its many passing opportunities, but the final ten laps of the Singapore Grand Prix had me sitting on the edge of my seat with butterflies in my stomach.
It’s the first time Formula One has given me that sensation since the final lap in Austria, with a string of somewhat uneventful races since then.
Of course the great irony had Daniel Ricciardo snatched victory from Nico Rosberg in the closing stages of the race would have been that it was by Mercedes’ own hand, as it was their decision to pit Lewis Hamilton in a bid to beat Kimi Raikkonen to the podium that started the chain reaction of extra stops.
It was also a masterclass of a decision by Mercedes to do so though, as they were only going to come out of the Raikkonen battle ahead. The undercut has a significant impact in Singapore due to the long length of the lap, plus it put the W07 in clear air where it works best.
Ferrari were put into a corner at this point, with their only option being to pit in the hope the Finn could pass Hamilton again.
But why was Hamilton down in this position to start with? Some seem to be blaming the hydraulics issue he has in FP2 as the root cause of his woes; but there is more to it. While it most definitely hindered the world champion as he missed out on a race run in the only truly representative session before qualifying, he didn’t show any signs of being able to beat his team mate before the issue.
Rosberg had the measure of Hamilton from the early stages, who then exasperated the issue by overdriving the car in FP3 in a bid to catch up. Some may say that would be a natural occurrence for a racing driver put in that situation, but when you are a triple world champion and someone of Hamilton’s calibre, the list of excuses you have begins to run short.
So should Hamilton be worried about the pace of Rosberg? Absolutely. While the Briton probably still has the raw pace advantage he needs to be careful he doesn’t throw away any opportunities to take points out of his title rival; Monza being a prime example where he was set for an easy lights to flag victory and lost that in two seconds at the start.
In a perfect world for Hamilton, making no mistakes until the end of the season, you would have to say he still holds a small advantage over Rosberg, who has the threat of reliability looming over him. In 2014 it came late and in large quantities for the German, suffering the steering wheel issue in Singapore and then the MGU-K failure in Abu Dhabi, so that will be on to watch out for.
One thing we talked about a lot in Singapore was tyres, oddly this was in qualifying because the teams found the tyres were overheating before the final sector, meaning their performance began to drop off. To get around the problem, drivers would take it slightly easier in the first two sectors to make sure they got the best out of them.
Is that really what we want to see in qualifying though? Qualifying should be about going as fast as the car, the track, the aero and mechanical grip will allow you to. At no other point in the weekend will you brake as late, turn in as hard, get on the throttle as early or get as close to the walls.
To me this is a big issue, and one that carries through into the races as well. Fortunately Pirelli have assured fans that next year’s tyres will allow the drivers to push in races once again, as well as being considerably wider.
The stewards were busy during the race but I had to disagree with their decision to take no action on Valtteri Bottas’ unsafe release during the early safety car period. I didn’t like how close he got to some of the mechanics from other teams in the pit lane given how narrow the Singapore pit lane is.
The issue is a rare occurrence now that the majority of pit lanes have been widened so there are essentially two fast lanes, especially on purpose-built race tracks. However, outliers to the system remain, and extra steps should be taken to avoid such instances.
Otherwise I agreed with the majority of the stewards decisions, particularly at the start, primarily because start incidents should not be penalised like in MotoGP, but also because you cannot blame anyone for three cars all trying to get around the slow-starting Max Verstappen.
On the subject of Red Bull drivers, Daniil Kvyat is back. To be able to fend off the most aggressive racer currently on the grid in a faster car for a few laps was not only brilliant to watch, but it was the long-awaited return of the Kvyat that everyone got excited about two years ago; the young teenager who was immediately fast and scoring points.
His demeanour post-race was fantastically positive as well, rather than the glum and downbeat Kvyat we’ve unfortunately grown accustom to seeing in recent races.
What it has done now, though, is further prolong the end of the Daniil Kvyat vs Pierre Gasly debate. While I personally think Gasly’s performances in GP2 since he won the Silverstone feature race have warranted him a place at the top, does he deserve Kvyat’s place?
Part of me also wonders if Gasly will suffer an inaugural lull in his abilities upon entering the championship, such as he did when he started in GP2.
Certainly there remain many questions about the both drivers, who will surely be raising their game to a completely new level as they vie for a place at Toro Rosso in 2017.