Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Class of the Field
Adam Barton

A Formula One fan since he was six, back while Häkkinen and Schumacher were having many an epic battle, Adam has seen a great deal. From German domination (twice), to British determination (once) and a Spanish invasion. A near compulsive fan who one day hopes to write about the sport for a living, outside of F1 Adam also authors his own blog One Guy's Opinion.

Sublime Sebastian stars in Singapore // Tables are turned under city centre night lights

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Vettel's form under the lights has been impeccable
Credit: Ferrari Media

What a turn up for the books; on the weekend that Mercedes and in particular Lewis Hamilton looked set to emulate his childhood hero Ayrton Senna, he and his team were rather upstaged by Ferrari, and indeed Red Bull. Alarm bells were ringing from Friday afternoon as Merc simply couldn’t match their rivals, unable to open the taps on their Mercedes power unit, allowing Ferrari’s and Red Bull’s chassis to shine on the street circuit.

Vettel right on target

Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Ferrari: Started 1st, Finished 1st

There is something that Sebastian Vettel loves about Singapore. It’s not as though he seems to hustle the car around a street circuit but his form under the lights has been impeccable. He’s always finished in the top five, on the podium in the last six events and has won in Singapore four times, with Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton sharing the other four wins.

In the race, Vettel was imperious
Credit: Ferrari Media

Traditionally, Singapore is where Vettel would launch his crusade on the championship in years gone by and while that seems far-fetched this season, it was absolutely a champion’s drive. Vettel spent Friday honing his setup, placing in the top five in both practice sessions before laying down the gauntlet on Saturday morning, beating teammate Kimi Räikkönen to top the timesheets by half a second. That was when it became clear that Mercedes were outsiders in the hunt for pole position, and possibly even the race.

As qualifying came, Vettel coasted through the first part as expected, saving a set of super-soft tyres for Q3 in the process, before setting a purple time in Q2, two tenths ahead of Daniil Kvyat as the Russian searched for his maiden pole position. Once into the shootout, there was no doubting Vettel, up against a teammate who has had his struggles on Saturdays this season, two Mercedes surprisingly searching for pace and two Red Bull drivers without an F1 pole between them. Vettel secured his 46th pole position, Ferrari’s first for well over three years, with his first lap, before blowing the field away with a second lap of 1:43:885, over half a second clear of his former teammate Daniel Ricciardo.

In the race, Vettel was imperious, getting away well, despite pressure from Ricciardo. Vettel lit the timing screens up early on, opening up a lead of three seconds on the first lap, and it was five seconds by the end of lap four, crucial to negate the effect of the undercut from Ricciardo behind. In fact, the only criticism that you could aim at Vettel over the weekend was quite how quickly he opened out a lead, as Ricciardo came back at him towards the end of the first stint, with Vettel’s tyres going off having been desperate to protect against DRS and the undercut.

Vettel will surely be targeting Rosberg’s second in the championship,with six races to go

The virtual safety car (and then safety car) to recover Nico Hülkenberg’s damaged Force India fell perfectly for Vettel on lap 13, as he was able to make a pitstop without losing as much time, though it did close the gap he had opened to the rest of the pack, and preventing Red Bull taking advantage of their better tyre conservation. The second safety car for a man wandering on to the track worked perfectly for the German too, able to ditch his worn out supersoft tyres on lap 47 and negating Mercedes’ strategy of option-prime-option, forcing the Silver Arrows to run the slower tyre for most of the race. (Though I’m still dubious whether they could really have challenged without the safety car anyway.)

With the pit strategy done, Vettel had the fastest car on equal tyres, able to open up a lead once again and hold off Daniel Ricciardo comfortably. What was extraordinary about Vettel’s performance was how he faired against Räikkönen, able to set a far quicker pace and control the race at the front. If Ferrari can maintain this pace, Vettel will surely be targeting Nico Rosberg’s second in the championship, currently eight points behind with six races to go.

Verstappen excites in recovery

Max Verstappen, Scuderia Toro Rosso: Started 8th, Finished 8th

Once again the Toro Rosso youngster excelled in a race marred by having to chase through the field. Verstappen was on the pace instantly, once again at a track he hadn’t raced at before. The Dutchman came through Q1 comfortably and then Q2, both by half a second of a lap. In Q3, Verstappen was edged out of best of the rest by Valtteri Bottas, qualifying eighth on the grid, splitting the Williams pair, in a performance beyond Toro Rosso’s expectations.

Once again the Toro Rosso youngster excelled in a race marred by having to chase through the field
Credit: Peter Fox/Getty Images

His race was made infinitely more difficult as his engine switched off on the grid, eventually getting going a lap down. Once again having to fight through from the back of the field, it looked like a lost cause for Verstappen, but he was given a chance to prove himself by the Massa/Hülkenberg collision, able to unlap himself under the safety car.

From 19th Verstappen got to work. Seemingly the only person gutsy enough to overtake on the Marina Bay circuit, the teenager cruised through the field, running longer on the second stint that vaulted him up to 11th and by the time he stopped he was up to eighth. Coming out 13th the job was far from done, as he then passed Jenson Button, Felipe Nasr, Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean in the final stint. Eventually Verstappen finished eighth, just behind Sergio Pérez, beating the rest the Saubers, Lotus’, McLarens and Felipe Massa on pure pace over the final 43 laps, despite being nearly 50 seconds off the lead when the first safety car came in.

Seemingly the only person gutsy enough to overtake on the Marina Bay circuit

The final few laps were all about the Toro Rossos, after both had worked their way through the field, Sainz dropping to 18th having been stuck in neutral for half of lap 18. Verstappen was instructed to let his ‘senior’ teammate by to have a go at Sergio Pérez as his tyres were a lap younger, but the Dutchman rightly held his ground, disobeying the team as Sainz had no right to finish ahead of him, a great show of character from such an inexperienced driver, though it will raise questions within the team and you can bet that Carlos Sainz Jr won’t forget it in a hurry.

Rossi impresses under the lights

Alexander Rossi, Manor Marussia F1 Team: Started 20th, Finished 14th

The nearly man of GP2 showed F1 potential

14th place may not seem like much but you have to give Alex Rossi a lot of credit for his maiden drive in F1. He made a rookie error in first practice, crashing at the chicane and wiping off the right side of the car but then beat his more experienced teammate in the other two practice sessions, as Will Stevens had problems of his own.

In his first F1 qualifying session Rossi qualified last, half a second behind his teammate, just outside the customary four tenths you expect for a rookie compared to experienced driver (granted, Stevens has only entered 14 grands prix himself). Let's not forget, though, the Manor Marussias were six seconds off the pace in Q1.

Rossi jumped Stevens at the start and then went on to hold off his more experienced teammate for the full race distance gaining the undercut for both stops as the lead car. F1’s first American since Scott Speed finished ten seconds ahead of his teammate but what made the American’s drive so impressive was that he completed most of the race without a working radio, which was the reason that he didn’t unlap himself during the second safety car.

To complete most of your first race in F1 without any information from the team deserves a lot of respect – perhaps they should try that for all drivers… Doing it in on your debut at what is probably the toughest and most physically challenging race of the season (after Malaysia) to secure the team’s best result of the season, bar Silverstone is simply stunning. The nearly man of GP2 showed F1 potential but can he now follow it up with four more races this season?