Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

Pick and mix - The power unit conundrum - Penalties and problems throughout the Singapore field

Published by Christine

F1 sparks in the dark
Credit: Marussia F1 Team

Where it went down The bright lights and big city of Singapore played host to the fourteenth round of the season. Fireworks were the backdrop, anyone who is anyone was there.

Top takeaway Even after finally finding performance, Ferrari can’t gain traction when it matters. Mercedes are fallible but have the pace to wash away those reliability blues.

I was really looking forward to the Singapore Grand Prix, it’s been one of the best looking and most anticipated races on the calendar for a while now. All that moon! Unfortunately, this year was a big disappointment for me. Qualifying was interesting enough but ended with that oh so familiar result. As much as we can argue that having two drivers dominating is better than just one, it’s still getting a little bit wearing at this point in the season. Sunday was a similar story. A few intriguing setups, a few tense moments, but ultimately, a processional race that didn’t warrant the fireworks it finished with.

Radio waves

This whole situation with the radio clampdown introduced by the FIA, then clarified, then altered and then effectively retracted, has me very confused. I can absolutely understand the intention – the drivers do appear to be getting a lot of advice about how best to make their way round a lap of whatever circuit they’re on. Fuel saving, car temperatures, and strategy advice is all well and good but when it comes to the exact line to take on a corner to save a tenth or two against your teammate, that does seem to be crossing a line.

Thus, the clampdown as a concept is sound. In practice, it’s a kneejerk, mid-season change that was never going to work. How do you enforce something like that? The initial list of things that weren’t going to be allowed was extensive and impossible. After the tweaks to allow more information to be passed back and forth, the teams seemed a little happier about what they could get away with.

Aside from Daniel Ricciardo having to interpret oddly evasive instructions from the pit wall, it was like any other race

In the race itself, I didn’t notice any difference at all. Aside from Daniel Ricciardo having to interpret oddly evasive instructions from the pit wall, it was like any other race. Drivers were told what was happening on their car, they replied with their own feedback, and it all unfolded like normal. Which begs the question – why was this whole confusing situation necessary?

Romain totals Renault

As Mr C so eloquently wrote on Twitter during qualifying in Singapore: “Renault broke Grosjean.” The Frenchman lost his newly acquired cool and hit out at the power unit suppliers with some choice words via the radio, and afterwards. Comparing his performance around the Marina Bay circuit to last year, Grosjean felt frustrated that he was putting in the same amount of effort but winding up with 16th on the grid, rather than 3rd.

Now, I’m sure a lot of drivers are beating their fists against a wall that they can’t be in a car good enough for the second row of the grid, but Lotus really do seem to have fallen off a cliff this year. Since the early pre-season, when they could barely get their car to the testing track let alone complete a lap around it.

Grosjean himself has retired from six races this season, with only one down to driver error and the rest mechanical problems. Although he managed to get to the end of the Singapore Grand Prix, and see the chequered flag, he was out of the points again. Pastor Maldonado had a highlight couple of laps running in tenth but he soon dropped down the order as well. The Venezuelan has also had a lot of issues in qualifying, both car and driver related, that have put them all on the back foot. Overall, the team have just 8 points this year, compared to their 315 of last season.

Frenchman lost his newly acquired cool
Frenchman lost his newly acquired coolCredit: Charles Coates/Lotus F1

It’s understandable that the situation would cause frustration, and going from a season of working your way up the podium positions to one of barely completing the correct number of laps must be hard. And yet, where has the patience gone for a driver biding his time? Paying his dues? Spending time at the back to hone his racecraft so he was experienced enough to run at the front? I guess with all the new teenage drivers coming in, there’s more pressure to start getting results as soon as possible, lest your seat be snatched by a younger model.

Pending penalties

Grosjean wasn’t the only driver struggling with his power unit, as Sebastian Vettel suffered a failure on Friday. It didn’t affect his running for the weekend, and there was no penalty for the Singapore grid, but the defending champion has been told to expect a ten place grid drop at some point before the end of the season.

With just five engines to cover 19 races, every failure means one less to work with. Renault have said they don’t believe the remaining power units will be able to cover the mileage that is left in the next five races. Thus, at some point, Vettel will have to take a penalty.

And that adds a whole new strategy aspect to the second half of the season. The team will have to decide when and where it would be best to break out that sixth engine, take the hit on the penalty and lose grid positions. Is it better to do it at a track you’re not so good at anyway, to minimise the damage? Or perhaps save it for a track you know you have better pace on, so fighting your way through the field and back into the points is a possibility?

Daniil Kvyat is the only other driver to so far suffer the ten place penalty. He used a sixth power unit in Monza, dropping back ten places on the grid. I was surprised to see, at the time, that if he didn’t qualify high enough to use up the whole ten places in one go, it would carry over to the next event. That seems a hefty penalty to hand out, and one that would see Caterham likely never able to catch up.

It’s been looking likely that Vettel would have to take a penalty at some point, and now the engine supplier have all but guaranteed that will be the case. The only question remaining is who else will fall foul of this ruling before the season is out?

Statistic to savour

Since the Singapore Grand Prix joined the calendar in 2008, every single event held around the Marina Bay circuit has featured a safety car. This year, it was down to Sergio Pérez colliding with another car and dislodging his front wing, which then went underneath the Force India to shatter into potentially a hundred thousand pieces. The marshals went to work recovering them in a lengthy, lengthy process.

Last year, Daniel Ricciardo crashed in the tunnel under the grandstand, an awkward place for the car to be recovered from. The previous two seasons saw the safety car deployed due to crashes by Narain Karthikeyan (2012) and Michael Schumacher with Pérez (2011).

Of course, the most famous of the safety cars was in 2008, something alluded to by the Lotus team this year. Looking for inspiration to brighten the day, they tweeted: “Street races can sometimes get a little processional. Suggestions to spice it up? (and inducing safety cars has been done before).”

In summary

Highlight Incredible pit work, from McLaren and Williams in particular, as three-stop strategies were made to work.

Lowlight Drivers experiencing boiling drinks, and uncomfortably hot cockpits. The race is hard enough without additional temperature issues.

In a tweet Not a classic F1 weekend, but it set up the championship for the remainder of the season nicely.

I drove like a grandmauntil the last lap - Felipe Massa

All content in the series Singapore 2014