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Singapore 2012 - Red Bull benefit from McLaren's Marina Bay misfortune // Sebastian Vettel inherits victory, whilst there are changes afoot for the new teams

Published by Christine

Mechanics look on as the Singapore GP unfolds
Credit: Red Bull Racing

The Singapore Grand Prix went on for so long that it had to be cut two laps short, else cross the two hour time limit. It wasn’t a case of non-stop action throughout the entire 120 minutes, but there were certainly some unmissable moments, and plenty to ponder as we wait for the next race to creep up on us.

Where McLaren lost out, Red Bull picked up the pieces, but it was Alonso that was the real winner once again.

Red Bull

Fresh from their double DNF in Italy, Red Bull had to a lot to prove as they turned up at the Marina Bay circuit. Their drivers were falling down the championship standings, the reliability of the car had a question mark over it, and the motivation of the drivers on board was also suspect.

There’s nothing quite like a race win to boost your morale, and Sebastian Vettel delivered when he needed to. Granted, the victory was inherited due to McLaren’s misfortune, but Vettel had made a good start to get up to second off the line, and was in the box seats to take over when Hamilton’s gearbox gave up. Where bad luck strikes you down one weekend, the next it is your turn for some good.

Meanwhile, Mark Webber had a terrible weekend all round. He was reprimanded after qualifying for leaving the track and impeding other drivers, and post-race, he was given a similar penalty. Having all four wheels off track and overtaking is never going to work - and the 20 seconds that pushed him out of tenth and out of the points was a fair call.

Webber complained about the balance on his car throughout the weekend, and had hoped the race would give him chances to move forward. Starting from seventh and dropping back 11th isn’t what he wanted, but Vettel’s victory from third is more like it. Red Bull are confident their problems with the Renault alternators are over, and with a win (albeit unexpected) to give them a boost, they are back in the championship hunt.

8/10

McLaren

McLaren have been on a bit of a roll recently, going somewhat unnoticed thanks to the lengthy summer break, and the fact it is only one driver shining at a time. This weekend it would have been Hamilton’s turn again, except for the small fact of a dodgy gearbox. The Brit started the race from pole position, after a great qualifying lap, and said himself that he was easily managing the gap to second place Sebastian.

The retirement will not have helped his mood, and neither will the ongoing speculation about his future which keeps his name in the papers for another week or two. Despite the pressure and the spotlight, Hamilton seems determined to keep on pushing, to desperately keep the championship hopes alive.

If Hamilton is clutching at title straws, then Jenson Button must have all but given up. He’s firmly down in sixth position, despite putting in a strong performance in Singapore. Starting from fourth (with traditional Saturday complaints about the balance of the car), he moved forward to finish second, narrowly avoiding an accident with race leader Vettel behind the safety car. Despite the podium result, however, Button has his eye on the bigger picture, and shared his concerns about McLaren’s reliability woes. It’s something the team will have to keep a close eye on and work hard to resolve if they want to put up any kind of fight as the season draws to a close.

7/10

Ferrari

What was most surprising about Ferrari’s race weekend in Singapore was the fire that appeared in Massa’s belly - particularly when faced with Bruno Senna ahead of him. We all winced and then gaped as the Brazilian avoided colliding with the Williams and managed to save what looked like an inevitable crash into, turning into an overtaking move. Where has this Massa been all season? The trouble is, that if Massa kept this up all season, he wouldn’t have been so lucky as to escape unscathed. Moments like this keep his career alive, but have there been enough of them recently?

The comparative performances still tell the story of Ferrari’s season so far, even if the excitement this race came from only one half of the garage. Alonso qualified fifth and finished third, whilst Massa qualified 13th and finished 8th. The consistency of Fernando’s performances continues to impress, and frustrate his rivals, to the point where you would have to think twice before betting against him for champion this year.

Even with the good run of finishes, the team are still focused on bringing smaller updates to the car and working on reliability, presumably from having seen what’s happened to their closest competitors.

7/10

Force India

So much attention has been focused on Lewis Hamilton and the possibility of a move to Mercedes, that it’s been easy to forget the two drivers who we were previously watching as potentials for the very same team. The battle between Hülkenberg and Di Resta hasn’t been as pronounced as I’d have liked, but it has still been there, and the pair of them have never given an inch.

This week, it was Paul Di Resta’s chance to show what he’s made of and he started out the best possible way - with a sixth place in qualifying. From there, you’re already in a good position to make strides forwards, and with Hamilton’s retirement plus the safety car periods, Di Resta found himself in fourth place. In fact, Paul believes the safety cars were a hindrance to him more than anything, as they compromised the team’s chosen strategy. Nevertheless, it was a great drive and he remained in contention for the podium until the end, finishing about four seconds off Alonso’s third place time.

Where was Hülkenberg in all this? Nico was getting himself tangled up in all kinds of mischief, doing battle with both Sauber drivers, and generally coming off worse. From 11th on the grid, Hülk dropped back to finish 14th, with a weekend to forget.

The good news for the team is their points haul has increased the gap behind them to Williams and closed the gap in front of them to Sauber. It’s getting late in the season for them to overhaul the good work Sauber have done, but this could be a great battle to watch as 2012 draws to a close.

7/10

Mercedes

It was a radio message to rival the best sound bytes we’ve heard from an engineer to their driver: “What happened there? What happened there?” Schumacher’s radio squawked ineffectually after the multi-champion smashed into the back of Jean-Éric Vergne’s Toro Rosso. Caught out by the braking point of the car in front, and with nowhere left to go, collision was inevitable and it was race over for Michael Schumacher. The incident affects the next race as well, as Michael has been handed a ten place grid penalty for Japan.

The team had looked like they might be on to something when they made the unpopular decision not to set a time in Q3. Saving tyres, at a hot and strategy-heavy circuit like Singapore could make all the difference and although it was disappointing not to see the cars in that last ten minute shootout, they believed it was the right thing to do.

For Rosberg, things did work out slightly better than anticipated. He lined up on the grid tenth behind his teammate, and moved forward to finish fifth, albeit heading up a train of cars that included two Lotus drivers desperate to get past. There’s plenty to work with, though, as the team introduced a new exhaust and rear wing design that still has potential.

6/10

Lotus

Lotus welcomed back Romain Grosjean from his one-race ban this past weekend, and the Frenchman showed his thanks by outqualifying his teammate, helping them to a double points result, whilst also abiding by some team orders that allowed Kimi to finish in front.

The team didn’t have a very good practice day, and felt under-prepared when it came to qualifying, but even that didn’t excuse their performance. Grosjean’s 8th and Räikkönen’s 12th did not impress Alan Permane, who put it down to both drivers having poor Saturday sessions.

As we have long experienced, qualifying lower than anticipated just puts you back in the pack so you have to fight harder to move forward. Räikkönen could have had a better chance at points and podiums if the safety car had come out at a slightly different moment, and Grosjean could have had a better day if he hadn’t ended up as a sitting duck directly in front of his teammate. There’s still a lot of work to do for these two, but where the pace of the car is similar to the Mercedes, we’re starting to see more consistency from the Lotus as the Mercedes starts to tail off.

5/10

Toro Rosso

The Toro Rosso boys looked like they were on for an improved, if not stellar weekend. Both drivers got out of the first session of qualifying, with Daniel Ricciardo 15th, and Jean-Éric Vergne only one tenth of a second behind him in 16th.

For Ricciardo, this went onwards and upwards to better things as he broke into the points and finished the race in ninth place. There was some fortunate timing in terms of safety car periods, but the Australian put in some good defensive driving to keep himself in amongst the faster cars.

For Vergne, being ahead of a faster car was his downfall, as he was the unfortunate one knocked out by Michael Schumacher. Vergne believes he could have been in the points (and if Ricciardo’s finish is anything to go by, it was a possibility), but says he isn’t angry about what happened. A good attitude to have for a race thwarted by a more experienced driver, even more so as the opportunities for these two to impress the bosses and retain their race seats are getting fewer and fewer.

5/10

Sauber

The Singapore circuit did not sit well with the Sauber team, and it was clear that things were tough when Kamui Kobayashi failed to make it out of Q1 on Saturday. Sergio Pérez didn’t make it too much further, lining up 14th on the grid. The team admitted that the poor performance was because of their new upgrade package with surprised them by not working.

For cars that are notoriously light on their tyres and able to cope with minimal pit stops, the team didn’t seem able to make the best of conditions in Singapore, and found themselves finishing outside of the points. Both drivers had a collision with Nico Hülkenberg, as they found themselves hustling for position in a pack of cars who were all elbowing each other to get out of the way.

It is scant consolation that Pérez was promoted to tenth after Webber picked up a post-race penalty, and the team leave Singapore with one point. They wanted more than that, and they’ll have to dig deep to try and find it in Japan.

3/10

Marussia

Up front, we have a battle in which Fernando Alonso constantly finishes in the points and is leading the championship, whilst those around him showboat and win and fail and talk a lot. This weekend’s action with Marussia was eerily reminiscent of that. Whilst Caterham have been talking the talk and getting away with it, Marussia have been quietly pushing onwards and working towards their own small goals.

Timo Glock finished the Singapore Grand Prix in 12th place, handed a few lucky positions by some retirements, but also by finishing ahead of all his nearest rivals. 12th place can sound pretty dull if you’re coming at it from the back, but it isn’t. It’s just two places away from points, it was just one position behind Mark Webber, and more importantly than all else: it moved them into tenth place in the team standings.

It may be hard for Caterham to regain their position in the few remaining races we have left, or we may have a freak result that turns things around again. Either way, this was the weekend where we realised that it’s not just Caterham that can make gains, and there’s a heck of a battle to be had at the back.

6/10

Caterham

On Saturday night, the Caterham team would have been scratching their heads a little bit. Petrov had managed to outqualify his teammate, despite crashing the car in third practice and giving his mechanics some work to do before qualifying began. Kovalainen wasn’t impressed with the balance of the car at all, and lining up 20th on the grid did not improve the mood.

Sunday was better, Heikki finished 16th and believes they could have gone higher if it hadn’t been for the timing of the safety cars. Tony Fernandes himself admits that the team made some wrong strategy calls, and that cost them some potential positions. Petrov finished the race where he started, in 19th, due to some damage to the car, plus a serious mistake in the pits. After a faulty wheel nut situation, he was wheeled back into the garage so it looked as though he’d retired, before he eventually got going again. He finished last and two laps down.

With a difficult weekend, and the loss of tenth place in the championship, Caterham will be looking to put Singapore firmly behind them.

3/10

HRT

It’s not often that you can say an HRT defined the race, but it was Narain Karthikeyan’s collision with the wall at turn 18 that brought out the first safety car. Karthikeyan told afterwards that he had been struggling with the car anyway, hit a dirty patch of track and went into the wall. It was disappointing, as he’d outqualified his teammate on Saturday - something that has only happened twice so far this year - and there was no chance to capitalise on a good Saturday.

For Pedro de la Rosa, it was 17th place on Sunday with a relatively quiet and nondescript race. The only good news Pedro had throughout the weekend was that his five place grid penalty due to a gearbox change made absolutely no difference to his starting position at all.

2/10

Williams

Pastor Maldonado was absolutely stunning in qualifying on Saturday, to be best of the rest behind an equally flying Lewis Hamilton. The Venezuelan driver was bogged down a little at the start of the race on Sunday, and slipped to fourth place at the first corner. The safety car periods did not do him any favours, and then he was called in to retire the car due to hydraulic problems, but the real story of the race is that it was without driver-related incident. He drove fast, he drove well, and he drove without causing chaos. This is what we need to see more of. This is what Williams needs.

Actually, what the team need is more work on reliability. Bruno Senna didn’t have the exceptional qualifying pace that his teammate did, and was hampered further by a gearbox grid-penalty. He made his way through the field as best he could, but was forced to stop the car on the final lap due to a KERS failure. He finished 18th from 22nd, which doesn’t look good on paper, but was a lot of hard work.

If the drivers can start to deliver more consistency together, then the focus will have to go back on the team and the car to give them the means to do better.

3/10

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