F1 went to the Singapore Grand Prix with the threat of rain and world champion extending his reign. Sebastian Vettel had a – small – chance of wrapping up the title with five races in hand, while Singapore, benign for the last three years, threatened to show its teeth. There was thunder in the air.
The pre-race buzz featured lots of people talking about Vettel.
“This year’s he’s had the perfect season, nothing else to say!”
Sébastien Buemi – Toro Rosso
“Good driver and deserves to win.”
Nico Rosberg – Mercedes
“I think he’s really a complete driver, and I think he deserves to win the championship this year.”
Sergio Pérez – Sauber
“I have my money on him to win the championship this weekend so he has to push!”
Timo Glock – Virgin
“Would, could, should. So far we haven’t won anything!”
Sebastian Vettel – Red Bull Racing
The other topic of conversation was the sheer nastiness of racing in Singapore.
“If you do one mistake you end up in the wall and it is quite different to all the other tracks.”
Timo Glock – Virgin
“I think it is going to be quite physical as well. Drivers say it is one of the harder ones over the season. The humidity and the length of the race – it always seems to be pushing around two hours – so a good challenge.”
Daniel Ricciardo – HRT
“It’s very bumpy.”
“It is a very, very challenging venue. Not one I would pick to come to every week.”
“Lots of corners too. It is going to be quite difficult to remember where it all goes!”
Friday saw Lewis Hamilton come out on top of FP1 but Sebastian Vettel look ominously good – while neither Jenson Button nor Mark Webber were happy with their evening’s work.
“I need to find a bit more pace, but there’s a bit of low hanging fruit which we can grab tonight. Seb’s going alright, so I just need to find a bit more and get into it tomorrow.”
Mark Webber – Red Bull Racing
"I only ran the Prime tyre and didn't really find a great set-up. Still, we have some good ideas for tomorrow and I'm confident we'll make more progress.”
Jenson Button - McLaren
Mark came roaring back on Saturday, but was pipped to pole by Seb. Button nabbed third, ahead of Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.
“In the end Seb did a great job for pole and my lap wasn’t too bad at all, so it has put us in a good position for the race.”
“Last night I didn’t expect to be here. We made a lot of changes overnight and quite a lot of improvements,”
“I think it is an exceptional track for us.”
Mark, entirely as expected, had an awful start, and the order at the end of the first lap had Vettel leading Button, Alonso, Webber, Felipe Massa, Rosberg, Michael Schumacher and Hamilton.
“The start was good. [I was] on the clean side and that’s why Mark lost out. I saw immediately that Jenson got away a bit better than me but I knew it should be fine down to Turn One. Then I was just trying to push as hard as I could in the beginning: trying to open a gap; trying to use the momentum; trying to find the rhythm as quickly as I can to use this advantage that I have with the clear track ahead. I was surprised myself that I was able to pull away that much. I think after a couple of laps I already had a 10-seconds gap.”
“I thought that maybe I could get Seb into Turn One but… I wasn’t able to pull alongside. Pretty happy to be second.”
“Again, difficult start for me. We need to continue to work on this. Clearly it makes my race more difficult. I think it ultimately cost me a place today.”
Mark put a great move in on Alonso but Button was a long way up the road and Vettel’s lead was staggering.
“Yeah, [recent battles with Alonso] are enjoyable but I am not keen to sign up for them all the time as it means I am with him when I probably shouldn’t be. Fernando is not in his first grand prix so he knows where to put the car and it was a good battle.”
Meanwhile Hamilton and Massa had their now-traditional collision – Felipe could be forgiven for thinking the Englishman is out to get him…
“There’s no point in me hiding the disappointment and anger I feel at the end of a race that could have delivered a very different result. After the race, I tried to talk to [Hamilton] to clear the air but he walked away without even answering: so I told him what I thought when we found ourselves in the interview area.”
Felipe Massa – Ferrari
A bigger accident was to follow as Sergio Pérez’s Sauber got caught up with both Mercedes. Michael Schumacher went over his wheel, got airborn and had an accident big enough to bring out the safety car.
“I would call [it] a misunderstanding between Sergio Pérez and myself. He was about to go inside and lifted, and I was not expecting him to do that so early, and therefore hit him.”
Michael Schumacher – Mercedes
“I think Michael was too optimistic.”
Vettel’s half-minute lead evaporated in the time it took Schumacher to show everyone he was OK. Fortunately, Seb had a few cars between himself and Button and was able to establish a decent gap again.
“The safety car didn’t make our lives any easier, [though I] had a little bit of help from the backmarkers.”
“His pace was very, very good and it was impossible really to close. After the safety car I thought I might have a go but sat behind [Kamui] Kobayashi for a lap. I think I lost about three or four seconds.”
Nevertheless Button gave chase, and with the McLaren suddenly hitting a sweet spot, was closing quickly as the race drew to a close – but Vettel never looked in danger and crossed the line ahead of Button with Webber third.
“I was a little bit careful with fuel so the last stint I was able to drive as fast as I could… I could not have gone any quicker. That was it: that was all I could get out of the car.”
“I think I had it fairly well under control.”
With a maximum 125 points available, Vettel is 124 in front of his nearest rival, Jenson Button. If Vettel scores a point at the Japanese Grand Prix, he is a double World Champion. If Jenson Button fails to win at Suzuka, Vettel is a double World Champion.
“With the races that we’ve had so far, it should not be a big problem but it’s over when it’s over and not before.”
And so the teams pack down and send their freight off to Japan, their brains back to Europe and their drivers to wherever drivers go when they aren’t driving. For Red Bull Racing, everything looks good: the mid-season wobble has been overcome with three wins on the bounce. For everyone else there’s some serious thinking to do – for next season if not for this.
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