A Win at Last for Sebastian Vettel
F1 2019 Singapore Grand Prix was staged under some 1600 lights illuminating the Marina Bay Street Circuit in Marina Bay, Singapore. In 2008, Singapore became the first-ever race track to host a night race. This race was 20th running of Singapore Grand Prix, and 12th time the event was held at Marina Bay.
It is physically the most demanding track because of high humidity and hot weather, with the drivers losing nearly 3 kg of body weight by the end of the race. The Ferraris on the back of two consecutive wins were looking for a hat trick of wins, and this time they went a leap farther by taking 1-2 finish at the chequered flag, with Max Verstappen completing the top three.
Thursday Pre-Race Preparations
Singapore race is the one for which the drivers train. Most of the drivers arrive at the circuit a few days earlier to acclimatize with the weather. Since it is a night race, they also need to adjust their body clock to perform at their best during the race. The weather continued to remain hot and humid throughout the weekend.
Haas F1 Team made decent headlines before the race as they terminated the contract with title sponsor Rich Energy, and would run the car without it for rest of the season. Haas also confirmed their driver line-up for 2020 and announced to retain Kevin Magnussen (Denmark) and Romain Grosjean (France) as main race drivers.
Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes were leading both the drivers and constructors championships heading into the Grand Prix. Hamilton was 63 points ahead of the second-placed driver, while Mercedes led Ferrari by 154 points.
Marina Bay is a street circuit, and you need to set up your car for qualifying due to the difficulty in overtaking here, and track position is crucial. Singapore is a high downforce circuit, so cars with excellent slow speed downforce and good traction out of corners is required. FP 1 was normal running with no big drama. Max Verstappen led the session from Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel. Lewis Hamilton led FP 2, Max Verstappen second for Red Bull, and Sebastian Vettel was third.
Friday analysis showed that Mercedes is the team to beat over one lap, while Red Bull a close second in the hands of Max Verstappen. Ferrari struggled to generate pace over a single lap, while Vettel complained about a lack of balance. McLaren looked like the leading midfield team. After struggling in the last two races, they are finally performing well.
Long-run pace showed a bigger gap between Mercedes and Red Bull nearly three tenths, with Ferrari trailing Mercedes by half a second. It’s an impressive turnaround from recent years where it was a bogey track for Silver Arrows with cars losing up to a second of pure pace. Racing Point emerged as the leading midfield team on race pace, but only a tenth ahead of McLaren and Toro Rosso. Renault and Alfa Romeo were 7th and 8th on the list, with Haas struggling massively in 9th place. The Williams occupy their usual last place on the grid.
Lewis Hamilton, the 2018 World Champion, was thrilled and said that he felt much better during Friday practice than he had been for a while and hoped that it would stay over the weekend.
Saturday in Singapore saw a significant shift in the pecking order at the front of the field, with Ferrari turning their car around and Charles Leclerc leading that session comfortably from Hamilton. Red Bull seemed to struggle a lot on a track where they should be the team to beat. They were almost a second off the pace and only 0.3 sec ahead of McLaren.
Singapore qualifying is the most important session of the year, as it is impossible to overtake and track position is king, and drivers usually finish the race in which they started. Q1 session began with a bang as Mercedes went 1-2 followed by two Ferraris and Max Verstappen 3rd quickest. Williams's pair was the first to be eliminated, followed by Haas’s Romain Grosjean, Daniil Kyat and Lance Stroll.
Q2 session saw five teams qualify for top-ten shootout. Ferrari turned the tables on Mercedes and went 1-2, and Mercedes could only manage 3rd and 4th. Red Bull, McLaren and Renault completed the quota of the Q3 session.
Q3 was all about Ferrari. During first runs Sebastian Vettel claimed provisional pole position with a time of 1:36.437, and he was nearly three tenths ahead of the Monegasque. Charles Leclerc was not going to miss a chance to claim his first hat trick of poles, and he didn't. He set a time of 1:36.217 to take his season's tally to five poles more than everybody else. Lewis Hamilton did a mega final lap but fell two tenths short. Sebastian Vettel didn't improve on his final lap but first was good enough for third on the grid.
Daniel Ricciardo qualified 8th but was later disqualified from qualifying because of a technical infringement. The car’s MGU-K exceeded the power threshold by delivering more power during deployment resulting in disqualification.
It was all about Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel on Sunday under the sparkling lights of Marina Bay circuit. It is a very short dash from the grid to the first corner, so Leclerc made a decent start, leading into the first corner followed by Lewis Hamilton and Vettel. In the midfield, Nico Hulkenberg made contact with Carlos Sainz Jr., ruining each other's race with puncture and damage.
Lap 19 is when Ferrari decided to pit Vettel to stay ahead of some early pitting midfield drivers to keep track position, but undercut was so powerful that it shocked the Ferrari team. Charles Leclerc pitted the next lap, but Sebastian emerged ahead of his teammate. Undercut was in the region of 3-4 seconds, which was more than double the team’s calculation.
Mercedes did not respond to Ferrari and went long on the first stint hoping for a Safety Car, but they ultimately pitted Lewis seven laps later and rejoined behind Verstappen in fourth. Antonio Giovinazzi led the race, which means an Alfa Romeo led a Formula 1 race for the first time since 1983.
Singapore retained its status of the Safety Car in every race since 2008 debut race. First Safety car came out due to collision between George Russell (Williams) and Romain Grosjean resulting in Russell's retirement. Sergio Perez brought out a second Safety Car when he stopped on the side of the track. Daniil Kyat, while trying to overtake Kimi made contact with him, damaging his front suspension resulting in the third Safety Car. Charles Leclerc could not do much as he was told by the team to hold his position.
Sebastian Vettel came home in first to take his first Grand Prix win since last year's German GP where he crashed out. This race was Vettel's fifth Singapore win the most he has ever won on a single circuit, and Leclerc made it Ferrari 1-2. Max Verstappen took third place. It was a day to forget for the Silver Arrows with 4th and 5th. On this track, the position is king, and Mercedes race strategy was below par, costing them a win since they had the pace to take the victory easily.
Four-time F1 World Champion Vettel could not thank his fans enough for their support, while six-time and reigning F1 World Champion Hamilton said that they would win and lose as a team, adding that they could have easily won the race, but it didn't work out.
Ferrari has stunned the opposition since the summer break. Can Mercedes stop the flying Prancing Horse? We will find out, as next up is VTB Russian Grand Prix!