It was not a good weekend for the Prancing Horse fans around the world. Marina Bay saw confusion and poor race management unfold in the Ferrari paddock, as Lewis Hamilton easily takes a win bringing him closer to his fifth World Title, Sebastian Vettel trailing 40 points behind.
Qualifying and strategy
After inexplicable confusion during Q2 on Saturday (on a favourable track for the red cars) and a stunning, record-breaking Q3 drive from Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen start the race in P3 and P5 respectively. Singapore’s high temperatures, humidity and track design make for a difficult, long race. Tyre degradation and brake temperatures must be looked after, and the twisty and tighty corners make for a 100% Safety Car chance.
Lap 1, in fact, immediately sees that the Safety Car is sent out when Esteban Ocon’s car is removed from the wall in Turn 1, where teammate Sergio Perez sent it. Just seconds before the “no overtaking” signal is issued, Sebastian beautifully overtakes Max Verstappen, snatching P2. The Safety car comes back into the pits in Lap 4, and the whole top ten is running at a very slow pace in order to preserve the delicate and easily degradable Hypersoft tyres which they have all started on.
Undercut and tyre management, gone wrong
At Lap 15 Ferrari’s box calls Sebastian Vettel (still P2) inside, going for an undercut on race leader Lewis Hamilton. Surprisingly to everyone, the German fits Ultrasoft tyres, which were predicted to be used only on a two-stop strategy, and immediately starts tending to them, without setting fast laps. At this point, Mercedes’s strategists respond by fitting the more durable Soft tyres on Hamilton at the very same lap, as does Max Verstappen a few laps later, managing to snach the position from a frustrated Sebastian Vettel. Kimi Raikkonen, on the other hand, tries the overcut and mounts Softs, being able to pose a serious threat to Valtteri Bottas’s P4 until the very end, without being able to gain the position.
Fights and penalties
The Lap 1 collision between the two Racing Point Force India drivers constitues a serious setback for the team’s progress in the standings: Sergio Perez causes Esteban Ocon to hit the wall and break the front right suspension, ending his race and hindering its own. Although no further action is taken for this specific incident, the Mexican is later given a drive-through penalty for voluntarily and heavily shunting into Sergey Sirotkin’s side in a messy overtake attempt. The Russian, on the other hand, is also given a 5-second penalty for sending Brendon Hartley out of the track limits.
On such a twisty track, overtaking lapped car is not an easy business, even when blue flags are displayed. Leading drivers have to make themselves way between those on the back of the field, frequently without getting any collaboration: Romain Grosjean is, in fact, given nother 5-second penalty for ignoring blue flags in the last 20 laps.
The title race
Today’s somewhat disappointing results for the Prancing Horse are seriously putting the title fight at risk. Mercedes is leading with a considerable advantage in both the Drivers’ and the Constructors’ Standing, and there are only six races left. However, every single driver on the grid has already fitted all the Power Unit parts allowed by the FIA for this season. This means that whatever part is replaced on whatever car from now on, grid penalties will ensue. Even Lewsi and Sebastian will have, at some point in the next six race weekends, to start from the back of the grid. And we can all imagine that it will be great entertainment.