2019 Singapore Grand Prix: Resurgent Vettel Leads Ferrari 1-2

2019 Singapore Grand Prix, Sunday - Sebastian Vettel (image courtesy Scuderia Ferrari Press Office)

Scuderia Ferrari was the dominant force of the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix weekend. After Charles Leclerc took pole on Saturday night, tonight the team from Maranello was able to celebrate its first one-two finish of the season, with Sebastian Vettel first past the chequered flag followed by his team-mate. It is the first time in the 12 editions to date of this night-time Grand Prix that one team has secured the top two places.

For the German it was his fifth Singaporean win, a record here, and it was also his first since last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, bringing his total of Formula 1 wins to 53.

“After yesterday, when I wasn’t able to get everything out of the car, I am pleased with the way everything went today. It was about time! The last few weeks have been far from simple for me, but in the end, I knew I could turn things around. I never stopped believing in myself and today, with the great help of the team here and in Maranello, we got the result we should always be aiming for. I was playing a waiting game until I got the call on the radio to pit for new tyres. I had not expected to stay out so long but the decision was key, because I was able to rejoin with a clear track ahead of me and I could run at my own pace making up ground on all the others, to the extent that I was in the lead by almost five seconds at the time the Safety Car came out. From then on, the race was continually interrupted, with a further two restarts, but I still managed to maintain concentration and avoid making any mistakes. It’s too early to say if this win means we can be competitive on all the coming tracks. Here, whoever is in front sets the pace, almost like in Monaco and on used tyres, Hamilton seemed stronger than us, which means we still have work to do when it comes to our race pace. Certainly the upgrades we brought here worked well and made us competitive, which means we are working in the right direction,” said Vettel.

2019 Singapore Grand Prix, Sunday (image courtesy Scuderia Ferrari Press Office)
2019 Singapore Grand Prix, Sunday (image courtesy Scuderia Ferrari Press Office)

It was Ferrari’s 238th victory and the first time it has won three in a row since they did it four times in 2008 in Malaysia, Bahrain, Spain and Turkey.

The biggest loser on the night, relatively speaking, was the Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport team which, for only the second time this season, the other being in Hockenheim, failed to get at least one driver on the podium. On the third step tonight stood Max Verstappen, making his first appearance in the top three since the summer break. In Spa and Monza, Mercedes had finished in Leclerc’s slipstream but here they were never in contention for the win, even if going into the event, their car seemed much better suited to this track than at the two previous ones. Of course, the result does not have a significant impact on the situation in both championships, given the huge advantage that Lewis Hamilton, fourth today has in the Drivers’ classification. He leads team-mate Valtteri Bottas by 65 points, the Finn coming home behind him tonight and he is a massive 96 ahead of Leclerc and Verstappen. In the Constructors’ Mercedes are 133 ahead of Ferrari.

Having survived the start and the first lap scraps, the top six on the grid crossed the line in their start order on the first of the scheduled 61 laps. Then the fight for the top places evolved in two clearly distinct phases. The first was very tactical with Leclerc dictating the ace without pushing too much so as not to stress the Soft tyres and to make the first stint as long as possible to ensure a one-stop strategy. Also, he did not want to pull out a gap too soon, which could have tempted those behind the lead group to try an Undercut too soon if there was a chance of a couple of laps with a clear track ahead.

It meant that for a while, the midfield runners were actually running at a faster pace than the leaders, especially as all those drivers who had a free choice of tyre for the start had gone for either the Medium or the Hard. With a pit stop costing around 27 seconds, the first real opportunity came on lap 15, when a window of around ten seconds appeared between Stroll and Grosjean. At this point, Leclerc pushed on, bringing his pursuers along behind him like a cycling peleton and the first to make a move were Vettel and Verstappen who both stopped on lap 19 and that was the key moment of the race. Thanks to running new Hard tyres they were both immediately very quick which pushed Leclerc into making his pit stop. However, the Monegasque driver was unable to stay ahead of his team-mate and Verstappen was right on his tail.

Once those on the champion team’s pit wall realised the undercut was really effective, they first brought in Bottas at the start of lap 22, who rejoined however behind Verstappen, while to a certain extent Hamilton was forced to keep going with the aim of trying to make the most of having tyres that would in theory be fresher towards the end. The Englishman came in on lap 26, rejoining just ahead of his team-mate, but now a long way down on the duelling Ferraris. With the leaders having all stopped, the race moved into its second phase marked by the sight of Italy’s Antonio Giovinazzi leading a Grand Prix for the very first time. The Alfa Romeo driver led until lap 30, when he was easily passed by Vettel who had gradually caught those drivers who had yet to pit. Overtaking and duels galore characterised this part of the race but the key player was actually the Safety Car, which made three appearances. The first followed a coming together between Russell and Grosjean on lap 36, the second so that Perez’s car could be removed from the side of the track where it stopped with a technical problem on lap 44 and the third on lap 50, when Raikkonen and Kvyat collided at Turn 1.

The three neutralisations wiped out any hope Mercedes had of seeing those ahead in difficulty in terms of tyre management and the three restarts did nothing to disturb the order so that the order at the chequered flag was the one established way back on lap 34. It was a whole different story behind the top six with several passing moves, collisions and failures that jumbled things up. Norris was the main beneficiary, seventh at the flag and the “best of the rest” followed by a solid performance from Gasly in eighth. Hulkenberg staged a great climb up the order after he had to pit at the end of the first lap with a puncture to finish ninth. The final points position belonged to Giovinazzi, despite a 10 second penalty for having driven too close to a crane that was removing Perez’s car.

Behind the top ten came Grosjean, Sainz, Stroll, Ricciardo, Kvyat, Kubica and Magnussen. The Dane had the consolation of setting the fastest race lap for the second consecutive year, but it did not mean much, as for the first time this season, no point was awarded as a driver has to be in the top ten to pick this up. There were three retirements, Perez with the aforementioned technical problems, Raikkonen and Russell as a result of collisions. The Englishman’s retirement also ended the only record held by the ROKiT Williams Team in that it was the only team to have got both its drivers to the finish of every round of the championship to date.

268,000 spectators attending the street race in Marina Bay over the weekend to watch the 12th edition of this Grand Prix, its second-highest crowd figure ever. As usual, there was a stellar group of musicians to entertain the fans over the weekend, including Swedish House Mafia, Muse, Gwen Stefani, Fatboy Slim, Hans Zimmer, as well as Toots and the Maytals, with Red Hot Chili Peppers closing the action-packed weekend at the Padang Stage after the chequered flag was waved.

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