We would very much like to think that Stoffel Vandoorne, in light of his recent dumping by McLaren, had his tongue very firmly in his cheek last night when he said: “Anything can happen here in Singapore. There’s 100 per cent chance of a safety car so there’ll probably be one at some point!”
Other than having a word with his teammate, the youngster might think about seeking out the portly Italian flogging knocked-off Kimoa sunglasses and Tees at the main entrance… if anyone can help out with an on-demand safety car, he can.
Crashgate aside, we only have to look back twelve months to know that anything can happen here, and probably will.
Following Monza, Sebastian Vettel really needs to get his championship back on track, but the German’s spirit must have been crushed that little bit more by Lewis Hamilton‘s Q3 stunner. While he did his best to put a brave face on things, there was no mistaking the German’s disappointment.
This, after all, is Mercedes bogey track, yet here’s Hamilton on pole, and 0.6s quicker.
Having been a victim of Vettel’s overenthusiasm a year ago, Max Verstappen will be keen to get a clean start, the Dutchman aware that this is probably his last remaining chance of a win this season. Then again, his ‘king of the overtakers’ teammate must be fancying his chances.
In the midst of all that we have the two Finns, both seeking that elusive first win of the season, and both with a point to prove in terms of their teammates.
Behind the usual suspects that are the ‘big six’, ‘big three’ or whatever you want to call them, the midfield is as fraught as ever.
This time around, certainly in terms of qualifying, it’s advantage Sergio Perez, though, as ever, his teammate is in close proximity. Romain Grosjean, will be seeking to make up for the disappointment of his Monza qualification, while Nico Hulkenberg will be wanting to get one over on his Haas rival on track rather than in the stewards room.
And then it gets really interesting.
However, the hypers degrade very, very quickly, which is bad news for the leading ten, because behind them, starting with eleventh-placed Fernando Alonso, the drivers have a free choice and most will likely opt to start on the more durable ultras or softs.
As a result, tyre strategy is likely to be more important here than at any other race.
According to Pirelli the fastest option is a one-stopper, staring on ultrasofts for 24 laps, then softs to the flag. But this isn’t an option for the top ten. Nearly as quick is another one-stopper; starting on hypersofts for 13 laps, and then softs to the flag.
Alternatively, a two-stopper, which is nearly as quick as a one-stopper in Singapore, means starting on the hypersofts for 11 laps, then two stints on ultrasofts of 25 laps each.
Of course, an early safety car – and every running of the Singapore Grand Prix has witnessed at least one appearance – would allow the front runners to pit early to rid themselves of their hypersofts… which is where our portly Italian friend comes in.
As is so often the case, indeed, as we witnessed in Monza – and here last year – the race cannot be won in the first corner or the first lap, but it can be lost.
While Hamilton merely has to keep himself to himself, and not attempt any early tangles with ‘Mad Max’, the onus is on Vettel to produce a result.
The pitlane opens, and Vettel is among the first out.
Last out for the anthem on the other hand is Alonso, who was probably having words with a certain T-Shirt salesman. First glimpse, suggests that Hamilton is hitting the grid kid in front of him with his Mercedes cap, but he’s actually fanning himself.
Indeed, as the field prepares to head off on the warm-up lap, the air temperature is 29.8 degrees C, while the track temperature is 33.9.
In terms of tyres, behind the leading ten, who are all on the hypersofts, only Gasly and Hartley also opt for the pink-banded rubber while Stroll goes for softs.
Hamilton leads the field away on the warm-up lap. A couple of minutes later, the grid forms, Verstappen making his intentions clear as he points his car at the first corner.
They get through the first corner without incident but further around, at T3, Ocon hits the wall after being squeezed out by his teammate. As Vettel passes Verstappen on the straight for second, the safety car is deployed.
“I got hit by Sergio badly,” reports Ocon. “Sorry guys, there was no room,” explains Perez. “I didn’t see him.”
The incident is under investigation.
As the field continues behind the safety car, the camera picks up on Sirotkin who has a piece of Ocon’s wheel rim wedged on to his front wing. The Russian pits to have it removed.
At the end of lap 4, the safety car is withdrawn as Verstappen reports a “false neutral”.
No further action re the Panthers incident.
Hamilton controls the re-start perfectly, sparks fills the air as the field gets up to speed again.
Hamilton leads Vettel, Verstappen, Bottas, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Perez, Grosjean, Alonso and Sainz.
As Hamilton builds a 1s comfort cushion, Verstappen hangs on to the tail of Vettel’s Ferrari.
“You know what to do on the tyres,” the youngster is told.
Lap 7 sees Vettel post a new fastest lap (47.397) as the gap to Hamilton remains around the one-second mark.
That message to Verstappen appears to have referred to temperatures for the Red Bull driver has backed off a little.
“The car’s really good,” reports Verstappen, though he doesn’t mention the product in the back.
After 9 laps, the field is very evenly spread, only the Toro Rosso duo within a second of the respective drivers in front.
“There’s a lot left in the tyres,” reports Hamilton.
Vettel is told that Hamilton has reported that there’s not a lot left in his tyres. “I don’t believe him,” says the German. Clearly a communication mistake from Ferrari.
As if to prove how good his tyres are, lap 12 sees a new fastest lap from Hamilton who stops the clock at 44.929.
At the end of lap 14, Vettel pits. Switching to ultras he rejoins in 7th.
Hamilton responds with purples in the first two sectors. “Give it everything you have,” he is told.
Sure enough, he pits at the end of lap 15, Mercedes responding to the undercut. Switching to softs, the Briton rejoins in 5th ahead of Perez and Vettel. Hulkenberg also pits, switching to ultras.
As Vettel follows Perez, the Mexican refusing to yield, Bottas pits.
Finally, Vettel passes Perez and sets about making the most of his faster ultras.
“The tyres are a little bit soft,” reports race leader Verstappen. Moments later the Red Bull driver pits. Switching to softs he rejoins alongside Vettel. The two briefly duel but the Red Bull has the line. Perez also pitted.
“Yes!!” says Verstappen of his shutting out of Vettel. “OK, focus,” he is told.
Now, after 18 laps, Raikkonen leads Ricciardo, with Alonso up to seventh, ahead of Sainz and Gasly.
“No chance, again, we’re too late,” says Vettel, the German adding that “these tyres won’t make it to the end.” He’s on the ultras, and will indeed have to stop again, while Hamilton and Verstappen ahead, and Bottas behind, are on the slower softs that will go the distance.
Verstappen is told of Vettel’s radio warnings.