Hamilton extends title lead after Singapore win

Lewis Hamilton claimed a lights to flag victory, at the 2018 Singapore Grand Prix held at the Marina Bay Circuit. The Briton took the second consecutive win post summer-break, sixth win of the season and 69th victory of his career. He has won four races at this venue and becomes the eighth driver to win the Singapore GP from pole and has now surpassed Sebastian Vettel’s record of total number of laps lead. Max Verstappen driver followed in second place and Vettel finished third to complete the final podium finish. The current result creates a 40-point lead between the two title contenders, which is a huge gap with only six more races to go. Red Bull Racing have now been on the podium at every Singapore Grand Prix in F1 history.

As thrilling as the race in Singapore is every year, the start of the race did not fail to deliver the drama this venue is famous for. The start unfolds with the two Force India’s clashing with each other, ending Esteban Ocon’s race. Incident was caused by Sergio Perez not giving his team-mate enough room at the second corner. In the 11th running of this event, the action lived up to the record of a safety car at every Singapore GP. The first safety car was out from Lap1-4. Stewards declared the incident as a racing incident, with no further action. In the meanwhile, Vettel who had an electric start, overtook Verstappen for second place, just in time for the Safety Car.

Hamilton tried backing up Vettel during the Safety Car, not giving the German enough time to get his tyres into the temperature window, and bolted off at the race restart on Lap 5. From there on it was Hamilton in lead followed by Vettel, and Verstappen in the top three until lap 14. In the mid-field, Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz who had jumped a few positions at the start were in P9 and P10 by then.

It wasn’t until lap 14 when Vettel came into the pits to trigger the pitstops, that the race got interesting again. Although Vettel tried to trigger the undercut strategies, his team put him on the ultrasoft tyres, and as he rejoined in seventh, he got stuck behind Sergio Perez for a lap. Mercedes did respond to Vettel’s pitstop by pitting Hamilton, however they opt for the soft tyre that could last till the chequered flag, with reasonable amount of pace and the Briton joined ahead of Perez and Vettel in fifth place.

Although Vettel passed Perez, the late pass played into Verstappen’s hands, and the Dutchman who had lost a place to the German by lap 2, end up getting it back. The 20-year-old pit at 18 but was able to rejoin the race ahead of Vettel, who was P5 then. This eventually by the closing laps of the race cost Vettel not one but two races, and only another Safety Car would have helped him, which did not happen.

For Perez the race started with him, lodging his team-mate in the wall and more drama followed when he made contact with Sirotkin while overtaking him for 16th place. The incident resulted in him getting a drive-thru penalty. Sirotkin on the other hand was also handed a five second penalty for being involved in three incidents in the race. Joining the penalty squad, was Romain Grosjean who brought the race alive briefly while battling the Russian. The duo ends up backing up Hamilton and Verstappen in the race by ignoring blue flags while racing each other. The battle was risky enough to make contact and bring out another Safety Car however the overlapping cars backed off and avoided a collision.

Valtteri Bottas finished fourth and was trailed closely by Kimi Raikkonen in fifth and Daniel Ricciardo sixth, towards the closing laps of the race. The trio trailed closely and at a point, one would have expect them to bring the race alive, however they finished in the order they started, in what one would term as a cliched outcome, denying exciting track action. The two Finns however did not have much of a support role to play in this race either apart from Raikkonen stretching his stint on the hyper-soft tyres, until his team-mate could make up a few places to Hamilton.

Fernando Alonso on the other hand who planned his qualifying to seal P11 on the grid in deliberation, aided by a unique strategy that paid off. The Spaniard jumped to P9 at the start, and had started on ultra-soft tyre. Following the one-stop strategy trend he made the purple tyres last for 38 tyres and was able to complete the race in the best of the rest position, a place he targeted denying the Renault’s and Haas a place that has been their favourite this season.

Carlos Sainz, the Spaniard replacing Alonso at McLaren next season, finished eighth and was followed by Charles Leclerc in ninth place, and Nico Hulkenberg finished tenth, to round up the points finishes of the race. For Renault this is a critical double point finish, which helps the German lead the B-championship on the grid, as many would call it by retaining seventh place in the drivers’ title.

Ferraris tactical error cost them dearly, and Verstappen’s second place finish aided Hamilton to pull a bigger gap in the points over his rival. The German who was disappointed at the outcome of the race said, “We didn’t have the pace in the race. We tried to be aggressive in the beginning and it didn’t work out. After that we had a different race to the other guys, on a different tyre.”

The German’s need to dictate the pit-wall from the cockpit, often adds more work to his existing job of driving. His lack of trust on tactical calls has started to gleam in his team-radio, which is a problem he did not have at Red Bull Racing or Hamilton have at Mercedes. Often the job is easier when a driver can trust his team on strategy, it becomes easier for him focus on the job which is to drive and make the best of the machinery he has at hand.

Mercedes on the other hand give Hamilton the confidence to trust them with tactical or strategic calls, which makes the Briton’s job easier, and at weaker tracks has helped the Briton clinch wins. The Silver Arrows did make some strategy errors at the start of the season; however they have also improved their slow corner performance after races like Hungary, and it has been a massive turnaround for them. Apart from Vettel’s own errors the team’s error on Saturday, at a track where they could have clearly dominated, and has only helped Mercedes and Hamilton. At the Singapore GP, seventy percent of the times, the pole sitter has gone on to win the race, so Saturday was critical.

With six races to go Hamilton doesn’t just have the points advantage over Vettel but also the psychological advantage. For the Maranello squad however it is going to be a few tense race weekends ahead, with the need of putting in an ‘All or Nothing’ policy in place, with minimal room for tactical errors.

The current outcome has Hamilton leading the Drivers’ championship with a total of 281 points, followed by Vettel in second place with a total of 241 points, and Raikkonen in third place with a total of 174 points. In the midfield, Hulkenberg leads the B-Championship with 53 points, but Alonso trails closely with a total of 50 points. For the double world champion, that will be equivalent to clinching a title before he leaves the sport at the end of the year.

Overall this Singapore race wasn’t the most exciting one, apart from it living put to its safety car record but was well attended in comparison to its last edition which had more drama and was a turned table in the drivers’ title. The next race in Russia will be held at the Sochi International circuit, with the race weekend spanning from September 28-30, 2018. With cooler temperatures than usual, the race will be a decider for the title, and an exciting one to look forward to.