Vettel wins disrupted Singapore Grand Prix as Mercedes lose their way

2015 Singapore Grand Prix review

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When Sebastian Vettel last won the Singapore Grand Prix, some in the crowd booed him. ‘They’re tired of him winning all the time,’ was one of the more regularly-cited explanations for their crass jeers.

How times have changed. Two years later, Red Bull’s domination of Formula One has been eclipsed by Mercedes, who aside from the occasional slip-up have painted the sport silver since the start of last year.

Not in Singapore, however. Suddenly Mercedes are fallible, vulnerable even. Not only did one of their cars fail to see the chequered flag for the second race running, but all weekend long they simply lacked the pace of Ferrari and Red Bull. It was a shock to the system.

Vettel streaks ahead

Vettel was three seconds clear after just one lap
While Mercedes toiled in the dark on Saturday, Vettel tore up the streets of Singapore on his way to his first pole position since the end of 2013. He ended up over half a second quicker than the field, and the opening lap of the race showed he intended to serve up more of the same.

Having led the field to turn one, Vettel made it back to the start/finish line three seconds before the chasing pack. But the threat from Daniel Ricciardo behind him was real: Red Bull knew it was only a matter of time before the lap times swung in their favour.

Sure enough, after half-a-dozen laps Ricciardo was already beginning to see the Ferrari ahead grow larger. Red Bull’s long-run pace on Friday had worried their rivals, and it seemed we were set for a race-long scrap between the pair.

But Red Bull’s advantage rested on them being able to use the full extent of their performance advantage at the end of a stint. And in Singapore, where a Safety Car appearance is an ever-present threat, that was always going to be in doubt.

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Ricciardo loses “best chance” to win

Safety Cars kept Ricciardo from exploiting Red Bull’s pace
Sure enough on lap 13 Nico Hulkenberg and Felipe Massa went for the same piece of track at turn three and the result was one smoking Force India deposited into the barriers. A virtual Safety Car period was declared immediately, but with several drivers having already made their first pit stops the leaders’ course of action was a no-brainer: they all came in to change tyres.

“I think it was pretty straightforward when to stop,” Vettel explained afterwards, “because you obviously take the advantage of losing less time through the pit lane.”

For once the only Mercedes to lead the race was Bernd Maylander’s AMG GT S after the VSC was replaced with the real deal. Behind him Vettel queued up in front of a vexed Ricciardo, who knew he’d just lost his “best chance” to win. Kimi Raikkonen was next, and like the leading pair had also taken on another set of super-soft tyres.

Daniil Kvyat lost his grip on fourth place as he had pitted before the VSC period, and therefore was jumped by the two Mercedes drivers. The silver cars had switched from the super-softs to the softs, knowing they could return to super-softs for an attacking final stint if the race stayed green for long enough. But, for the most bizarre of reasons, it didn’t.

“Some guy’s running across the track!”

A track invader brought the Safety Car back out
Heading out of the revised section of track for the 37th time, Vettel was astonished to discover a man wandering across the track, away from the racing line.

“I had to look again because I wasn’t sure whether I had a problem with my eyesight,” he recalled. “I went on the radio and said ‘some guy’s running across the track!'”

“I think I saw him taking a picture, I don’t know. I hope it was a good one at least – I hope it was in focus!”

The Safety Car was immediately called out for a second time, leaving Ricciardo to curse his luck again.

“When I saw the [first] Safety Car come out I was a bit frustrated,” Ricciardo said, “but I knew there was one more stop in the race, so I knew there was one more chance to do the same thing.”

“Seb learned a little bit from the first stint – started off a little bit easier in the second stint, then broke away. Then I think again as the laps ticked down I was probably able to make the tyres last a bit better on the option and close in, but then Safety Car again.”

“So, thanks to the guy on the track, appreciate it,” he added ironically. “I was tempted to swerve, clip him!”

However Vettel believed he had Ricciardo handled without the reappearance of the Safety Car.

“I knew that it’s impossible for Daniel, for anyone, to go 40-odd laps on the [soft] tyre, it will just fall apart at the end,” he said. “So I think some 35 or 36 laps to go, I knew we were approaching the pit stop window plus I knew that one of the Mercedes was on the [soft] tyre, which obviously allows them to be on the option for the final stint, so I said, ‘OK a couple of laps to go’.”

“When the pit stop window more of less opened for the final stint, allowing to finish on the [soft], to go for it, open a gap, put some three or four seconds between me and Daniel, so that we can react in case he dives into the pits and he doesn’t get the undercut. So it worked pretty well.”

Struggling Raikkonen takes final podium spot

Gearbox gremlins forced Massa out after Hulkenberg tangle
While Vettel consolidated his advantage in the final run to the flag, Raikkonen was having an increasingly difficult time. “Once we started to push I started to struggle straight way with the same issues with the rear end,” he said after losing 17 seconds to Vettel over the final 20 laps.

That might have been a problem for Raikkonen had his closest challenger dropped out between the two Safety Car periods. Lewis Hamilton reported a loss of power and despite thorough attempts to solve the problem by changing settings on the engine while he was circulating, and further efforts after he came into the pits, Mercedes finally had to admit defeat.

Nico Rosberg inherited the fourth place which had been occupied by his team mate. But it underscored the depth of Mercedes problems in Singapore that he too had experienced a pre-race scare when his engine cut out, briefly raising fears of a repeat of his retirement 12 months ago.

He made it to the chequered flag, however, followed by Valtteri Bottas. The Williams driver had to nurse a gearbox problem in the closing stages – another had claimed his team mate earlier on.

There were a spate of drivetrain failures involving other cars: both McLarens retired and both Toro Rossos experienced gear shift problems. Some of these were clustered around the same point on the track near turn 19. In previous years teams have identified a source of electrical interference near the Andersen bridge which has caused problems, and it may be that another has been discovered.

Verstappen stands his ground

Verstappen refused an order to let his team mate by
In what has become something of a tradition at Singapore, the final laps saw those who tried to eke their tyres out until the end fall prey to those who had pitted. Sergio Perez was a notable exception, taking seventh behind Kvyat after repelling the recovering Toro Rossos.

Despite failing to get away at the start – the second race in a row this has happened to someone – Max Verstappen used the Safety Cars to his advantage as he climbed back up to eighth place. He didn’t think much of Toro Rosso’s later order for him to let his team mate through, however.

“Just do it,” race engineer Xevi Pujolar told Verstappen as Carlos Sainz Jnr closed in on fresher tyres. But it turned out Sainz wasn’t gaining as quickly as he needed to, and after the race the Toro Rosso team principal vindicated Verstappen’s defiant stance.

The Toro Rosso pair had already passed the struggling Lotus drivers, but Jenson Button found Pastor Maldonado predictably happier to cause an accident than concede a position he was inevitably going to lose. First he turned in on Button as the McLaren drew alongside at turn 16, then having left the track completely he rejoined in front of the McLaren and, despite the obvious speed difference between the two, chopped in front of Button again, causing contact.

“It’s a very narrow corner where it happened and there was no chance for him to overtake,” Maldonado said of the point on the track where his less reckless team mate was passed by Verstappen a few minutes later without incident. After the race Lotus (who may be about to become Renault) announced Maldonado’s contract has been renewed, so we can expect at least another 12 months of this nonsense.

Vettel surpasses Senna

Vettel’s 42nd victory means he has won more races than Ayrton Senna
Vettel bagged his third win of the year just under a second and a half in hand over Ricciardo. It had been an eventful grand prix, but a somewhat unsatisfying race, the two interruptions having ensured the leader was never really tested.

Even so, the outcome of the race was remarkable. Where had Mercedes’ pace gone? Their vulnerability on the softer tyres, the tougher enforcement of tyre pressure and camber limits, the lessening of their engine performance advantage at a track like Singapore and, in all likelihood, other as-yet unclear factors may all have contributed.

Before all that became apparent it seemed an inevitable that F1 would leave Singapore with Mercedes having chalked up another victory. During the build-up much was made of the possibility Hamilton would match Ayrton Senna career stats by winning his 41st race in his 161st start.

But instead of seeing one driver equal Senna, we saw another one surpass him. Vettel’s 42nd career victory was a milestone in that sense, and it could yet prove to be even more significant.

It had been five years since a Ferrari qualified on pole position in a dry session and then went on to win the race. Mercedes’ dominance is surely not going to come to a complete stop so suddenly.

Nonetheless after the race Ferrari could talk about building their own new chapter of success. The once-dominant silver cars were clearly beatable in Singapore and that will have reinvigorated the opposition. More difficult days for Mercedes may lie ahead.

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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39 comments on “Vettel wins disrupted Singapore Grand Prix as Mercedes lose their way”

  1. Didn’t Ferrari target 3 wins at the start of the season? Sounded optimistic at the time.

    1. I think they targeted two wins this year.

      One more victory this season and Arrivabene will have to make good on his promise to run 100km up the hill to Maranello, barefoot!

      1. That suddenly doesn’t seem all that impossible :^)

  2. In previous years teams have identified a source of electrical interference near the Andersen bridge which has caused problems, and it may be that another has been discovered.

    That’s very interesting ! I didn’t know that !

    About the race, well said about Maldonado. 12 months of this… it’s not even funny anymore ! he’s not even fast but reckless now, he’s just reckless. Grosjean is constantly getting the better of him, even after missing FP1.

    Impressive stuff by Verstappen too. But what about Seb? controlled the race from start to finish. Even if Red Bull had something up their sleeve, I doubt they could beat him.

    All in all, not a bad race, not a great one. Without the 2nd SC maybe we’d have seen more action with drivers struggling for grip more. But anyway, roll on Suzuka!

    1. Is it really that bad that people who are not going to finish in the top 10 crash into each other?

      That part of the race would have been pretty boring without Crashtor.

  3. Perfect timing to get his 42nd win, all these Senna/Hamilton comparisons were starting to get unbearable.

    Also loved what Alain Prost wrote on his twitter :
    “Well done Sébastien I can see you in my mirrors now”

    Getting recognition from one of the biggest legends in the sport must be so heartwarming.

    1. Also, Vettel is a true student of the sport and has appreciation for all eras of F1 and all of the greats. Hamilton is just a fan-boy of Senna, in the same way he’s a fan-boy of J.Z., 50-cent and Pharell Williams.

      1. As an F1 driver being a fan of Foo Fighters would be more suitable, wouldn’t it?

        I too think Lewis (and media) got carried away by that 41/161 milestone but seems to me your “love” for the boy has a lot to do with this weird comment.

      2. And his big bro kanye west.

      3. And Hamilton doesn’t want to drive a ferrari

        1. well he bought one, the laferrari

      4. it’s worse, he said that the coolest artist is kanye

  4. I guess the vast majority of headlines you give post-race at this track are titled “_X_ wins disrupted Singapore…” – because the safety car is almost always present?. It wouldn’t be a dig at SV only being able to win as a result of such, would it Keith?
    Because the only reason “Ricciardo was already beginning to see the Ferrari ahead grow larger” was because Vettel allowed him to do so – and manage things at 80%. The safety car didn’t play into his victory the way it did for Verstappen’s drive, for example.
    Vettel managed everything from inside his cockpit from qual to finish. Credit where it’s due.

    1. Vettel did appear to be managing the race, all night long.

    2. I guess the vast majority of headlines you give post-race at this track are titled “_X_ wins disrupted Singapore…”


  5. Meanwhile CVC continue to work on their selectable F1 engine death-ray, progress has been made since last year as they are now able to cover the entire track, not just the Andersen bridge area, Bernie is very pleased with the results but is urging the team at the skunkworks to make progress on reducing the size of the unit so it can be transported to other venues.

  6. It was a decent race. Gave it 6 out of 10.

    Good Job by Vettel and Ricciardo. Congrats to Vettel for crossing Senna’s record although it was less talked and hyped about than Lewis equaling Senna.

    My only complaint was with RBR and Ricciardo. Their only strategy to win the race was to undecut Vettel. They expected to undercut Vettel in either one of the pit stops and then defend the lead. While there is nothing wrong with the strategy it is not good when it is their only strategy. In the post race talks both Horner and Ricciardo sounded 100% sure that they would have won the race without a safety car. Firstly in SGP safety car is a regular occurrence. Secondly the Ferrari strategists would not be sitting idle either. Thirdly Vettel was also driving well. I would have loved to see Ricciardo attacking Vettel more on the track rather than waiting for pit stops. That would have spiced up the race a lot.

    In general it was a normal race. It is a pleasure to watch the night races. The contrast from Monza to SGP is extreme. I had to give it to Button who has a great sense of humor even in these hard times. Radio messages like “Rub my tummy and pat my head” were hilarious. Around the same time @sniffpetrol tweeted the hypothetical comment from Alonso from a balcony making fun of Button. It was ROFL.

    The fan on the track was funny and dangerous. It is super dangerous to roam the track with dark dress during a night race with the Formula1 cars racing at high speed. These cars do not even have the lights of their own. I should say the chap was lucky. It was really really funny the way he sneaked back into the stand through a hole on the fence as if nothing happened !!!!

    As far as Lewis is concerned he was super relaxed. He is going to come back in Suzuka and set the track on fire with Pole and a Win that is a clear writing on the wall !!!!

    Last but not the least the behavior from Ferrari mechanics was a bit of surprise. Poor Arivibene has to apologize now. They seem to be really excited. I mean even during the Schumi’s winning days I have not seen them sing the Italian anthem in such a chorus effect. So far Vettel has been working out well for them. Good for Ferrari. Good for F1 !!!!!

    Looking forward to Suzuka.

    1. Not sure why you expected Ricciardo to try and attack Vettel – you could see overtaking with difficult enough with differing compounds let alone the same compounds. Vettel has the horsepower advantage over Ricciardo and on ultimate pace around the track, it showed that the Ferrari was a faster car in qualifying up to half a second.

      Pretty decent job in itself that Ricciardo kept Vettel honest pretty much the whole race. Other than that it was top drives by both drivers.

      1. Pretty decent job in itself that Ricciardo kept Vettel honest pretty much the whole race. Other than that it was top drives by both drivers.

        @Pete I do agree with what you said. I did mention in the very beginning of my comment that it was indeed a good Job by both Vettel and Ricciardo. No Questions about that. My only gripe was that instead of relying only on pit stops to get past Vettel RBR should have tried getting close to him in the second and third stint like they did towards the end of the first stint. It would have spiced up the race. Plus Ferrari ahd the pace. So bluntly saying that they lost the race because of safety car is not really acceptable. They might have had a 30% chance if there was no Safety car. But hey this is SGP where safety car is always a norm.

        1. @tmax, “It might have spiced up the race” but only very briefly as then Rics tyres would have gone off even earlier than Kvyats and it would have been a Ferrari 1-2.

          1. Kvyat didn’t lose places because his tyres went off. He lost them because go SC.

        2. Sorry but the logic still doesn’t make sense and if you think that RBR wouldn’t have gone through that scenario already then you give them far less credit than they deserve. I think the gripe is unwarranted.

          Ricciardo already caught on that Vettel pushed too hard in the first stint and therefore changed his tact so he controlled the race in the second stint, saved his tires before the few laps before putting down the hammer to create a big enough gap to prevent the undercut at the end of the second stint.

          I’m not sure how you expected Ricciardo/RBR to try and get close to Vettel during the stints when clearly the Ferrari was the faster car. Ricciardo/RBR was the closest he had been to Vettel after the first safety car period for an overtake but couldn’t do an overtake (even with DRS) because of the rubbish Renault engine, then it’s extremely unlikely DR would be able to keep close and overtake for the rest of the stints so the only option was the undercut at the pitstops. So saying bluntly they lost the race because of the safety is entirely correct, it was the only way they could have got pass Vettel if they wanted to win the race – unless Vettel’s tire degradation was going to be so bad or he was going to be so slow that there was an alternative possibility. Neither of which came up as evidence of happening in the race.

  7. Good race and a great drive by seb vettel,one of his best performances yet. Oh and sorry kieth I think you made a small mistake in your article regarding the safety car. The car bernd maylander drives now is a mercedes amg gt s not an SLS amg gt. Just thought I’d point it out

    1. Seb was tremendous on Saturday and did do what he does best when at the front with a good car.

    2. Has been corrected, it seems now!

  8. Couldn’t help but feel the description of the Mal/But incident was very, very harsh – Mal couldn’t not come back onto the track because there was a wall there, then Button just drove into the back of him – no chop by Mal, no movement at all in fact.

    1. I think what he meant is when looking at Mal trajectory, if Mal push on the accelerator, he would naturally move outside (Mal was taking the normal line inside out while But was going from outside to inside). What Mal did was probably hugging the inside line and when he drifted to the outside he let go the accelerator so he can go back inside just to block Button. It’s kind of like brake checking. The driver behind expect the driver in front to accelerate (rightly so), but the driver in front actually decelerate. If you look at the drivers behind them, it was what Maldonado line supposed to look like.

      1. Exactly. Everybody’s focus is to hit the gas at roughly the same instant lap after lap. Nobody is focusing on if someone doesn’t. Anybody who is hitting their marks gets caught out by the one who didn’t. On the road it’s your fault if you hit someone in the rear cause it’s your job not to rear end anybody. In racing, if someone does not get on the gas it is their fault cause getting on the gas IS the expected job.

  9. This race pretty much reminded me of the 2011 and 2013, Vettel unmatched by his teamate dictates the pace and the others have little to do to stop him. He made 5 sec. gap in the opening laps and then just controled it. It was pretty much same with M. Webber who after 2010 had no answer to Vettel, this time its Raikkonen who puts absolutely no pressure on his teamate, he was 0,7 off in qualy and in the race he was no way near to pass Ricciardo with car which had such a pace advantage. And maybe except of Bahrain its the same all year long.

    When you look at Mercedes the pair was much closer over their first two years 2013-14 and Rosberg really challenged Hamilton which lead to rivalry and excitement that secured last year was much better then 2011 and 2013 dominance where there was no fight for chamipionship at all!

    I know Rosberg seems to very struggle this year and if he is not able to match Hamilton anymore I hope he would be replaced by someone else, and it would lead to another amazing inter-team battle which has been there with Hamilton nearly over his entire F1 career.

    Its something Vettel and Alonso are lacking. And the renewed contract with Raikkonen is exactly contuinuation of that process, that started with Webber and was only briefly cut by Ricciardo.

    When it comes to Alonso, he is alongside Button for sure, but the team is so far of the pace and so unreliable that no results there can be taken seriously. In case they keep Button with him and team vastly improve I believe the fight will be there again and it will be completely different picture from what we can see now, but we will have to wait for it, hopefully.

    I´m not in any way downplaying Vettel success in Singapore! I just say he needs ( maybe more fans need ) serious competition in the Ferrari, otherwise the upcoming years could be very boring if Ferrari is on top again.

    1. who could Replace Rosberg ? Alonso, Verstappen or Botas

      1. Bottas, Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo…

        In case of Verstappen we should wait for a year or two how he stands in Torro Rosso or RB. By that time he would still be only 19-20. :)

    2. Really ? How about 2011, when Button outclassed Hamilton at McLaren and finished P2 in the WDC, only behind Seb Vettel ?

      Truth is, Hamilton is obviously feeling very comfortable at Merc in the last two seasons, driving the two most dominant cars ever in the history of F1 (slightly behind 1988’s McLaren MP4/4), an average driver as his team mate and a clear n°1 status inside the team.

      1. And so what ? Button that year was on points way behind Vettel, the difference was huge and he lost any chances on WDC as early as Singapore or Korea where Vettel was crowned. There was NO fight at all for championship that year.

        Past two years for Hamilton in Merc were as comfortable as the one year with Ricciardo for Vettel I would say. :D Perhaps you should watch again races like Bahrain, Barcelona, Monaco,Hungary, Spa, Monza, Suzuka and so on… And then try to find such races between Vettel and Webber during their dominance and as I said except of 2010 you´ll find none, maybe apart from Silverstone “wing” issue.

    3. Rosberg struggles no more this year than he did last year. It’s just that Hamilton’s car hasn’t been breaking down as much as it did last year.

  10. Vettel on pole is like an unmovable object on track.

  11. On a separate yet not entirely unrelated matter; wheel to wheel racing is so rare these days. I still hope that I can see one such good lap or two between VET and HAM; Would clarify things a bit (read ‘quite a lot for me’). Imagine the two of them, closely racing each other, firing on all cylinders around the track.
    And if my imagination is permitted to run wilder, Alonso is in it too (nevermind the Honda pu, this is just to imagine).
    Alas, modern day F1 is far too artificial to allow my whims and fancies to actually take place. I guess i have to refer to the Villeneuve Vs Arnoux, French grand prix, 1979 again and again.

  12. ‘Alain prost said i can see sebastian on my mirror’ praising him for surpassing senna.may be prost didnt like Hamilton because of Hamiltons admiration of his arch rival senna.

  13. This race was reminiscent of Vettel’s RBR days – there’s something very nice about hearing the German/Italian national anthems together.

    Hopefully this will put an end to the Senna comparisons for a while – it’s nice that Hamilton looks up to Senna, but it seemed like a lot of the hype around the Senna/Hamilton comparisons excluded the fact that Vettel had a better record. Hopefully this means a more exciting finish to the season – even if Vettel can’t really contend for the WDC, he can hopefully battle for victories and make Mercedes sweat.

  14. And I lost a lot of points. :D

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