Podium, Singapore, 2018

Hamilton closes on title as Mercedes deny Ferrari in Singapore

2018 Singapore Grand Prix review

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It was clear on Friday that Mercedes had found something.

Lewis Hamilton’s opportunistic victory 12 months ago notwithstanding, Singapore has been a weak circuit for them in recent seasons. But now the drivers were talking about a “massive improvement” the team had unlocked, despite not having brought a significant upgrade to the track (their Singapore upgrade was moved forward to Monza).

Even so, Hamilton’s lap for his fourth pole position in Singapore was something special. So too was Max Verstappen’s run to second in his Red Bull, which relegated pre-race favourite Sebastian Vettel to third on the grid.

What followed on race day was a bold but ultimately unsuccessful effort by Vettel and his team to deny Hamilton another win.

Vettel’s tactical gamble backfires

Start, Singapore, 2018
The start was less destructive than last year
Passing Verstappen was the first objective for Vettel. He did it on the first lap – though he had only seconds to spare when he completed the move.

While Hamilton, Verstappen and Vettel motored through the first corners in grid order, the Force India pair clashed with destructive results. Esteban Ocon spied an opportunity to go around the outside of Sergio Perez, and even nosed slightly ahead of his team mate at turn three.

On the exit of the corner Perez drifted wide, dumping his team mate into the barrier. It would not be the last time Perez’s peripheral vision was found wanting in the race, though on this occasion the stewards apportioned no blame.

That brought out of the Safety Car, and the call was made just as Vettel was nosing past Verstappen at turn seven. He grabbed the place, and was perfectly poised to apply pressure to Hamilton at the eventual restart.

When the race resumed, however, Hamilton easily reasserted himself in the lead of the race. The interruption had usefully allowed him to extend the length of his first stint on the very fragile hyper-soft tyres. Now he nursed them for the opening phase: “just use the [power unit], not the tyres,” race engineer Pete Bonnington reminded him, until they got within range of making what would be their only pit stop.

“We were going quite slowly in the beginning,” explained Vettel. “I think a couple of laps after that, Lewis decided to push. Obviously, when your tyres are fresh you can choose the pace a little bit here and not be under threat because the corners that matter, you still have very good exits and it’s difficult to get close.”

With overtaking on the track being virtually impossible, this was Ferrari’s best chance to get Vettel ahead. Bringing him into the pits first and giving him a quick initial lap on fresher tyres might allow him to ‘undercut’ Hamilton.

To maximise their chance of success, Ferrari opted not for the soft tyres as per the standard strategy, but the ultra-softs which were two stages softer. The extra performance on the first lap could have proved the decisive edge.

But the ultra-softs had proved not as quick compared to the soft as Pirelli expected before the race weekend began. Friday running showed it was around 0.8 seconds per lap faster, roughly half what Pirelli had predicted. Vettel’s gamble was also compromised by the fact he rejoined the pack behind Perez. No doubt Mercedes timed the point at which Hamilton began pushing in order to ensure that if Vettel did respond by pitting he would have this piece of traffic to clear.

It worked beautifully for Mercedes – and Red Bull. Not only did Hamilton pit and rejoin ahead of Vettel but so did Verstappen, and again there was just millimeters in it. Vettel took a look but decided against hanging it around the outside, Ocon-style.

As Vettel pointed out afterwards it had been a risk worth taking, which could have earned them a stunning win. But Mercedes held the trump card of track position and played it to perfection.

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Grosjean gives Hamilton a scare

Sergey Sirotkin, Romain Grosjean, Singapore, 2018
Grosjean was preoccupied with Sirotkin
From this point the podium order was almost certain. ‘Almost’, because Hamilton was badly held up by Romain Grosjean later in the race while the Haas driver was trying to lap Sergey Sirotkin.

Protocal dictates drivers must stop trying to pass cars in front of them as soon as a driver who is a lap ahead gets close enough for the blue flags to be waved. Grosjean, too preoccupied with trying to pass Perez, forgot this.

“Just be careful with this lot,” Bonnington warned Hamilton as he closed within range of the Haas. “Blue flags,” Hamilton called with increasing concern. Meanwhile the Red Bull closed from five seconds behind to within striking range.

“Verstappen car behind,” warned Bonnington with growing urgency. “Verstappen very close behind. Use overtake! Overtake is available.”

Hamilton moved off-line to thwart a speculative look from Verstappen. A few corners later he was out of danger. “That was ridiculous,” he said, while the stewards prepared to hand down yet another penalty against Grosjean, who is increasingly at risk of incurring a race ban.

For a while Vettel was able to stay close to Verstappen, and even entertained hopes of getting the Red Bull out of the way. “Is Verstappen losing oil or water?” he asked. “Nothing on his radio but we keep monitoring,” came the reply. But as Vettel’s ultra-softs faded, Verstappen drew out of sight.

Was it a tactical error by Ferrari to put Vettel on ultra-softs? No. This was a case of having nothing to lose. The ultra-softs gave him the best possible chance of jumping Hamilton and staying ahead of Verstappen, but neither happened. Once that was the case it hardly mattered if he finished three seconds behind Hamilton or 30, as he did.

No passing chances

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Singapore, 2018
Bottas held off Raikkonen
The top three had reverted to the order they started in. The next three never looked likely to finish any differently.

Ferrari told Raikkonen to do the opposite to Valtteri Bottas, so when the Mercedes came in Raikkonen stayed out in the hope of ‘over-cutting’ his fellow Finn. He stayed out another six laps to no avail, and on the lap after Raikkonen pitted Daniel Ricciardo did the same.

Over the remainder of the race the trio closed up but none were close enough to have the slightest hope of making a pass.

“We had the speed but no way to pass other people,” Raikkonen rued. “Pretty boring.” Perhaps taking inspiration from that Ferrari titled their post-race press release “boredom wins in Singapore”. Accurate, perhaps, but hardly an example of graciousness in defeat. At least this year both their cars saw the end of lap one, never mind the chequered flag.

Ricciardo was equally unimpressed with the lack of realistic overtaking opportunities. “I really had to hope for a mistake or that Kimi and Valtteri would start tangling and I could capitalise,” he said. “I got close at turn 13 on the last lap, but it wasn’t close enough.

“In Monaco I listened to Lewis in seventh place complaining about following closely and now I understand what he was complaining about. I think everyone was in the same boat.”

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Midfield leaders struggle

Nico Hulkenberg, Renault, Singapore, 2018
Hulkenberg salvaged a point on a tough strategy
With the hyper-softs performing so poorly over a stint, the four lowest-placed drivers in Q3 were always going to be at a serious disadvantage due to the rules which force them to start on old rubber. And so it proved.

“Ot was a frustrating race for everyone who qualified between seventh and 10th on the hyper-softs,” said Grosjean. “It was such a poor tyre in the race.

“We did 10 laps and they completely went, while the ultrasofts did, I don’t know how many laps, 40? So, it’s almost better not to qualify in the top 10. Maybe we need to think about that a little bit because I felt like I pushed really hard in qualifying and in the race every single lap.”

Grosjean, who started eighth, dropped behind Sirotkin after the Williams driver made an early pit stop during the first Safety Car period. Race control told Williams to bring their man in as he had a piece of Ocon’s wheel rim lodged on his front wing. Sirotkin, who for this particularly gruelling race had been allowed to run with a drinks bottle for a change, took a fresh set of soft tyres and rejoined the track where he proved the bane of several drivers’ races.

Grosjean fought his way past Sirotkin, though he collected a penalty. Perez swerved alarmingly into the side of the Williams, badly damaging the FW41 and collecting a drive-through penalty which ensured Force India ended the day point-less. And Brendon Hartley was forced off the track when Sirotkin got a bit too vigorous with his defending. This time it was the Williams who took the penalty.

Nico Hulkenberg was therefore the only driver who scored a point from the fourth or fifth row of the grid. Fernando Alonso, who on Saturday was pleased to take ‘new tyre pole’, came home first among the midfielders, and the only one of them still on the lead lap. Alonso and Hulkenberg were separated by Carlos Sainz Jnr – who acknowledged that failing to reach Q3 had put him at a tyre advantage – and Charles Leclerc, who made up for his Friday crash with another points finish.

Hamilton closes on championship

With his seventh victory of 2018, Hamilton has moved into a position where the championship is almost – but not quite – his to lose. A 40-point lead over Vettel means he could beat his rival just once in the remaining six rounds and still take a fifth title.

Singapore continued a five-race streak in which Hamilton’s efforts have been almost faultless. He’s only dropped seven points from a potential haul of 125 in that time.

On paper, Ferrari still appears to have the better car. But if they can’t start making that count on a Sunday, their best chance of championship silverware for years will pass them by.

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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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25 comments on “Hamilton closes on title as Mercedes deny Ferrari in Singapore”

  1. It’s not over yet. But, if Vettel fails to slash Hamilton’s lead in Japan by at least 7 to 10 points… then it’s pretty much game, set and match for Hamilton.

    1. Szakacsi Ferenc (@)
      17th September 2018, 19:22

      Doubt that’s gonna happen.Also,don’t forget that Ferrari had no reliability issues until now,those worn out PUs will be quite prone to failure by the end of the season.

    2. Both Lewis and Seebashem (I stole this from someone, sorry) have 4 wins each at Suzuka, they also have 4 WDC. Lets make this fun and say whoever wins Suzuka wins the championship

    3. @todfod You mean Russia?
      I’d say barring DNFs for Hamilton, Vettel needs Red Bull (i.e Verstappen) to be taking points off Hamilton, because Raikkonen isn’t going to be doing it. But it’s difficult to see where they’ll be competitive again – unless there’s rain, in which case it’s even better for Mercedes and Hamilton.

      1. @david-br

        Sorry.. you’re right. I thought Japan was the next race. I guess it’s down to Russia first. I do think Ferrari will be really competitive there, but they really need to lockout the front row and maximise their result.

        I’m fairly certain that these ridiculous engine penalties will creep in for both Sebastian and Lewis at some point in time within the last 5 races of the season, so it’s not going to be possible for Seb to take wins at all the circuits anyways. He’ll really need to start his charge by finishing first and having either Kimi, or one of the Red Bulls, between him and Lewis in the next race.

  2. Alonso was mighty in that race. No one could have kept that McLaren on the lead lap, never mind bring it hone first of the ‘Division 2″ runners …

  3. Nobody does sulking quite like Ferrari. They’ve had a decade of practice.

    1. Ferarri have the worse strategy in top team.

  4. I feel like saying this again, these tyres and tyres rules are a travesty, hands down one of the biggest problems in F1

    The big 3 have enough vantage to override the rules, but you get to the midfield and it is just absurd. The 4 drivers that got into the Q3 outside the top 6 had to pit so early it ruined their races, dropled into traffic, had to start the race on a tyre that on race day had practically no pace advantage only degradation disadvantage. Hulkenberg was the only one that managed to get back into the points ffs.

    Then you have Sainz that finished P8, in front of his teammate, but showed no pace whatsoever during the weekend. The guy finished almost 30 seconds behind the almighty McLaren (which coincidentally was the firt of the cars that was allowed to choose his strategy)

    The philosophy is already wrong, design to degrade POCs, and on top of it poorly executed, on race trim almost no difference on pace, between the purple ones and yellows almost no difference on degradation either.

    Couldn’t we have just racing tyres, is that too much to ask? And scrap the usage rules? These things happen every race, but today it was unbelievable. Merit through the window. I gave my driver of the day to Hulk, because of these bull…

    1. Just a thought. Since one of the performance differentiators in F1 is how the cars/drivers manage their tires, If the tires were made to be more immune to wear and degradation, could that automatically reduce the difference between teams and bring the field together? Obviously competitiveness depends on a lot of different factors, but eliminating one of those would be helpful.

      1. Just the fact that they wouldn’t have to worry so much about managing them would already be bettet for in race competition.

        As a performance differentiator ot surely plays a role, the teams that perform the best ate thr ones that treat their tyres better. More resources have to be directed for example to the development of the suspension, of the aerodynamics as it plays a big role on how the contact patch is affected, and who has thosr resources? The big teams. It wouldn’t be like turning a switch and the competitiveness problem would disappear, but I’m sure that the tyres being so finicky surely doens’t help

    2. @johnmilk: I understand your frustration, of course, but you’re directing your blame in the wrong direction. These tyre regulations are the only thing that brings the field a bit closer in a sport where the differences between the top and the backmarkers are ridiculously big. Remove these tyre regulations and all you get is an even bigger gap between the front and the back. The purpose of the regulations is to mix the field, and that they do, but within limits. They’re good enough to mix the field when the difference in performance is a few tenths per lap. When the difference is two seconds per lap, like we have now between the big three and the rest, they can’t fix that. But that’s not a problem of the tyre regulations, it’s a problem of the sport as a whole.

      1. @alonshow I see your point, but I don’t agree if I’m honest. Yes it is a problem of the sport as a whole which includes the tyres.

        They are too complicated to get to work, hinder performance instead of promoting it and they don’t even work as they are supposed too.

        The rules around their usage are also a big problem

        1. @johnmilk: Of course these rules are cumbersome and problematic, but that has always been a part of Formula 1, cumbersome and problematic rules. The point is not whether they’re problematic. The point is what you have if you ditch them. History says you ditch tyre rules and you go back to borefest processions every single race.

          1. @alonshow that’s a bit of an overstatement, races aren’t better since these tyres were introduced, Singapore being a good example of how they do not create any better racing, and take merit from those who actually perform good on saturday.

            The idea that they create tactic variations is also wrong, the rules pretty much make everyone use the same strategy, even if they use the design to degrade tyres at least let them choose what tyre they start the race with, eliminate the mandatory compound and just give them tyres on opposing positions on the degradation spectrum.

          2. @johnmilk: I won’t answer with my arguments, I will answer with YOUR arguments: Just check this.

  5. -Difficult race to the championship for Vettel now, he needs wins, no errors (something that is not really his thing this season sadly), bad luck for Hamilton and Verstappen or Raikkonen to get points from him but that’s a bit unlikely… For Hamilton is his game to loose now I think. If he takes it smooth and methodical then he ‘ll win it and he deserves it I think despite wanting Ferrari and Vettel as champions.

    -Also I can’t accept what Perez did to Sitrokin, watching again the highlights today (cause I wanted to hear it from Sky-Sport’s commentary although sometimes I can’t stand Crofty…) anyway, that was dangerous and if it was high speed it could have been even fatal. I can understand his frustration after all these laps behind Sirotkin but this was disgraceful! I mean poor Coulthard stayed behind Bernoldi for a bigger stint I think but he didn’t barge his way through once he was fed up, and he could have won that race if it wasn’t for that stall.

    1. Fudge Kobayashi (@)
      18th September 2018, 10:50

      Coulthard is one of the more gentlemanly racers in the history of the sport though.

      But yes, Perez was a menace and deserved far stricter punishment for the Sirotkin incident!

      What i’d like to see in the case of two teammates colliding where no penalty is given as it would only harm the team further is some sort of acknowledgement that is the reason why no penalty has been given. Something like ‘Sanctions deferred to team’ would be great because then it does state who is to blame instead of someone like Checo getting away scot free and us never knowing if he will be suitably punished or not!

  6. Hammy could get a puncture, mechanical problem, make a mistake, engine penalty.

    As long as Vettel is still finishing ahead of Hammy the championship is alive.

    If Hammy finishes the remaining races then in all likelihood he will have won the championship.

  7. One wrong move from VER can decide the WC. There is a lot to happen in 2018, nothing is decided.

  8. I think Lewis is the luckiest driver by some margin and that is why it’s all over now. Also he’s got his bad dip in form out of the way early this season.

    1. Fudge Kobayashi (@)
      18th September 2018, 10:51

      How is he the luckiest driver when he’s had a mechanical DNF and Vettel hasnt?

      Vettel has had a self inflicted DNF.

    2. The fact that Hamilton and Mercedes perform to the max when Seb and Ferrari make mistakes is not luck … not by a long shot … it’s called teamwork.

    3. @Big Joe What nonsense are you talking ?. Hamilton had a gearbox penalty in Bahrain, DNF in Austria and another issue which i forgot. Tell me where he’s been lucky, don’t say Hamilton is lucky cause Vette is too mistake prone buddy. Cut that nonsense.

  9. Big Joe, when facts do not matter to you anymore, just like one President of the richest country in the world, it is hard for anyone to take you serious. Your long standing resentment for Lewis, is now old news.

Comments are closed.