Sebastian Vettel took his second win in Singapore and the second of this 2012 campaign after pole sitter Lewis Hamilton dropped out at one third distance with a gearbox failure.
The Red Bull driver had jumped Pastor Maldonado at the start and was too fast for Jenson Button in the second McLaren. When Hamilton pulled off the road on lap 23, the way was clear for Vettel to control the race and despite two safety car periods to allow for accident damage to be cleared away, he steered the Red Bull home for the 23rd win of his career. Button finished second with championship leader Fernando Alonso third.
Paul di Resta was a candidate for driver of the day with fourth place in the Force India, just 3.8 seconds behind Alonso at the finish, which came after two hours, rather than 61 laps, due to the delays under the safety cars.
Of the main title contenders, only Vettel gained ground on Alonso, closing the gap to 29 points, while Hamilton fell behind Kimi Raikkonen and now sits 52 points adrift (more than two race wins) of Alonso with six races to go. If Alonso averages third placed finishes in all the remaining races, Hamilton will need to win them all to beat him.
Coming after Button’s retirement in Monza, two technical failures in two races is a worrying picture for McLaren.
Hamilton had commanded the race from the start and looked trouble free during the first stint. However his gearbox started to misbehave as he crossed the line at the end of lap 22 and when exiting turn three he found himself with a box of neutrals and was forced to retire.
Vettel’s win, his first since Bahrain, plus a tenth place finish for Mark Webber means that Red Bull have extended their lead in the Constructors’ Championship to 37 points over McLaren.
“It’s great to get the win today,” Vettel said on the podium. “I’d like to dedicate it to Professor Sid Watkins. It’s thanks to all the work he did to bring safety advancements to the sport that we can race on circuits like this. Looking to the race, Lewis had to retire which is a shame for him. I know how it feels and have been in that position before. I think we could have had a tight battle. I felt very good on the harder tyres and we had a lot of pace.”
Following Hamilton’s retirement Vettel took control of the race and was only under pressure during the two safety car periods, which caused the race to be cut by two laps at the end. The first safety car was caused by a collision with the barriers for Narain Karthikeyan, whilst the second involved Michael Schumacher missing his braking point and driving over the back of an unfortunate Jean-Eric Vergne. The stewards decided to penalise Schumacher with a 10 place grid penalty at the next race in Japan. They pointed out that Schumacher accepted blame and that this was a second similar offence (he also hit Senna in Spain in a similar way this year), which counted against him.
Prior to the race there had been a lot of debate surrounding whether to make two or three stops, but the safety car periods enabled a two-stop strategy and a sprint finish following the second deployment. In this phase Vettel showed the pace he had in practice and pulled a nine-second lead by the finish.
Button pressured Vettel throughout, but looked to secure his second place finish in the closing laps. The two came very close at one point under the safety car as Button tried to heat his tyres whilst Vettel did the same to his brakes. Button later complained to his team, saying that Vettel was too ‘stop-start’ under the safety car, but he declined to pick up the thread when the pair were interviewed on the podium after the race and the incident was not investigated.
Button was also able to make his first stint last four laps longer than Vettel, and should there have been no safety car he would have had fresher tyres at the end of the second and final stints to pressure Vettel for the win. That was the plan, however it’s debatable whether he would have had the pace.
Alonso drove a typically astute race, on a weekend when the Ferrari was not competitive, to claim his 81st career podium. He kept his nose clean behind a sometimes erratic Maldonado, who lost places at the start. Although he made good use of the Safety Car to find himself in third position when the race restarted, it nevertheless didn’t come at the best time for him, as he had recently made a stop for tyres and didn’t need a new set when the others stopped.
The Ferrari did not have the pace to significantly trouble Red Bull or McLaren this weekend, but Alonso was once again able to extract the full potential from the car and collected another large amount of points. Maldonado was having a good battle with Alonso for third place until he was forced to retire with hydraulic failure.
As last year in Singapore, Paul Di Resta was on fine form, taking a career best fourth place. Like the cars around him he started out with the intention of stopping three times, but was able to make it work with two stops and was helped by the safety car and by Nico Rosberg in fifth holding up cars behind him.
Felipe Massa made a good recovery from a poor qualifying in the second Ferrari after having to make a pit stop on the first lap following a puncture. He was in last position but picked his way through the traffic and had a particularly strong final stint on the option tyre. He came very close to Bruno Senna across the short bridge and it took a spectacular save with opposite lock to remain on track. He ended the race in eighth position.
Not noticed by many, but of vital importance in the battle at the foot of the constructor’s championship, Timo Glock finished 12th for Marussia, which puts them in pole position for 10th place, which guarantees prize money and travel benefits and is worth millions to the team which finishes the season there. As neither Marussia, Caterham or HRT has scored a point, this finish, the best of any of the “new teams”, who entered F1 in 2010, could swing it Marussia’s way and this would be a major blow to Caterham which has invested heavily this year.
[Additional Reporting: Matt Meadows]
SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX, Marina Bay, (2 hours limit reached)
1. Vettel Red Bull 2h00:26.144
2. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 8.959
3. Alonso Ferrari + 15.227
4. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes + 19.063
5. Rosberg Mercedes + 34.759
6. Raikkonen Lotus-Renault + 35.700
7. Grosjean Lotus-Renault + 36.600
8. Massa Ferrari + 42.800
9. Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 45.800
10. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 47.100
11. Perez Sauber-Ferrari + 50.600
12. Glock Marussia-Cosworth + 1 lap
13. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari + 1 lap
14. Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes + 1 lap
15. Pic Marussia-Cosworth + 1 lap (*)
16. Kovalainen Caterham-Renault + 1 lap
17. De la Rosa HRT-Cosworth + 1 lap
18. Senna Williams-Renault + 2 laps
19. Petrov Caterham-Renault + 2 laps
1. Alonso 194
2. Vettel 165
3. Raikkonen 149
4. Hamilton 142
5. Webber 133
6. Button 119