Vettel wins but title champagne still on hold… brilliant Button beaten by the traffic… slow start costs Webber dear… Schumacher’s ‘optimistic’ move ends in the wall… and Lewis is in trouble again
Sebastian Vettel needs one point from the last five races of the 2011 season to become Formula One’s youngest-ever back-to-back World Champion after winning the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday night.
“I think I am smart enough to figure it out now,” beamed Vettel after a weekend in which he had been asked time and again about the various permutations that might make him champion in Singapore.
“To us today the title didn’t really matter,” insisted Vettel. “Our target was to win. For the championship it looks like we have another chance at the next race.”
Vettel led from start to finish for the first time this season, using his 11th pole of 2011 to claim his ninth win this year and the 19th of his career from a fast-finishing Jenson Button in the McLaren Mercedes.
In the final stint of the race Button was catching Vettel hand over fist on Pirelli’s Supersoft option tyre, but late-race traffic, particularly Kamui Kobayashi’s Sauber and the duelling Williams pair of Rubens Barrichello and Pastor Maldonado, cost the 2009 World Champion several seconds and he ended up 1.7 seconds adrift of Vettel as the German cruised home.
“In the last stint I was able to drive as fast as I could – it was like 10, 12 qualifying laps, I couldn’t have gone any faster,” Button said after setting the fastest race lap en route to his first appearance on a Singapore podium. “It was the best we could have done today, I feel that I got everything out of the car.”
Vettel now has a 124-point margin over Button in second place while Australia’s Mark Webber slipped to fourth in the standings despite another Singapore podium finish. Webber started on the ‘dirty’ side of the front row and was caught by both Button and Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari by the first corner.
That necessitated another thrilling duel with the Spaniard, Webber overcoming a faulty DRS system to make another spectacular passing move.
“They’re enjoyable but I’m not keen to sign up for them all the time because it means I’m with him when I probably shouldn’t be,” Webber admitted. “Again, it was a difficult start for me – we need to work on this because it makes my race more difficult. Ultimately we pretty much got what we deserved today.”
While Alonso took fourth, Lewis Hamilton also overcame problems of his own making to ensure that the sport’s current ‘Big Five’ drivers occupied the top five finishing positions.
The stewards decided Hamilton deserved a drive-through penalty for a 13th-lap collision with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa that left the Brazilian with a right rear puncture and a very short fuse. “After the race, I tried to talk to him to clear the air but he walked away without even answering,” said Massa after coming home ninth. “So I told him what I thought when we found ourselves in the interview area.”
Hamilton, winner at Marina Bay in 2009, fought back superbly to finish fifth and lament what he called “a missed opportunity”.
An unusually trouble-free Singapore race still had one dramatic moment. It came at half-distance when Michael Schumacher went to move his Mercedes up the inside of Sergio Perez’s Sauber. Instead he was caught out by the Mexican rookie’s early lift, was launched over its right rear tyre and slammed into the barriers, bringing out the Safety Car for its one and only appearance of the night.
“It’s probably one of those race incidents which look more impressive from outside than from inside, as I am totally OK and my impact in the end was not so heavy,” said Schumacher philosophically. “It was a very unfortunate ending to my race tonight in Singapore and obviously I am a bit disappointed.”
While Nico Rosberg salvaged some points for Mercedes in seventh place, Perez calmly dismissed Schumacher’s move as “a bit optimistic” after coming home 10th.
The Mexican was one of five drivers racing for the first time on the Singapore streets, but the best of them was Scotland’s Paul di Resta, taking his best F1 finish with a fine sixth place for Force India, who also saw Adrian Sutil in the points in eighth position.
Australia’s other representative Daniel Ricciardo was 19th for HRT, recovering from a damaged front wing sustained in heavy traffic on the opening lap.
“It was my mistake for going in a bit too deep and it was a costly one because then I encountered quite a few blue flags which upset my rhythm,” he said. “But we made it and it’s good to get to the finish line in the toughest race of the season. Now I need to keep on working and move forward”.
His next chance comes in the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka in two weeks’ time.
Drivers’ Championship after 14 of 19 rounds
1. Vettel 309 points
2. Button 185
3. Alonso 184
4. Webber 182
5. Hamilton 168
6. Massa 84
1. Red Bull 491 points
2. McLaren 353
3. Ferrari 268