Prior to the 12th edition of the Singapore Grand Prix, all the talk was on Daniel Ricciardo’s penalty for ‘Exceeding the MCU-K power limit during Qualifying 1’. As such, the much-loved Aussie Perth native would start from the back. The back row is also where Charles Leclerc would have been if this was to be a reverse grid format and we all know by now what his teammate Sebastian Vettel thinks of such an idea. Due to a combination of the spotlight being on the sport, quite literally, as well as the role grid position plays, there was no time for mind games yesterday and Charles Leclerc was the pole-sitter looking for a third consecutive victory but nothing quite went to plan following a questionable strategy yet again by Scuderia Ferrari bringing a first victory of 2019 for Sebastian Vettel.
Following the expectation of delivering a night to remember under the lights on the streets of Singapore. All 20 cars assembled on the grid and the five red lights went out to indicate the start. Charles Leclerc had a smooth getaway maintaining the lead and with it the ability to set the pace. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel was all over the back of Lewis Hamilton looking for second place as the German knew he was in a quicker car. Despite the pressure, Hamilton continued being in between a Scuderia Ferrari sandwich.
Early on, the pace was low for those on the soft tyre compound so as to manage the wear and Christian Horner had already declared that this race would be ‘all about tyres’. The pace was so low that the fastest lap early on was being produced by Nico Hulkenberg. Obviously, the German has a point to prove but such a pace was disappointing for the near full grandstands looking on.
Having coped with Sebastian Vettel’s pressure, Hamilton was eating away at Leclerc’s lead whilst staying inside DRS range (of which three zones are available) due to a gap of 0.925s as 15 laps out of 61 were completed. This was the turning point as Leclerc was then told to push the pace and sure enough, two laps later, a 1.3 second gap had been opened up…so much for DRS range – for now.
To avoid it becoming a two horse race, the race then turned on its head as Sebastian Vettel headed down pit lane whilst Lewis Hamilton stayed out on track hoping to have enough life in his tyres. Meanwhile, having come into the pits later, Charles Leclerc had lost position on his teammate and now the leader was Sebastian Vettel – to say Leclerc was less than impressed by the undercut would be an understatement. Lewis Hamilton meanwhile was gambling but would his tyres let them as he told team radio “They’re not great but I don’t want you to stop me.”
Valtteri Bottas was enjoying an empty track in front of him, but was promptly told: “It’s James can you do a 1:48.8 please…I need to make sure we can get these tyres to work as a team.” Bottas slowed from the 1:45 second mark and then, when Lewis Hamilton came to the pits shortly after (lap 27) and thanks to Bottas slowing his pace, the current F1 champ returned to the track in front of his teammate. As half race distance approached, the race leader was still Sebastian Vettel with Charles Leclerc having to deal with a ‘temporarily non pitting Lance Stroll creating a barrier. Once this goal was achieved and having lost time, Leclerc then had Ricciardo and Gasly preventing him from retaking the lead from his teammate. 34 laps completed and a 5.563 second gap created.
Then, drama following a coming together between George Russell and Romain Grosjean ‘Why should we be surprised?’ was the team radio of the Brit. Would this bring a safety car on track to clear the debris and in doing so obliterate Vettel’s 5 second lead whilst also maintaining the statistic of a safety car at every Singapore GP? The answer was yes!
Charles Leclerc was told ‘It was the best thing we could do…you are doing a superb job.’ The response from the pole-sitter being: To be completely honest with you, I don’t understand the undercut but, yes, we will discuss it after the race.’
With Charles Leclerc on the back of his teammate’s gearbox, the safety car headed to the pits and we now had a congested field for a 20 lap race. This meant that long running hard tyre compound cars were now playing themselves into the chance of a good haul of points. Then – another safety car due to Sergio Perez’ retirement. The Mexican had slowed due to a mechanical problem. With the safety car on track and the 2 hour mark ticking down, a frustrated Charles Leclerc was told ‘We need to bring the car home…manage the p.u.” his response “yeah, I won’t do anything stupid, it’s not my goal, I want us to finish 1-2, I just think it’s not fair. I won’t be stupid, I promise.” Such remarks earning even more fans for the young 21-year-old Ferrari man.
Leclerc was not behaving in a stupid manner but the incident between Daniil Kvyat and Kimi Raikkonen 12 laps from the end was not the smartest. The Russian driver was a too aggressive lunging into Turn 1 and wiped out the Alfa Romeo’s suspension and with it came…a third safety car to clear the abandoned vehicle but by the time the track was clear 10 laps remained…as did only 20 minutes. Throughout the remaining laps, Vettel would ‘go purple’ getting consecutive fastest lap times and with it victory was his.
Fastest lap at race completion eventually went to Kevin Magnussen but he was unable to claim the point as he finished outside the top 10 – a story for another day!
Elsewhere, an impressive 6th place for Alex Albon and 7th place for Lando Norris although the rookies were rarely in the action having lonely races due to setting steady lap times. The same for Max Verstappen albeit his quiet and lonely race produced third place.
Mercedes got everything wrong today and will be keen to forget Singapore. A 4th place for Hamilton and Bottas in 5th finishing where he started.
As for Daniel Ricciardo’s race, having started from the back of the grid for an error not of his making - F1 is a team sport – Ricciardo made a bold out braking on Daniil Kvyat at Turn 14 on lap 10 declaring "We're not ****ing around, let's go boys!" The excitement would soon stop though as his move on Antonio Giovinazzi, having seen the slighted of gaps at Turn 7, was noted by the stewards due to the contact caused and was the end to any serious challenging due to the damage impacting the performance of the Renault throughout the race. It would be 14th for Ricciardo compared to 9th place for his recently released teammate Nico Hulkenberg having been kept at bay by Pierre Gasly claiming 8th. The final points went to Antonio Giovinazzi as he propped up the top 10.
Finishing order: VEC/LEC/VER/HAM/BOT/ALB/NOR/GAS/HUL/GIO/