F1 Singapore Grand Prix: Bright Lights, Big Win

f1-2015-singapore-vettel-victoryAs much as I don’t like bestowing massive praise on a relatively young event but the Singapore Grand Prix has quickly established itself as one of the signature events of the F1 season. Along with the old standards of Monaco, Silverstone and Monza, this is one of the races that everyone seems to race with extra motivation to win.

With that in mind, it was quite a surprise to see Mercedes off the pace in Singapore. In fact, with the lights shining bright, it was Ferrari that was fastest through the night. Sebastian Vettel scored a grand slam by qualifying on pole, setting the fastest lap, leading all the laps and winning the race.

Despite an early issue getting Nico Rosberg going from the garage, it was smooth sailing from the start for most of the frontrunners. Even Kimi Raikkonen got away clean having done over 100 practice starts in the simulator following Monza. The exception was Max Verstappen who stalled from 8th on the grid but put in another great performance in recovery.

f1-2015-singapore-hulkenberg-massaAt the head of the field, it was Vettel who led from Daniel Ricciardo and Raikkonen. The Red Bulls were believed to be a threat on long-run pace but a Virtual Safety Car (and then proper SC) neutralized any potential Red Bull strategy. On Lap 13, Felipe Massa exiting pit lane into Turn 3 collided with Nico Hulkenberg as the pair went for the same piece of road. While I thought it was probably a racing incident, if not Massa’s fault for not yielding as the slow car, the stewards issued a three grid spot penalty to The Hulk.

The big story from the race came before a second safety car. Lewis Hamilton reported a loss of power from his engine and no resets seemed to solve it. Team radio indicated a reading of less than full throttle being applied at the pedals despite Lewis saying his foot was to the floor. The Brit retired the car and saw his World Drivers’ Championship lead drop to 41 points.

f1-2015-singapore-fan-on-trackThe opportunity for a change in order through pit strategy was foiled by a second appearance by the safety car. This time, it was for a fan who wandered out onto the track. According to Twitter, the fan entered the track from an open and unguarded opening in the fence. Apparently, he was a British fan though there are some conflicting reports about his driver loyalty and blood-alcohol content.

In the end, it was a completely dominant victory for Vettel en route to his third win of the season. Ferrari’s goal for the year was two wins so they can certainly call it a successful season. Ricciardo was second but never properly looked like a threat. Kimi Raikkonen finished 3rd to make it the first Ferrari double-podium of the season.

Nico Rosberg finished in 4th. Valtteri Bottas rounded out the top five. Daniil Kvyat looked good form to maybe sneak onto the podium but bad luck with the safety cars meant he could only manage a 6th. Sergio Perez crossed the line in 7th. Max Verstappen was told to move over for teammate Carlos Sainz but held station. Max finished in 8th and Carlos in 9th. Felipe Nasr finished in 10th to give Sauber a run of four consecutive points finishes.

It’s only been two weeks since the last race but everything is happening in the world of Formula One outside the white lines of the track.

Let’s start with the engines and constructors news because things have gotten very interesting according to the oracle of F1 news, Eddie Jordan.

f1-2015-singapore-red-bullAs I mentioned after Italy, the plan is for Red Bull and Toro Rosso to finalize a deal with Ferrari for an engine supply contract in the coming weeks. After that, things get really fun. It’s been rumoured for a while that Red Bull has been courting Volkswagen to buy the team. Jordan says that the deal is coming closer to fruition all the time.

The current timeline sees VW buying Red Bull (and possibly Toro Rosso) in the next couple of months with the team operating as Red Bull Racing-Ferrari for the next two season. Then, starting in 2018, VW will enter the sport as a constructor and engine manufacturer. The project will be led by former Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali. As part of the agreement, Red Bull would stay onboard as a $60 million per year title sponsor.

Interestingly, a BBC report says that a deal between RBR and VW was agreed to last winter but  former VW Group chairman Ferdinand Piech vetoed the deal. With Piech out, it looks like there’s new life to the deal.

As for Renault, they’re still working out the details of their Lotus takeover. There are two factors that are holding up finalization of the deal. The first is insolvency (bankruptcy) proceedings against Lotus by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs which is owed some £900,000 dating back to June for PAYE (payroll tax and national insurance payroll deductions). Her Majesty’s High Court gave Lotus seven days from last Friday to finalize the deal with Renault so funding can come into the company so they can pay HMRC.

The legal issues with HMRC are really going to be a problem if the deal isn’t done in the next couple of days. The real final issue is that Renault is trying to negotiate “historical constructor status” with Bernie Ecclestone. It’s believed that the remainder of the teams have to agree to this  Getting this status will bring them a bonus out of the prize pool which may be a dealbreaker for Renault as a constructor and likely as an engine manufacturer since they don’t have a supply contract signed for 2016.

As mentioned last week, Manor is likely to score Lotus’ engine supply deal with Mercedes starting next season. However, it’s not quite as simple as an engine deal. Manor would effectively become a feeder team to Mercedes. The plan is for both Mercedes and Williams to help Manor out with the supply of some technology to Manor to help them get up to speed. It’s also expected that Mercedes will use the deal to get development Pascal Wehrlein in F1 next year with Manor. And in order to try to get a bigger profile in the American market, Mercedes is likely to request that Alexander Rossi be retained full-time for 2016.

f1-2015-singapore-ron-dennis-niki-laudaAnd Honda is apparently already considering a withdrawal from the sport after one year in the V6 era. The fact that they spent a year-and-a-half developing this engine only to give up with nothing to show for it after only one year would be the only thing keeping them from throwing in the towel this soon.

It’s not expected that Honda will withdraw from the sport so soon after returning. Even more troubling for McLaren is what Honda’s withdrawal would mean for them. Ferrari and Mercedes are pretty much full when it comes to supply deals with five and four teams supplied, respectively. So the option for McLaren is to hope Renault doesn’t withdraw from the sport or keep Honda around until another supply contract opens up.

With the corporate silly season out of the way, there is a little movement in the driver market.

f1-2015-singapore-grosjean-lotusRomain Grosjean’s deal with Lotus isn’t quite as set in stone as originally thought. This weekend, Lotus confirmed Pastor Maldonaldo for 2016 (along with his sizable PDVSA sponsorship). It looks like that Grosjean won’t be around at Enstone next year, though.

Renault Sport F1 boss Cyril Abiteboul told French broadcaster Canal+ that Grosjean would be going to Haas F1 as its lead driver starting next year. Grosjean recently said that his options for 2016 were down to Lotus/Renault and Haas. It looks as though he’ll be going to the startup Haas effort where it’s believed that he’ll be joined by Ferrari reserve driver Esteban Gutierrez.

In the last day, there was an update on Jenson Button’s future. It was reported that Button’s negotiations with McLaren boss Ron Dennis have reached a snag and his option won’t be exercised for 2016. It’s expected that Button will announce his retirement this weekend in Japan. The likely replacement is GP2 champion-elect Stoffel Vandoorne. I’ve read one report that Kevin Magnussen’s option for 2016 has already lapsed but he’s apparently still in contention for the second Macca seat. If he doesn’t stay in Woking, Renault has been reported to be interested in the Dane.

f1-2014-japan-trackThe next round of the 2015 Formula One World Championship is next week. Unlike the early season back-to-back of China to Bahrain, it’s a relatively short trip for the teams in terms of distance. In terms of jet lag, things will get a little tricky. Today’s race was at 8:00 AM EDT. Next week, it will be at 1:00 AM EDT. That’ll be an adjustment for the teams but that’s what needs to be done in order to succeed at the Japanese Grand Prix.

It’s more than likely that the Singapore Grand Prix was a fluke for the Mercedes squad. Last year, they scored an easy 1-2 at Suzuka. Rosberg’s only Suzuka podium was last year. Apart from that, his best finish there is a 5th. Of his finishes at Suzuka, Lewis’ worst is a 5th. It’s advantage Lewis but it’s not like he needs the help with a 41-point advantage in the WDC.


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