Championship-Death Race

With the fourth pole in a row for McLaren, and keeping in mind Hamilton’s win in Monza, it looked like the Brit had the Singapore Grand Prix in the bag; but as the 2012 season has already proved, Formula One does not like to be predictable.

Photo: Robertus Pudyanto for Demotix

The statistics from the previous Marina Bay races suggested there would be a safety-car situation at some point during the evening – if to believe the statistics, within the first few laps, in fact. Yet, the race started off smoothly, and probably calmed Hamilton’s fears of what could have happened with Pastor Maldonado second on the grid – although the rookie Williams’ driver has had moments of greatness (note his Spanish GP win earlier this year), he has also been the cause of a few accidents that even led to some drivers retiring from the race. Maldonado kept his place behind Hamilton, but only for a short period of the first lap: then he was overtaken by Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button, and despite a good performance thereafter, he still had to retire on lap 38 due to a hydraulic failure. Bad luck.

It’s been a roller-coaster season for Hamilton, with a win in Monza sandwiched between two retirements in Spa and Singapore in the last three races – and with his title hopes drifting away together with his second place in the standings, now taken by Vettel
Photo source: Sporting Life

But the Singapore GP had much more bad luck on the ready. Most significantly – for the race leader and the title contender, Lewis Hamilton, whose gearbox suddenly crashed on lap 23, eliminating him from the competition. “We have a gearbox failure. I’m very sorry for that… We will just have to look forward to the next one,” Hamilton was told on the team radio as he watched his title hopes slip through his fingers, frantically attempting to change the gears on the steering wheel. “We have to make sure that we get Lewis to the finish six more times this year without issues, and if he is doing that and, with the current pace of the car, then the title is possible,” the team principal, Martin Whitmarsh, told Autosport. Yet, with the evening adding to Hamilton’s woes at his home team, the Brit’s decision regarding extending his contract with McLaren might have got a bit tougher – although his team, has promised to match any offer the Mercedes team could have made for their driver.

Hamilton’s DNF (Did Not Finish) was a pass to victory for Sebastian Vettel, who, surprisingly for those who have been watching the current title holder through his winning seasons, has only claimed his second highest podium in 2012 at the Marina Bay. Nevertheless, the win moved the Red Bull star up to second in the Drivers’ Standings, 29 points behind Fernando Alonso, who in Singapore finished third. The Spaniard, who Nikki Lauda, the three-time Champion, is betting to make history this year with his own third title win, was quite content with how the season was unfolding: “Well, in Monza is was Lewis winning the race and Sebastian retired. Here it’s Sebastian winning, Lewis retiring, so for me it’s OK is they keep doing it like this,” he said after the race.

The finger is out: Vettel’s signature win gesture is also a sign of rising hopes for his third-in-a-row title win.
Photo source: TSR

In the meantime, Jenson Button, who after chewing on the disappointment of the 4. qualifying position, finished the race in 2., told the BBC that his two podium rivals have the biggest chances for claiming the title.

There was more drama in the Singapore race that had to be cut short from 61 to 59 laps, as it was due to cross the 2 hour racing limit. The lack of the safety-car in the first stages of the race was made up for by two safety-cars being brought out as the evening developed. This allowed many drivers on a three-pit-stop strategy to change their tyres and save time with less chances of loosing their place under the non-overtaking conditions; an example was Toro Rosso’s Jean Eric Vergne, racing in 9. on lap 39 (just after the safety-car’s exit) was in for a chance to add to his eight Championship points – until he was brutally hit from behind by Michael Schumacher and sent flying off the track and out of the race. The German’s deja-vu from the same event last year also resulted in the Mercedes’ seven-time Champions’ seventh retirement this season, currently placing him in 12. in this year’s classification, as well as limiting his chances for a win in Japan after stewards handed him a post-race 10 grid penalty.

For Schumacher Singapore 2012 was a repeat of the 2011 race when he hit the back of Sergio Perez’ car. With six GP’s left until the end of his contract, the German will soon have to make important decision about his future in the sport
Photo: Ivan Martinović for PS Garage

And as we are nervously eyeing the Championship leaders, following their successes and failures (the latter more often caused by technical issues or other drivers’ dangerous driving), another veteran of racing showed his true colours to the general admiration at the Marina Bay circuit. Felipe Massa, who was trailing at the back of the lot in last place after a puncture caused by contact with Caterham’s Vitaly Petrov on lap one, ended the race in 8. having bravely fought for position throughout, most notably with Williams’ Bruno Senna (nearly colliding) on lap 43. Yet, despite his recent bounce back to form, with a near podium finish in Monza, Massa’s future in Ferrari is still uncertain, as the team bosses do not want to make a decision on his contract – expiring this year – keeping in mind his poor performance in the first half of the season, reports Autosport.

And it is probably worth noting the quiet driver on the grid, and also a sport comeback – Kimi Raikkonen, who despite not having won a single grand prix this year is currently sitting strong in 3. place in the Championship, being also the only driver in the top row who has not experienced a single DNF. Although it is a convincing theory that fiery Alonso has more chances to claim this year’s title, 2012 is the season to surprise with a potential less thrilling but more consistent Finnish win…

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