Three times an anti-hero

Following the Singapore Grand Prix many viewers would have come to the conclusion that the 2013 season has now been decided. The commanding drive by Sebastian Vettel establishes him as the definite – if not only – favourite to scoop this year’s title, with his closest rival (60 points behind) Fernando Alonso hoping for a Red Bull failure to give him a shadow of a chance for victory. And it seems that apart from the triple champion himself, no one appreciates this set of affairs.

Photo source: AUSmotive.com

Photo source: AUSmotive.com

Dubbed one of his best performances ever, the Singapore GP was entirely dominated by Vettel. After the first three laps he was already well over four seconds ahead of Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg in second, and stayed comfortably ahead of the pack throughout the evening to eventually finish with a 32 second advantage over Alonso’s Ferrari. It seemed clear that the only opportunity to change the grid setup would have come from a Red Bull technical issue or a safety car appearance. In fact, both took place – but Vettel’s domination continued, oblivious.

It was a sad sight to see the German’s future team mate, Daniel Ricciardo, crash out of the race on the barriers on lap 24 – but one that gave Rosberg and the rest of the trophy contenders (crammed within single seconds behind the Mercedes) some hope of overtaking the leader. It took five safety car-led laps to clear the tight street circuit off the Toro Rosso and most of the debris, in which time the circus returned to ground zero; and yet, the split-second Vettel passed the race re-start line he was off at an incomparable speed, leaving the competition far behind him right until the chequered flag, and beyond.

Ricciardo's misfortune gave the drivers false hope of an overturn in the grid setup Photo: Natasha Lee/Reuters

Ricciardo’s misfortune gave the drivers false hope of an overturn in the grid setup
Photo: Natasha Lee/Reuters

“It is 2.5 seconds per lap,” Lotus trackside operations director Alan Permane told AUTOSPORT, alongside his belief that no-one stands a chance against Vettel at the current stage.

“That has got to be mostly him [Vettel], as Mark Webber wasn’t anywhere near that… It is soul destroying for everyone honestly.”

However, having claimed his seventh trophy in 13 grands prix this season, and his third consecutive one, the triple champion did not earn himself an appreciative audience – quite the opposite. A repeat of Monza, Vettel’s address to the public from the top of the podium was greeted by boos – which this time, oceans away from the Ferrari fanbase, was more difficult to accept. The German put a brave face on joking that the jeerers “are on tour, they come to every race.”

One of the most keen team principals to regularly speak to the media, Christian Horner quickly stepped in to defend his driver left right an center:

“When you have driven your heart out and got that reaction up there, to me it is not fair. To me, it is not sporting.

“I don’t think it is deserved in any way. He has got a broad set of shoulders but like anyone he has feelings and I don’t think it is right.”

Even some of Vettel’s rivals sympathised, acknowledging that a driver should not apologise for a domineering performance. But even Horner had to admit that the infamous Multi-21 affair could have contributed to Vettel’s star getting dimmed by audience disapproval.

It felt like a win to finish second behind dominant Vettel - but Alonso also concedes the team might as well now focus on its 2014 title hopes Photo: Pablo Sanchez/Reuters

It felt like a win to finish second behind dominant Vettel – but Alonso also concedes the team might as well now focus on its 2014 title hopes
Photo: Pablo Sanchez/Reuters

Despite the German’s unquestionable performance of skill and speed, there were other drivers who crossed the finish line in a truly winning style. Alonso, who now clings to threads of hope that a mechanical failure on Vettel’s side could give him a shot at the top podium spot, once more had to settle for second in Singapore – but that having started in 7. Not only did this result mathematically keep him in the title fight – it also allowed to show the more human side to the Spaniard – one that some think Vettel might be lacking.

The sight of Mark Webber getting a lift to parc ferme on Alonso’s car was a heart-warming one, if highly unexpected. A Red Bull, did indeed break down at Singapore, but it was the one belonging to the leader’s team-mate, who seemed set to become the last piece of the podium trio… until a water leak issue left his engine blown-up on the very final lap of the race. An explosion of comments erupted on Twitter, one saying in Italian: “In the words of Balotelli: why always me?” and others wondering about the stewards’ response to the obvious breach of health and safety regulations so carelessly demonstrated by the two drivers.

Hamilton, who on his cool-down lap had to swerve around Alonso’s  parked Ferrari to avoid collision said he was shocked by their action and grateful no harm came to anyone – after which he added: “It’s good for the fans to see and, as long as it’s done in a safe manner – you don’t stop on the racing line – then maybe it should be allowed for the future.”

Regardless the public opinion, the FIA reprimanded both drivers or their action – and a third reprimand for Webber results in a 10-grid penalty for the next race in Korea. The fate has obviously not been kind to the Australian – and this once he decided not to keep quiet. In an mini-Twitter rant, he opposed the claims that the stewards had told him to stay in the car, and delivered a proof that the scene was not unique in Formula 1.

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His potential place on the podium was taken by Kimi Raikkonen, who also experienced a string of bad luck recently. Following his first DNF since his return to Formula 1 in 2011 gained in Spa, and the second pointless-finish of the season in Monza, the Finn was hit by a back ache, dating back to 2001, which put his Singapore outing under a huge question mark. He suffered throughout the final practice session and Lotus were getting their reserve driver Davide Valsecchi ready to step in when Raikkonen only managed a 13. starting spot in qualifying. Against all odds, he fought his way to the front and little by little reclaimed his place among the podium finishers.

The Singapore GP also looked like a long-awaited break-through for McLaren, as Jenson Button experienced his longest presence at the front of the grid so far this year. He clung onto third for several laps in the closing stages of the race, but the one-pit-stop strategy didn’t pay off : the massive deterioration of his medium tyres made it virtually impossible for the Brit to keep the speed and position and he had to give in firstly to Raikkonen, then the two Mercedes of Hamilton and Rosberg, and eventually also Massa’s Ferrari.

“We thought we might have a chance of a podium, but in the end we didn’t have the pace to keep us ahead of the closing cars,” Button said after the race.

“It was good fun trying though, and we have to take risks if we want to get podium finishes this year.”

Another Brit who is proving to have a difficult season is Paul di Resta: after once more failing to qualify out of the bottom seven, he proved again his potential by making his way to the front and set to claim good points – before locking his tyres and crashing into the barriers just seven laps before the chequered flag. The team is currently looking into the cause of the incident, which di Resta doesn’t believe was of his own fault.

“I’m still not sure what happened, but I took the corner the same way as I had done the previous lap and the car went straight on and wouldn’t stop,” he said.

Grosjean experienced an abrupt end to his podium chase in Singapore - and of no fault o his own Photo: Andrew Ferraro/LAT Photographic

Grosjean experienced an abrupt end to his podium chase in Singapore – and of no fault o his own
Photo: Andrew Ferraro/LAT Photographic

But possibly the most unfortunate player on the Marina Bay circuit was Romain Grosjean: with his champion team-mate leaving next year for Ferrari, the Frenchman is hoping to take the reins at Lotus as its lead driver (a contention backed up by crucial for the team Total sponsorship) and was set to prove that with his Singapore performance – before he was hit by an engine air pressure issue. A job that should have taken split seconds to fix, brought Grosjean to a standstill in the pits for over 30seconds – and eventually grounded him two laps later as the engine kept deteriorating.

“Were it not for Romain’s engine problems we should have had both cars home in third and fourth,” Lotus’ team principal Eric Boullier said after the race.

“It’s unfortunate that Romain had the problem with the pneumatic system of his engine as he showed strong pace in the race after putting in superb performances on both Friday and Saturday.”

As Singapore proved, there are many aspects to being a winner in Formula 1: whether that’s winning your team’s respect; a new, friendly face in the eyes of the paddock; or a trophy. And in none of these cases can one predict how the crowds are going to react.

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One response to “Three times an anti-hero

  1. Pingback: Yin and yang at Yeongam | They call it F1ver·

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