Hamilton lucky yet brilliant as momentum swings

Speaking to a Mercedes team member in the hours leading up to race as the clouds grew ominously dark over Marina Bay, they joked: “My rain dance worked!”

In all reality, a wet, incident-packed race was the only way that Lewis Hamilton could leave Singapore with his championship lead intact. Ferrari and Red Bull were the teams to beat, and Sebastian Vettel has a knack for the spectacular around the street course. A fifth win and the points lead seemed to be his for the taking.

Related Articles

The blame can be apportioned back and forth - as we will get onto - but it doesn’t change the end result for Vettel. Hamilton was able to dodge the chaos and sweep into the lead, and definitely got lucky.

But the performance Hamilton then delivered when leading was champion-esque; the kind of display that defines a season. Daniel Ricciardo had been superb through practice, particularly in the long runs, and was regularly in the box seat. He had fresher intermediates after taking a free stop early, but could not make them work - Hamilton was still faster.

The crucial part for Hamilton was the restarts. On all three resumptions of the race after the safety car, he nailed his getaway and ensured Ricciardo did not even get a sniff of an opportunity to pass. You never felt he was ever going to lose the race.

Hamilton may have boldly said post-race he knew he would win once the rain started falling, but you can be sure he was counting his lucky stars. Sometimes things just go your way - it was one of those days for the Mercedes man.

Now 28 points clear in the championship, Hamilton is looking increasingly unstoppable. If he wins one more race this season - which, let’s face it, he probably will - then he can afford to finish second in all of the other five rounds. It’s getting close to the same kind of scenario Nico Rosberg hit at Suzuka last year.

That said, Hamilton is yet to have his big ‘shock’ moment this year. He’s had off-weekends, but nothing quite like the misery Vettel hit in Singapore. Can he make it to Abu Dhabi unscathed?

 

Was Vettel to blame for the start-line crash?

The crash on the run down to Turn 1 will likely feature on all of the season montages, standing out as one of F1’s most iconic and important moments through 2017.

For Vettel, it could prove to be the moment that cost him a fifth world championship and his first with Ferrari, which would arguably the sweetest of all his title wins.

But was it all his own fault?

Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, Max Verstappen, Singapore GP, start

Kimi Raikkonen, Max Verstappen, Singapore GP, start" style="height: 633px; width: 950px;" class="media-element file-teaser" data-delta="2" alt="" typeof="foaf:Image" data-src="http://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/crash.net/field/image/Photo4_s.r.l._894464.jpg" width="4302" height="2868"/>

Vettel’s getaway in the slippery conditions wasn’t that good, giving both Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen - the latter making the best start of the trio - to try a move down the inside. Verstappen was naturally Vettel’s biggest concern, prompting the German to drift across the track and try to squeeze him heading towards Turn 1.

Vettel did not appear to know Raikkonen was on the outside and had nowhere to go - it was either Verstappen or the wall. The end result was Verstappen getting pinched between the two Ferraris, sending Raikkonen around and into Vettel. Game over.

Maybe Vettel didn’t need to move across as he did - but it was the natural, sensible decision with all of the information he had to his disposal. Hindsight is a beautiful thing.

The biggest blow for Ferrari is the fact that this was the one remaining slam-dunk weekend left of the season. Just as Mercedes knew it would be untouchable at Spa and Monza, Ferrari came to Singapore looking for a maximum score. Instead it left empty-handed.

With Vettel 28 points back from Hamilton and Ferrari a concerning 102 adrift in the constructors’ championship from Mercedes, the picture is not looking good for the Prancing Horse.

 

Ten years in the making, F1’s first wet night race does not disappoint

It was hard not to have a smug smile on my face when a number of colleagues coming into the media centre in the hours leading up to the race turned up soaked through thanks to a short, sharp rain shower, having made my way in earlier when it was bone dry. The rain resulted in the Porsche Supercup race being delayed, and got us all excited about the possibility of F1’s first wet night race.

But when the storm passed and Singapore’s typical heat and humidity dried things up very quickly, it seemed there would be no great story to accompany raceday - but then the showers returned just at the right time in the hour before lights out.

There had been some concerns about running a race in the wet under the lights due to glare and the impact on visibility levels, given it had never been tested out, but it went ahead with no problems. The decision to start the race in its usual fashion instead of behind the safety car was entirely correct, even if Vettel and co. may have liked a do-over.

Singapore has offered a few classic races through the years, with 2008 (ahem, certainly memorable…) and 2010 being particular stand-outs. While there wasn’t much of a battle at the front, there were plenty of exciting midfield fights as drivers offered varying levels of bravery when trying passes, with the battle between Kevin Magnussen, Felipe Massa and Esteban Ocon being the high point in it all.

Any myths over night racing in the wet have now been dispelled. Singapore 2017 will be remembered for all of the right reasons, and the fact there is another four-year contract to come only makes things all the more exciting.

 

Thirteen minutes of madness

We all knew what was going to happen on Friday following FP1. None of the news stories that would come out would be remotely shocking. In fact, most of the journalists had them pre-written, and were just waiting on official confirmation to paste in the quotes and hit publish.

But the magnitude of the stories could not be denied. There was a neat co-ordination between all of the announcements, with all five being made in the space of 13 minutes: McLaren and Honda break up; Toro Rosso and Renault break up; McLaren and Renault get together; Toro Rosso and Honda get together; Carlos Sainz Jr. joins Renault for 2018.

The contents of that 13-minute window could have big ramifications on the future of F1. McLaren has made its conditions for returning to the front of the grid clear, believing it is better to do so without works backing or the sizeable financial injection offered by Honda. The team now has nowhere to hide, as it will be battling two other teams with the same power units. If it really does have one of the best chassis on the grid, that will surely show.

As for Toro Rosso and Honda? The deal looks very good for Toro Rosso. Honda may have struggled since returning to F1's in 2015, but its link up with Ilmor Engineering in recent times is proof of its drive to improve and admit to its own shortcomings. Toro Rosso has always wanted to be able to fight it out with the teams further up the field, and this could prove to be the springboard to do so.

Reaching beyond 2018, it is a deal that also lays the foundations for Red Bull and Honda to link up, with reports in Singapore suggesting Renault wants to stop working with the team at the end of next season. Now with McLaren as another strong customer team alongside its own works operation, why would the much-maligned Renault want to keep working with Red Bull, a team that gave very little credit to an important partner in its string of championship wins?

Were Red Bull and Honda to get together for 2019, it would act as a last chance for the team with the existing set of F1 manufacturers. Too many bridges have been burned, pushing it into a corner where Honda was the only real option in the long-term. Toro Rosso is a handy way to shuffle a deal along.

As for Sainz? Well, a move to Renault is no less than he deserves. He has been excellent throughout his F1 career, even if Max Verstappen did overshadow him during their time together as teammates. A works drive will be a good way for him to mature and develop in a team with greater resources and experience than Toro Rosso. Red Bull’s option to bring him back for 2019 is also no bad thing: he can be pretty sure of a Renault or Red Bull drive after next year, which in either case is a big improvement on his current position.

Is there any significance to be taken by the timeframe in which all the announcements were made? Yes - it proves that F1’s new bosses are already doing well to work with all of its partners and ensure that decisions are made for the good of the sport. All of the various parts of this complex web were finalised and nailed down together, not bit by bit, ensuring that no-one is left hanging. Credit needs to be given to Chase Carey and Ross Brawn for that bit of strategy.