Every world championship has its pivotal moment and Singapore has all the makings of being the turning point that decided the see-saw battle for track hegemony in 2017.
Immaterial of who was to blame for the incident that took out Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen – although we’ll revisit that – it does beg the question what the hell Vettel was doing?
It was abundantly clear from qualifying that he was set to be the quickest man at Marina Bay and that if he stayed out of danger then the 25 points were his and he was most likely back in front in the title race.
But instead, he veered rashly across to the left, in part no doubt panicked by a rarely sluggish start by him.
As he did so – well aware as he was that he was marginally on the back foot following that start – he surely knew other cars were upon him immaterial of who and exactly where, and in so doing was putting his own race and hence championship at risk by veering so drastically across the racing line.
It was an aggression that was unnecessary, Vettel probably with enough pace to win the race even if Verstappen had got the jump on him.
Instead, it made for an incredibly messy – albeit thrillingly spectacular – race start that cost Vettel an almost certain 25 points and turned a banker weekend into a nightmare for Ferrari.
As for the blame, the temerity of Ferrari to apportion that on the shoulders of Verstappen was quite laughable, the team tweeting: “VER took #Kimi7 out then he went to #Seb5 #SingaporeGP.”
— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) September 17, 2017
It led the usually unassuming Christian Horner, Verstappen’s team boss at Red Bull Racing, to let rip and suggest bosses at the Italian manufacturer needed their eyes testing. He had a point.
The stewards duly agreed, calling both Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen to answer their actions in the aftermath while Verstappen, who kept a straight line throughout the incident, was rightly left to rue by himself what might have been.
Vettel’s rashness has already reared its head this season – his bump into Hamilton out of merely childish frustration at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix a case in point.
And this had echoes of that, an unnecessary risk as tempers frayed in the heat of the moment.
Hamilton had admitted himself when he woke up the day of the Singapore Grand Prix with fifth place on the grid it was all about damage limitation.
Ironically, there was none, quite the most unexpected swing in an already captivating season come the chequered flag.
Not even the greatest Mercedes optimist could have envisaged both drivers on the podium come the end with the Ferrari pairing back in their respective garages and out of their racing overalls after a solitary lap.
For the wider championship, it is hard to see how Hamilton loses the title from here with 28 points in the bag over Vettel, six races left and no bogeys like Singapore was supposed to be.
Sure, Hamilton could have another hellish weekend a la Russia or Monaco, but the Mercedes appears to be performing better at tracks that supposedly don’t suit them.
Post-Singapore, team boss Toto Wolff was looking to Mexico and the season finale in Abu Dhabi, both of which suit Ferrari arguably more.
But elsewhere, Hamilton and Mercedes ought to have the edge, all with the buffer of those 28 points.
If the point swing had played out as predicted in Sunday’s race, Malaysia might have been a different matter altogether, Hamilton under pressure to force the win to claw back the points.
Instead, the onus is on Vettel: for his rashness in the championship, for his swing across for what was essentially a Ferrari sandwich for Verstappen, and for potentially ruining his hopes of a fifth world title.
The two weeks between now and Sepang will be long and painful for the German.
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