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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Sergio Perez will remain at Force India for a fifth successive season after it was announced he will race on with the British-based team in 2018.
The Mexican driver, who spent one season alongside Jenson Button at McLaren, is seventh in the standings ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix.
Perez would have been interested in a move to Renault next year, but Carlos Sainz’s switch to the French team – which was confirmed here earlier this week – left him with little option other than to stay at Force India.
The 27-year-old will be partnered by Esteban Ocon once more despite the fall-out from last month’s Belgian Grand Prix in which the Frenchman accused his team-mate of trying to kill him following two collisions.
“Staying with Sahara Force India was always my priority,” Perez said. “It’s a team that has allowed me to show my talents as a driver and I feel very happy here.
“I’m proud of everything we have already achieved together and I think there is more to come.
“The team has done an amazing job this year to develop the car and establish our position as the fourth best team in Formula One. In the end it was an easy decision to continue our journey together.”
Perez’s Force India team, based at Silverstone, have impressed again this season. Despite their limited financial muscle they appear on course to finish fourth in the constructors’ standings – behind only Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – for a second straight year.
“Sergio has played an important role in our success story over the last few years,” Force India boss Vijay Mallya said. “Since joining us in 2014, he has matured to become one of the quickest and most consistent drivers on the grid.
“His track record speaks for itself as the most successful Force India driver ever with four podiums.
“Alongside Esteban, retaining Sergio gives us stability going into next season and one of the most exciting driver pairings in Formula One.”
— Sahara Force India (@ForceIndiaF1) September 17, 2017
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel came from nowhere to seize pole position at the Singapore Grand Prix as he threw down the gauntlet to championship leader Lewis Hamilton on Saturday.
Vettel, who had been anonymous in practice, timed a record 1min 39.491sec at the floodlit Marina Bay street circuit ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen will start fourth with Hamilton, who leads Vettel by just three points in the standings, fifth ahead of his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Verstappen had looked set to become the first teenager on pole position but Vettel stormed through with two blistering laps in the final session to snatch it by three-tenths.
“Yesterday was difficult, this afternoon was difficult but tonight the car just came alive,” said Vettel, who looked surprised by his own performance.
Qualifying has often been crucial in Singapore, where seven of the nine races so far have been won by the driver who started from pole position.
The drivers had got off to a slow start after a fire in a Porsche Carrera Cup race before qualifying left oil on the track at Turn 20, making driving conditions treacherous.
“The oil seems everywhere in the final sector,” complained Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, as the early times were far slower than those seen in practice.
Williams driver Felipe Massa slid heavily into the barriers, puncturing a rear tyre, and he was one of the five to drop out in Q1 as Red Bull’s Verstappen and Ricciardo led the timings.
The Ferraris set a quick pace at the start of Q2 as first Raikkonen and then Vettel went top, before Verstappen returned to the head of the table with a time of 1:40.379.
Verstappen and Ricciardo led the Ferrari pair and Hamilton into the top 10 shoot-out and the Dutch teenager soon gunned to 1:39.814 – before being eclipsed by Vettel’s 1:39.669.
Verstappen made a hash of his final lap and Vettel lowered his time to 1:39.491, afterwards whooping and shouting to his team-mates in Italian as he celebrated pole.
🏁 TOP TEN: END OF QUALIFYING 🏁
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 16, 2017
Provided by AFP Sport