2016 Singapore GP Race Review

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Photo credit: The Guardian

Nico Rosberg has turned in arguably the best grand prix weekend of his career after converting a dominant Qualifying performance into a thrilling victory. Aside from a stumble into the barrier during the first practice session, the German’s milestone 200th grand prix was a weekend to remember. The Mercedes driver has now won three races in a row to regain the championship lead from Lewis Hamilton as the season goes down the wire with only six races left to run. Hamilton finished third because rather than the typical Mercedes one-two finish, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo split the two Silver Arrows to notch a second consecutive second place finish in the Marina Bay Street Circuit.

The Australian chased down Rosberg during the final stages of the race after executing a more aggressive three-stop strategy, as opposed to Rosberg’s two-stopper. At the checkered flag, only four-tenths of a second separated the top two finishers, in what became one of the more exciting race finishes of the season. While Ricciardo, with his strategy, set a pace as blistering as the Singapore heat, Rosberg kept cool throughout the night, managing a brake issue (which also affected Hamilton) as well as his tires when Ricciardo was giving chase.

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Selfie time with the podium finishers in Singapore. Photo credit: Nico Rosberg.

Meanwhile, Hamilton has now lost his championship advantage after a non-threatening race. It is not often that Hamilton is seen being overtaken but that’s exactly what Kimi Raikkonen did as the two went wheel-to-wheel through Turn 10 around halfway through the race. Suffering from the same brake issue as Rosberg, Hamilton ran wide at the end of the Raffles Boulevard straight, losing time to the Ferrari, opening an opportunity for Raikkonen a few corners later. Last season’s champion would however, regain third place after pitting for a third time, executing an undercut strategy. Hamilton turned in a strong out lap to catch the Ferrari crew off guard and held Raikkonen off until the end. Arguably, the race could’ve ended more favorably for the Finn had his team decided to not pit him in reaction to Hamilton.

This little power play actually triggered Ricciardo’s third pit stop that allowed him to chase after the victory. But Mercedes made a wise call to keep Rosberg out in the lead without pitting. It was a heart-stopping end of the race for the German squad but their driver held everything all under control to secure the important win. With Hamilton fading the same way Rosberg did throughout the month of July, Rosberg has turned it around and is now again piling up the victories.

The top drivers were all so phenomenal in this race, including the man who didn’t receive much attention after starting dead last. Sebastian Vettel’s suspension failure in Qualifying forced him to start at the very back of the grid but he still fought up to a fifth-place finish. Cutting his way through the field, he had a few brilliant overtakes caught by the cameras and his efforts were awarded with the achievement of fan’s choice Driver of the Day.

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Rosberg leads into Turn One while in the background, Hulkenberg crashes against the wall. Photo credit: F1 Fanatic.

At the start, a very slow Max Verstappen triggered an unfortunate chain reaction that resulted in a collision between Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg, the latter spinning into the wall and forced out of the race after about a hundred meters in. Hulkenberg unfortunately became a victim of his own speedy getaway because just as he was attempting to go around Sainz, Sainz was also going around Verstappen. Eventually, Hulkenberg was squeezed, resulting in an incident that was of absolutely no one’s fault.

This led to a brief safety car period that lasted until the end of the second lap. On the restart, a track marshal picking up debris near Turn One had to scamper out of the way just as race leader Rosberg was approaching. This close call moment is currently being investigated by the FIA and apparently, the clerk of the course is being held accountable for not properly executing procedures.We’ll see, because for sure, that was a scary near-miss.

For the next two hours though, the race sizzled under the bright lights of downtown Singapore. One particularly spicy battle was between Verstappen and Daniil Kvyat early in the race. Verstappen attempted several overtakes on the man he deposed for his Red Bull race seat but Kvyat did not yield a single millimeter, defending tightly against his aggressor. Later on however, Verstappen would catch Kvyat by surprise with a nifty maneuver through Turn 20. Regardless, Verstappen’s race became compromised right from the beginning due to his poor getaway off the line. The Dutchman finished sixth ahead of a solid Fernando Alonso in seventh for the McLaren that is slowly, surely coming alive late in the season.

Kvyat salvaged two points after finishing ninth, capitalizing on Toro Rosso’s best opportunity for the remainder of the season. His teammate Sainz could not reap a strong result despite starting from sixth, as the damage he sustained in the incident with Hulkenberg hampered his race and discouraged the Spaniard from recovering. As for Hulkenberg, he was just incredibly unlucky and it was a shame since he could’ve turned in a strong result for Force India. Such strong result actually came from Sergio Perez, who finished eighth, helping Force India to again displace Williams from fourth on the Constructors’ standings.

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Sebastian Vettel was voted Driver of the Day, finishing fifth after starting last. Photo credit: Formula 1 Official website

The intensity of this year’s Singapore Grand Prix was reflective of the battle for this year’s crown, as Rosberg and Hamilton swap places again in the championship standings. The teams will fly back to their bases but will return to Southeast Asia in a fortnight for the next race in Malaysia. It’s another hot, muggy venue that could very well be a harbinger for more on-track fireworks.

2016 Italian GP Race Review

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Nico Rosberg takes the checkered flag in the Italian Grand Prix. Photo credit: TheStar.com

Nico Rosberg has now won back to back races since the summer break, scoring his seventh win of the season and his first win at Monza. Just as he lost the Hungarian Grand Prix last July within the first fifty or so meters, Rosberg won the Italian Grand Prix yesterday right off the start line. With a Mercedes front-row lockout, teammate Lewis Hamilton started from pole but bogged down on his initial getaway, allowing not only Rosberg to pass but also the two Ferraris, Valtteri Bottas in the Williams, and Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull. The rest of the field got through the first chicane safely and bar one incident between the Sauber of Felipe Nasr and the Renault of Jolyon Palmer on the second lap, the race was uneventful and fast at “The Temple of Speed.”

Once he got past Hamilton at the start, Rosberg was untouchable up front, building a lead over the Ferraris while managing his soft-compound tires. Due to the sheer pace of the Mercedes during Qualifying, both Rosberg and Hamilton were able to start the race on soft tires while the rest of the top ten started on supersofts. It took Hamilton quite a while to regain positions from Ricciardo and Bottas but once he did, he had to settle behind the two Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. However, since Vettel and Raikkonen employed a two-stop strategy like the rest of the field, Rosberg and Hamilton cruised to a Mercedes one-two finish as they were the only drivers to do a one-stop race.

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Sebastian Vettel was the only Ferrari driver on the podium. Photo credit: Grand Prix Times

In front of the roaring Tifosi at Monza, Vettel and Raikkonen ran second and third throughout the first portion of the race. They were easily the best of the rest behind the dominant Silver Arrows as Vettel took third place in the end, receiving a raucous welcome on the podium from the passionate crowd. Ferrari raced on the faster tire compounds, using a supersoft-supersoft-soft strategy across three stints, which was unfortunately still not quicker than Mercedes’ theoretically slower soft-medium tire strategy. Again, the pace of the two Silver Arrows was astounding and there wasn’t much that Ferrari could do to send two drivers on the podium.

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Ricciardo made a brave move on Bottas as they went side-by-side through the chicane. Photo credit: IndianCarsBikes.in

Aside from the pit strategy game played by the front-running teams, the only other real battle was between Bottas and Ricciardo, which lasted the whole race. On their respective final stints, Ricciardo was on faster tires than Bottas and culminated their battle with a brilliant overtaking move down the Turn One chicane. Just like how he normally pulls it off, Ricciardo made a dive down the inside of the Williams of Bottas from quite a long way back. Ricciardo pulled the move off cleanly without locking tires or any contact—a masterful move that Martin Brundle called the “overtake of the year.” Both drivers judged the maneuver very well, giving each other enough fair racing room on the tight chicane. As it stood, Ricciardo finished fifth, Bottas sixth.

The Italian Grand Prix was one of the easiest races to review this season because of the lack of action (except of course, for Ricciardo’s spectacular move). However, two groundbreaking stories developed before the race, starting with Felipe Massa’s announcement on Thursday that he will retire at the end of the season to cap off a lengthy F1 career. Following that, on Saturday, Jenson Button announced his intention to take a sabbatical next year but might come back to race in 2018. Button signed an interesting two-year contract that makes him McLaren’s ambassador and reserve driver for next season, with an option for a full-time race seat on the second year. This paves the way for much-hyped rookie Stoffel Vandoorne as Fernando Alonso’s McLaren teammate next season. So while Massa is set to completely retire from F1, Button will only be taking at least a one-year break from racing.

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Felipe Massa is retiring from F1 at the end of the season. Photo credit: The Bleacher Report

The next grand prix will be the iconic F1 Night Race in Singapore, a place very dear to me. Last year’s race in the streets of the Lion City was the first F1 grand prix that I ever attended and the atmosphere was electric. This year, I’ll only be watching from home and I will surely miss being so close to the cars hurtling through Raffles Avenue. What I will not miss is sweating buckets in the Singapore heat!

One thing that will definitely be as hot as the weather in Singapore is the title battle between Rosberg and Hamilton, who are only separated by two points now. Rosberg has scored seven wins to Hamilton’s six but still trails the defending champion in the standings. Considering how Mercedes struggled in last year’s Singapore Grand Prix, it will be interesting to see if Ferrari or Red Bull can mount a legitimate threat for a win, especially since the nature of the Marina Bay circuit makes the playing field more level, where battles are set to hinge more on a car’s chassis and aerodynamics rather than power unit. Red Bull is likely to have a strong chance but Ferrari should not be counted out either after a respectable performance in front of their home crowd. We’ll see if anyone will encroach on the Mercedes-exclusive championship battle as the season moves back to Asia for a series of races over the next few weeks.

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Singapore has been a chic, modern F1 venue since 2008. Photo credit: BBC