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.
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.
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.
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.