When I saw Verstappen moving alongside Maldonado as they raced across the grandstand, effectively occupying two lanes, I automatically stood up, held my breath, and by the time the pass was completed and both drivers disappeared into the tunnel underneath, my excitement had me clapping and pumping my fist as if I just watched Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers strike out the final batter of a game. Shortly after Verstappen’s move, I saw in the giant screen that Sainz had also just gotten past Maldonado at Turn 20 with an authoritative move that forced the Lotus driver to take evasive action into a runoff area. It was the most thrilling experience in the race to witness Verstappen, teenage overtaking prodigy, demonstrate his skills right before my eyes.
In the end, it was Sebastian Vettel who stood triumphantly on the top step of the podium, alongside Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo at second, and Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen at third. The top three finishers seemed to be untouchable in a race that saw lots of action and carnage behind them. It was a shock to have neither Mercedes driver finish on the podium—only the second time this season that has happened. Nico Rosberg finished fourth while Lewis Hamilton retired less than halfway through the race due to an engine power issue.
Ricciardo certainly did not make his former Red Bull teammate Vettel escape easily, as the Australian constantly applied pressure to the race leader, the leading two drivers pulling away from Raikkonen. During the first rounds of pit stops, the race was interrupted by a Safety Car period when Nico Hulkenberg and Felipe Massa crashed into each other at the pit lane exit. Apparently Hulkenberg, who was out on track, headed into Turn 3 and misjudged Massa’s exit from the pit lane, ending up in a collision that sent Hulkenberg’s Force India hopping into the air but landing lightly and coming to rest at a nearby tire barrier. Fortunately for Massa, his Williams didn’t suffer extensive damage but Hulkenberg’s race came to a disappointingly early end, as he could have managed another strong result well within the top ten had he not crashed. Towards the middle of the race though, Massa was ultimately called in by his team to retire the car, probably due to initially unapparent damage from the crash.
It was shortly after the restart that Hamilton’s engine issue started to surface, readily giving up his fourth place position to Rosberg down the main straight and letting numerous other cars past throughout the lap. A few laps later, Hamilton’s compromised Mercedes was already being sized up by the Manor Marussias of Alex Rossi and Will Stevens at the very back of the field. When it became clear that the problem was terminal, Mercedes decided to retire the car, leading to Hamilton’s first retirement of the season. Concerned, I wondered if Rosberg might encounter a similar issue with his own car. A fan sitting beside me seemed to be upset over Hamilton’s misfortune and appeared to leave, only to come back a few minutes later with a hamburger meal. I guess he decided to smartly eat his disappointments away.
It’s funny how I was wearing a Lewis Hamilton Mercedes hat but strongly supporting his rival Nico Rosberg. I will shamelessly say that I experienced a slight hint of delight when Lewis retired because that meant Nico scoring some valuable points to cut the gap between him and Lewis in the championship. I was however slightly disappointed that Nico failed to catch Raikkonen for third place in the race. Kimi didn’t appear to be interested in the Vettel-Ricciardo battle up front but I expected Nico to have put up a threat against the slower of the Ferrari drivers.
Another Safety Car period came up when a fan had somehow infiltrated the track at Esplanade Drive. The wanderer was first reported by Vettel, already in the throes of a battle with Ricciardo, through his team radio. As the matter was quickly resolved and the man arrested by local police later that evening, the field bunched up again and went for another restart.
As the race up front seemed to have relaxed with each driver settling into their own individual paces, there was still some intense racing down in the middle of the field. The Toro Rosso of Max Verstappen has pulled off a furious comeback driver after starting not only from the pit lane but also one lap late after an issue starting his car on the grid. The Safety Car periods that bunched up the field definitely helped the 18-year-old driver to catch back on the lead lap but he was on a mission for more blood. Along with his teammate Carlos Sainz, the Toro Rossos ganged up on the Lotus drivers to get into the top ten. Their first victim was Pastor Maldonado, whom Jenson Button had lightly run into the back of in front of our grandstand during the restart after the second Safety Car period. Verstappen sized up Maldonado for a few laps until finally (and quite surprisingly) pounced on the Lotus on Turn 18, which was right in front of our seats. Verstappen got a good exit out of Turn 17 and allowed him to stick the nose of his Toro Rosso down the inside line of Turn 18. Maldonado fortunately avoided a crash and didn’t turn in on Verstappen. It was quite a risky move considering Turn 18 is the tightest corner on the circuit and there’s really not a lot of overtaking done around this corner.
Verstappen and Sainz caught up to Maldonado’s teammate Romain Grosjean after a few laps and quickly took care of him. The next victim of the stampede of the two Toro Rossos appeared to be the Force India of Sergio Perez as the race winded to its conclusion, laps and time running out. However, Perez turned in a gritty performance to keep the two chargers behind him for the remainder of the race. At one point, Verstappen was asked to let Sainz through so that the latter can instead lead the attack to Perez, but Verstappen adamantly refused, probably not quite understanding the context behind his team’s strategy. By the end of the race, the three drivers held station and there were fortunately no ill feelings between the Toro Rosso teammates. Although his refusal to comply with team orders drew attention from analysts, Verstappen was praised heavily for his comeback performance.
Finally, I guess one last driver who deserved praise for this race was the debuting Alexander Rossi. The American got ahead of his teammate Will Stevens early in the race and maintained his position, driving cleanly and bringing his car home in one piece. On his F1 race debut, Rossi finished a lofty thirteenth. Even though the result was highly influenced by the half-dozen retirements, at least it showed that the young driver was capable of reliably keeping his car in a race of attrition to score unexpected points for Manor similar to the late Jules Bianchi’s performance in the 2014 Monaco GP. Rossi is highly motivated given the nature of his contract where he gives up his race seat to Roberto Merhi on weekends that Rossi has GP2 commitments. On his maiden F1 race, the young American stood up to the plate with an impressive performance at the back of the grid that not many would have noticed.
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Overall, the Singapore Grand Prix experience has been the best weekend of my life so far. The race was magnificent with lots of action and suspense—easily my favorite of the 2015 season and also one of my favorites of all-time. As I provided in the intro, Verstappen’s overtake on Maldonado was my personal highlight of the race. Throughout the weekend, the atmosphere, especially trackside with all the cars racing past at high speeds, was electric. Thank you to the Singapore Grand Prix organizers; I am one very happy customer. I’ll cherish all the memories I made on that weekend and hope to return in attendance for many more years.
Photo credit: Singapore GP Official Facebook page