With Formula 1’s campaign across Europe in the books, the teams are back in Asia for the season’s final push. Today’s Singapore Grand Prix proved to be a lot of things, but one of the sport’s most exciting events surely isn’t one of them. Before we look back at how the race unfolded, some points of contention…
As American Formula 1 fans are well aware, the sport just doesn’t have the following in this country the way it does throughout the rest of the world. The blame could be pointed in any number of directions, whether it be FOM’s world feed or the shadow of its former self that NBC Sports has become in less than half a season. To put it simply, this weekend’s broadcast was infuriating to watch. After securing Barclay’s Premier League matches, NBC Sports has completely diverted its attention away from Formula 1 and it’s greatly impacted the way we watch the sport. Saturday’s “live” Qualifying didn’t air until nearly 24 hours later (Sunday 1 AM EDT). For fans who like to get their results by watching the broadcasts, it meant an entire Saturday of avoiding the Internet. Then there was the race itself and the severe under underutilization of NBC Sports’ man on the ground, Will Buxton. Viewers of SPEED will recall Buxton scrambling amongst drivers and team bosses for last minute interviews leading into the race’s start. Now F1 Countdown has become a glorified studio segment with repetitive tire explanations and rumor-fueled cross talk amongst the hosts. Respect to Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett, they love what they do and know their sport well, however the issues stem more from a production staff who don’t seem to have a clue. The entire reason for having Buxton at the race is to be our eyes at the track, our window into the event. Lately his role seems that of a 30 second sound bite, than the knowledgeable and frankly excellent reporter he is. Add to this the enormous amounts of commercial breaks, including one that cut right through the middle of the podium ceremony and resumed with Sebastian Vettel in mid sentence. The moment interviewer Martin Brundle finished speaking with Kimi Raikkonen, NBC Sports was eager to fade into yet another commercial break! Today’s broadcast saw no post race interviews from the media scrum or any kinds of final thoughts from the studio before it was off to more Barclay’s coverage, which has completely dominated the network in recent months. Depending on most people’s cable provider, NBC Sports is a premium channel that most are paying upwards of $170 a year to have on their TVs. So again, why must we be treated to such a half heated attempt at Formula 1 coverage? Are you listening Sky Sports?
The Singapore Grand Prix is the longest, most physically demanding race on the Formula 1 calender. The high heat and humidity take their tole on the drivers and most come away looking positively ravaged. This weekend continued with Sebastian Vettel’s total domination of the sport. After securing pole in Saturday’s Qualifying, Vettel led every lap of the race and finished with a massive lead. As the season progresses, it’s becoming abundantly clear just how dominant a driver the German really is.
Despite what people may think of the man himself, one has to begin to think that he really is that good. Most fans aren’t sold however and the booing continued at today’s podium ceremony. Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner and other supporters including Niki Lauda have been vocal about their distaste of the new trend. It makes the occurrence that much more awkward when fan favorites Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen are met with unanimous praise.
If fans want to boo anyone it should be the FIA and race stewards for their incessant meddling and absurd penalties (more on that later). A fourth consecutive Driver’s Championship is all but clinched by Vettel at this point, much to the dismay of Alonso who seems to give everything he’s got week after week.
If Vettel is the current winningest driver in Formula 1 then Fernando Alonso is undoubtably the best starter. While the Ferrari driver has struggled with pace in Qualifying, he makes up for it at the start. The way things began in Singapore were no exception. After starting from P7, Alonso secured P3 by the end of turn 1. If Ferrari’s hiring of Raikkonen for 2014 has affected Alonso, he surely didn’t show it on the track as he continued to get the most out of his F138.
His teammate Felipe Massa also showed good pace this weekend and finished 6th overall. It’s been a difficult couple of weeks for the Brazilian since the team’s announcement of his replacement and it become clear that Massa will drive his own races for the remainder of the season.
Despite dealing with back pain throughout the weekend, Kimi Raikkonen showed no signs of faltering today.
After failing to make Q3 on Saturday, the Lotus driver had an exciting bout with McLaren’s Jenson Button, resulting in one of the best passes of the season. It was a rare departure from the usual procession we’ve grown accustomed to on Singapore’s narrow layout. He finished 3rd overall, much to the delight of Ferrari who have signed him for a 2 year contract starting next season. Things didn’t fair so well for Lotus’ other driver, Romain Grosjean.
After a fantastic showing in Qualifying, he started in P3, only to experience a pneumatics issue that ended his race on lap 37. Grosjean will be keen to take the reigns as the team’s Number 1 in 2014 and hopefully Lotus will be able to overcome their current financial woes.
It was a frustrating showing for Mercedes this weekend. Nico Rosberg had the pace on Saturday and started from P2. As the race wore on, fatigue set in and Rosberg found himself in the crosshairs of his teammate, Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton spent most of Practice and Qualifying frustrated with the team’s tire strategy and started from P5 behind Red Bull’s Mark Webber. The two Mercedes drivers found themselves in a scrum with McLaren and each other in the later laps of the race. After doing away with the MP4-28s, it was Rosberg who led the team to the finish in 4th, with Hamilton close behind in 5th.
It seems as though Hamilton’s slump has carried over from Monza as the driver has continued to struggle with the W04. Fighting for World Championship points is a tough pill to swallow as the driver’s main rival continues to win.
The woes of McLaren are far from over. After a brief stint in 3rd, Jenson Button held off the Lotus of Raikkonen for as long as he could.
The subsequent overtaking by Webber and the Mercedes boys made it abundantly clear that McLaren are no longer in the same league as their rivals. Despite Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh’s best attempts at creating a mood of uncertainty over the future of his drivers, it’s truly the car that’s failed them this season. McLaren have subsequently created a position with absolute job security in the role of Whitmarsh.
As the team struggles for points against mid-fielders like Force India, retaining Perez and to some degree Button, comes into question. Major offseason changes will most certainly happen in Woking, but the current management is clearly a major contributor to this lackluster season. Button and Perez finished 7th and 8th respectively.
For all of Red Bull’s success with Vettel, things have unfolded quite differently for Mark Webber. The Australian is competing in his final season with the team and the usual trend of mysterious mechanical failures have plagued any chance of going out on top.
Yet again, Webber was unable to finish the race, this time due to a gearbox failure. The breakdown happened on lap 60 after one hell of a push from Webber to P4. In one of the more sporting instances Formula 1 has seen in quite a while, Fernando Alonso pulled off during the cool down lap to give his friend a lift back to pit lane. It was a display of camaraderie and sportsmanship that shows just how much Alonso has matured since his days at McLaren. What could’ve been the shining event of the Singapore Grand Prix, was quickly muddied by a bureaucratic FIA who will stop at nothing to assert a firm hand over the sport.
Many have argued in favor of the FIA’s ruling which will see Alonso get his first reprimand of the season and Webber a 10 grid spot penalty in Korea, after entering the track without the stewards permission. It’s a good cop, bad cop scenario where the FIA are only thinking in the interest of driver safety, but it’s a decision that does nothing for their stiff, old world public image and one the sport contends with far too often lately.
The first of a new 5 race deal with Singapore is in the books. Despite the event’s stunning location, it will be nice to see the drivers on proper circuits from here on out. In a scheduling switch, the teams will head to Yeongam for the Korean Grand Prix in 2 weeks.
Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.