Singapore

2015 Singapore Grand Prix

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At some point it was decided that the Singapore Grand Prix was one of the marquee events of the Formula 1 season. While the nighttime backdrop of one of Asia’s premier cities is certainly stunning, the racing has always been kind of a slog. Sunday’s 61 lap running felt like a 2 hour chore compared to the brisk Italian Grand Prix 2 weeks ago. While it was refreshing to see neither Silver Arrow finish on the podium, Sebastian Vettel’s commanding drive from pole to the top step was very much the same plot we’ve seen all season long with a different actor in the title role.

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NBCSN’s Leigh Diffey did his very best to make sure we all knew that Lewis Hamilton was 1 win away from tying Ayrton Senna’s record in Singapore. Despite Hamilton and Nico Rosberg qualifying 5th and 6th respectively, it didn’t stop the network’s bias for Mercedes as the drivers were featured almost exclusively in the broadcast’s opening montage. What happened instead was the more significant achievement of race winner Sebastian Vettel becoming the 3rd all-time most successful driver in Formula 1.

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Daniel Ricciardo in the RB11 didn’t really have a shot at beating Vettel and ultimately finished 2nd. The numerous safety cars which have become synonymous with Singapore presented plenty of opportunities for a scrap but overtaking on the Marina Bay Circuit is a near impossible task. Ricciardo’s best opportunity was ruined when a lunatic fan entered the track on lap 37 – a gate onto the track which was left unguarded may have had something to do with it. The oversight is yet another occurrence where negligence by the staff at a flyaway race may have produced costly and dangerous results. Remember the trackside marshals’s treatment of Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso in China earlier this year?

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Singapore saw the retirements of more big name drivers than any Grand Prix this season. McLaren executed a now routine showing of retiring both cars due to gearbox issues. This came after Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso both had opportunities to score points. While it’s convenient for all fingers to point at Honda, Button’s overtaking tactics and the pit crew suffering from a bout of heat stroke didn’t help turn things around.

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The mishaps continued with a collision involving Force India’s Nico Hulkenburg and the Williams of Felipe Massa exiting pit lane. The crash ultimately ended the races of both drivers with Hulkenberg receiving a 3 grid spot penalty for next week’s Japanese Grand Prix. It was a hasty ruling from the stewards who probably should have waited until the race was over and clearer heads prevailed. 50/50 blame could be taken from the situation but I’m of the opinion that Hulkenberg had the right of way. Surprisingly the 5th retirement of the day was the Mercedes of Hamilton who’s car lost power from a coupler issue on the turbo.

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Meanwhile, the Formula 1 drinking game just got more interesting with the addition of “American Alexander Rossi”. Rossi seems like a great guy and deserved of the Manor drive for the remaining 5 races, but this really is a non-story that took up way too much of the race broadcast. No folks, contrary to what Diffey or the NBCSN team might have you believe, there is absolutely no chance of Rossi winning a Formula 1 Grand Prix in a Manor and it’s highly likely he won’t score any points either. The day’s other non-story, Ferrari mechanics exhibiting “thug-like” behavior and shoving photographers aside to celebrate Vettel’s win on pit lane.

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What is becoming more and more clear every race weekend is that Formula 1 really isn’t that great anymore. It is in many ways like Sir Elton John. The days of hitting the high notes on ‘Tiny Dancer’ are long gone, but fans still amass because of what the singer was, not who he’s become. Formula 1 has a rich and celebrated history and most of us suffer through the current product because we’re still hanging onto that history. “This is Formula 1” we tell ourselves, hoping that this race will be different. The reality however is that there hasn’t been a genuinely great race since Bahrain in 2014 and Britain the year before that. It’s a sport that on average produces one good showing a season and when you consider the other 19 races are duds, that’s a poor success rate.

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Members of the Formula 1 media have been quick to combat this notion. Will Buxton told all of us to get over it following the Italian Grand Prix. He and many others hark back to the days of Ferrari-Shumacher dominance, but ultimately they’re as guilty as we are for using the past to justify the present. Too often are we concerned with Formula 1’s history, always hoping to find a way to weave it into the modern context of the sport. The MLB also does this as they become increasingly irrelevant on a playing field dominated by the NFL, NBA and European football. The only thing any of us should be concerned with is what is right in front of us and what’s in front of us isn’t Formula 1, it’s not even racing.

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The Japanese Grand Prix is next weekend and Suzuka should favor the Silver Arrows who will likely be back on form after today’s misstep.

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Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

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The 2013 Singapore Grand Prix

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…

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Sergio Perez on track.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Grand Prix Of Singapore

The Grand Prix of Singapore. Just sounds exotic doesn’t it? Let me start off by saying that I like so much of what this race offers. It being the only night race on the Formula 1 calender is enough to make it stand out as a truly unique event. The Marina Bay Circuit is a fickle one and with the added equatorial heat, a true challenge for the drivers. If anything, the Grand Prix of Singapore makes me want to see more night races. Rosso corsa never looked better and blue flames from the car’s exhausts looks spectacular under the lights.

However, Sunday’s race left much to be desired. Rather than my usually long winded Formula 1 summary, a few thoughts.

Sebeastian Vettel appeared emotional on the podium after winning on Sunday.

Shockingly, it’s been a rare sight to see Vettel holding 1st place trophies in 2012. Maybe he was overcome by victory after a long draught? Maybe he was worried about Eddie Jordan conducting the post race interview? His light up helmet was fantastic though.

Say what you will about Felipe Massa, the man can still drive. Those of you watching the race will recall a particular move against Bruno Senna that could’ve ended in tears. Instead it proved to be one of the few highlights of the race. It was the precision, speed and danger of Formula 1 in a nutshell. Despite his best efforts, Massa probably completed his last Singapore Grand Prix with the Scuderia.

Michael Schumacher showed his age after using Jean-Éric Vergne as a barrier following the first safety car. Some have questioned Schumacher’s relevance in the sport, but as things stand he’s still out pacing and out performing Nico Rosberg. Imagine what he could do in a better car?

McLaren can’t seem to get it right can they? For all the great qualifying sessions and performances of the last few races, they have yet to see both drivers finish the same race since the August break. This week the bad luck followed Lewis Hamilton, who suffered a gearbox failure after 22 laps.

The team’s radio transmission alluded to this being a problem they were already aware of. I would assume rather than suffer a 5 grid spot penalty for a gearbox change, the team decided to take their chances with Hamilton in pole. It was a big gamble that didn’t pay off. Hamilton can’t seem to win these days and that mishap could’ve been the final nail in McLaren’s coffin. He should do himself a favor and make a decision already.

It’s that time of the season when reliability is crucial and I suspect it’ll play a major role in determining the WCC and WDC in the coming months. Suzuka is less than 2 weeks away.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

Formula 1: The Third Quarter

It’s Tuesday night and my mind is on Formula 1. The Grand Prix of Japan is this Sunday and I’ve put off my usual commentary on the last couple of races. I just haven’t been convinced that anyone visits A Class to read my Formula 1 commentary. Nevertheless, it’s been an extremely eventful couple of weeks for the sport. A season dominated by Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull is nearing the end and I thought I would give my take on a few of the latest topics. If you’re not into the sport then read no further, this is a long one.

The Era of Sebastian Vettel

For anyone who’s been following Formula 1 in 2011, it comes as no surprise that Sebastian Vettel took his 9th win in the Grand Prix of Singapore. He now stands just 1 point away from becoming driver’s champion, for the second year in a row. I’ve certainly had my opinions about Vettel and his winning streak, but I’ve had to eat my words these past couple of weekends. There was speculation as to whether Vettel could actually drive or whether it was the car. An astonishing pass made on Fernando Alonso, last month at Monza cleared up any confusion on that subject.

Vettel and Red Bull have been impressive this season and last Sunday’s race was no exception. Their champion driver and dominant car, aren’t the only keys to Red Bull’s success. The team seems to be working in perfect harmony. Despite some terrible starts, Mark Webber has found his strides and embraced his role as number 2. Last season was thwart with animosity between the Red Bull teammates. This time around, things are going smoother. Red Bull are also dominating in the pits, with some of the fastest stops on the grid. While other teams were happy to do 4 second stops in Singapore, Red Bull were consistently pulling off stops nearly a second faster. The Grand Prix of Japan is next on the Formula 1 calender. The team are very at home at Suzuka Circuit. A Jenson Button victory and scoring no points, are the only two things standing between Vettel and his second driver’s championship.

Jenson Button, McLaren’s Saving Grace

Sebastian Vettel aside, there may be no other driver in Formula 1 having as much fun as Jenson Button. 2011 is turning out to be an excellent season for McLaren’s new number 1. The season started with ups and downs but things turned around at Montreal where Jenson completed “the best drive of his career”. While that could be up for debate, Jenson’s dominance at McLaren is not. With podium finishes in the last 4 races, including a win at the Hungaroring, Button has found his rhythm. Not only is he driving better than his teammate Lewis Hamilton, he’s second in the points for driver’s champion. The renewal of his contract with McLaren is still undecided, although they would be mistaken not to sign a long term deal with Button. Ferrari have also expressed an interest in the driver replacing Felipe Massa. But based on the current standings, the only better opportunity would be a move to Red Bull, which isn’t going to happen.

Safety Car Procedures

One would think that the FIA, the largest motor sports governing body in the world, could figure out a better set of rules for the safety car in Formula 1. The Grand Prix of Singapore demonstrated just how absurd the whole thing is. I can’t understand why cars aren’t required to file back into order before racing resumes. Before Michael Schumacher’s crash, Jenson Button was in second place. Vettel had a substantial lead against Button, but with the arrival of the safety car, it allowed the lead to be closed as it condensed the field. Despite that, the lack of filing rules meant that the McLaren had to contend with the HRT cars who had lodged themselves in between it and the Red Bull. The slower HRT cars should’ve moved aside to let Button pass because it may have resulted in a very different outcome to last Sunday’s race. That brings me onto another event that permanently affected the outcome of Button’s race.

Lapped Drivers

If you’re one of the drivers being lapped by the race leaders, MOVE ASIDE! Jenson Button was held up yet again, at the end of the race, by the Williams cars of Rubens Barrichello and Pastor Maldonado. Barrichello especially, has been in the sport long enough to know the common courtesy of letting the faster driver through. In the heat of the moment, I’m sure it’s extremely difficult to give up pacing and let another driver through, but the Williams cars were a full lap behind. It would have been a waste for the stuarts to call anything because it happened so close to the end of the race. Final lap or not though, these kinds of things seriously affect the outcomes of a better driver’s race. Barrichello has all but been quiet about his dissatisfaction with Williams, but it may be time to hand in the reigns. He’s currently the oldest driver on the grid and that’s clearly showing.

The Hamilton-Massa Crash

The big story over the past 2 weeks has been Lewis Hamilton’s controversial crash with Felipe Massa, in Singapore. Regardless of who’s side of the argument you’re on, there are a few things that can’t be discounted. The crash was most definitely Hamilton’s fault. He got too aggressive going into the corner and made contact with Massa’s Ferrari. It was an accident, he had his wing replaced and took his drive through penalty; end of story, move on. Instead, Massa decided to confront Hamilton with a sarcastic taunt, while he was answering questions from the media. Hamilton, in a surprising show of restraint, told Massa not to touch him and backed out of his interviews. To me, this is the response of a guy who knows he was at fault.

The media have turned it into a much bigger ordeal. Maybe they missed the crash where Michael Schumacher jettisoned into the air and ended his race? It’s very apparent that Massa isn’t secure with his own position at Ferrari. After a season of lackluster finishes, he’s undoubtably diverting attention away from himself. He should be worrying about his own career. The driver is being released from Ferrari after 2012 with no future prospects.

Lewis Hamilton’s Identity Crisis

Here’s a guy who’s been under a media microscope for the better part of a year. Despite the record setting season Sebastian Vettel’s been having, Lewis Hamilton is the driver who has seemingly dominated the media’s attention. Hamilton is at a career crossroads right now, he can go one of two ways. He needs to regain his focus, the Hollywood lifestyle can wait until retirement. With the surprising decision to hire an entertainment management company to replace his father’s guidance, people are wondering where Hamilton’s priorities lie. He’s mentioned a future singing career. That’s all fine and dandy, good luck on that pursuit. In the meantime, Hamilton is paid millions to win races for an F1 dynasty, get to it! If Hamilton would focus on his driving and utilizing his full potential (something we haven’t seen since 2010), he could win many more championships. It would also provide for one of the greatest driver’s rivalries we’ve seen in years. If Hamilton chooses to go the other way down the path, there could be a much different ending; one about the racing prodigy that never was. People will begin to question his first driver’s title and if it was won with skill or luck. He could also be saying goodbye to McLaren, a team for which he is currently alienating himself from. His status as their number 2 driver isn’t sitting well either. I don’t think anyone wants to see Lewis Hamilton down that path, fan or not. He’s too damn good and has too much potential. It would be a shame to waste it all. I’m very keen to see how he drives the rest of the season. If a fire isn’t raging by now, it was never lit in the first place.

Suzuka Predictions

I won’t draw too many conclusions about Sunday’s Grand Prix of Japan, but I’m confident we’ll be seeing the 2011 driver’s champion crowned. I expect Jenson Button to have another great drive. He’s found his rhythm this season. Suzuka Circuit is another fast track, similar to Spa and Monza, two places where Button took podium finishes. Japan is his “second home” so I expect him to be very relaxed and ready to put on a show for the fans. There’s a good chance that Mark Webber will have another good qualifying, followed by a dismal start. He’s complained about the car’s clutch all season long, although it hasn’t stopped him from finishing well. As for the rest of the grid, it’s been extremely inconsistent. Fernando Alonso has put on some good drives and the 150 Italia is great out of the corners. The car’s straight line speed just hasn’t been there and it could prove to be a hurdle at Suzuka. I suppose we’ll all find out Sunday.

Photos courtesy of Sutton Images.

ST Powered GDB

It comes as no surprise that Singapore is a great place for car guys. It’s a modern, wealthy city with a diverse culture and a love for motor sports. ST Powered is one of the city’s larger tuning shops specializing in Japanese cars and race builds.

I’m really liking their GDB Impreza. The D1-style graphics scheme suits the car well, as does the full Varis wide body kit and Volk RE30’s. In the background is the shop’s Evo IX drag car, sporting the same graphics scheme. I wish there was more to say about the car, but I wasn’t able to find any info on their website. Regardless, it’s a great looking STi.

Photo courtesy of ST Powered.