The European leg of the season over, the travelling troupe of Formula 1 set up shop in Singapore for the longest race on the calendar, in terms of time. 61 laps around the Marina Bay Circuit to cover over 308km with an average racing lap taking 1m45s through the 23 winding corners, many with concrete walls and zero margins for error. Drivers lose around 4kg over the course of this race, with cockpit temperatures crossing 50-degree Celsius and over 75 per cent humidity. It is as pretty as it is demanding with the entire street circuit lit up in the night making for quite a spectacle.
Ferrari was coming off two back-to-back wins but expected to perform poorly around the Marina Bay circuit that was unlikely to favour their low-downforce package. Almost everyone had set their sights on Mercedes and Red Bull Racing to be the closest competitors, especially after Ferrari’s performance during free practice. But in qualifying, the Maranello engineers had managed to put together a package that left their drivers stunned.
Charles Leclerc was able to take pole position once again, his third in a row and fifth for the season. Lewis Hamilton just pipped Sebastian Vettel to stop the Ferrari front-row lockout. Max Verstappen was able to qualify fourth fastest ahead of Valtteri Bottas while Alex Albon was sixth fastest. Carlos Sainz had an impressive qualifying session being quickest of the rest followed by Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Hulkenberg, Lando Norris and Sergio Perez in that order. However, Perez had a grid penalty and Daniel’s time was disqualified due to an MGU-K power limit infringement. At the front of the grid, the scene was set with Leclerc and Hamilton going head to head on the back of their intense track battle in Monza.
On Sunday night, the start lights went off and Leclerc was able to have a better start than Hamilton into the first corner and the rest of the front runners fell in line. Sainz and Hulkenberg had a bit of coming together on the first lap which left the McLaren with a puncture and the Renault with some damage too. Both had to pit and ended up at the back of the order. Meanwhile, Leclerc was already pulling away from Hamilton who was fending off an early attack from Vettel.
Leclerc was keeping Hamilton just out of DRS range while controlling the pace of the race. The Ferrari strategy seemed to prefer tyre conservation as Charles was lapping slower than feasible on the first stint. Vettel was a short way behind Hamilton while Verstappen was fighting off Bottas. At that pace, the front order was neatly bunched up and hadn’t pulled away from the middle order teams either, running the risk of coming out in traffic if they pitted at that point. Nearly 20 laps in and those on the soft compound tyres are beginning to struggle for grip.
Ferrari pitted Vettel first after 19 laps and was followed by Verstappen. The two rejoined the race in P10 and P12. Leclerc pitted the very next lap and Hamilton got the team order to do “opposite to Leclerc”. The man who started on pole and won back-to-back races just before Singapore rejoined the track behind his teammate. Both Mercedes bring in Valtteri on Lap 23 but leave Lewis out on track hoping for a safety car or the cars between him and Ferrari would allow them an opening.
Hamilton leads the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix followed by Antonio Giovinazzi, Pierre Gasly, Daniel Ricciardo and Lance Stroll. These four haven’t pitted yet and will be fighting for position when the usual top dogs catch up to them. Vettel was 5th followed by Leclerc, Verstappen and Bottas. The Finn was poised to be P4 once the front order made their pit stop. But around Lap 25, he gets the worst kind of call from the team. Bottas was lapping in the 1:45s and he’s asked to do a 1:48. They don’t say why but it is already crystal clear. As per their strategy, Merc wanted to keep Lewis ahead of him.
Hamilton pitted on Lap 27 and rejoined the track in P8 ahead of Bottas.
The exciting part about Lewis pitting was that the Alfa Romeo Sauber of Giovinazzi was now in the lead and it was the first time since Silverstone 2015 that a car other than the usual top 3(Merc, Ferrari, Red Bull) had led a race at all. In fact, the Italian driver led the race for four laps before being passed by Vettel. Meanwhile, Gasly, Stroll and Ricciardo weren’t exactly getting out of the way for the eventual race leaders. Vettel was the first to be clear of all of them, followed by Leclerc on Lap 32. The other front runners got past with relative ease as well around the same lap.
On Lap 36, Romain Grosjean banged into George Russell forcing the Williams to retire on track which brought on the first Safety Car of the race. It was Williams first race retirement all season and quite upsettingly at the hands of clumsy Grosjean who was still running.
Nobody up front had any advantage by pitting for fresher tyres during the SC as they’d come out in quite some traffic, all of it racing for track position. Meanwhile, Charles has been quite talkative on the team radio to show his displeasure with the team deciding to let Vettel take the lead. He asks for permission to race but is diplomatically denied as Ferrari are putting the team interest first and don’t want to jeopardize the 1-2 finish they are likely to enjoy. Leclerc agrees, he just wants the driver order of the 1-2 to be different. There’s still plenty laps left, he might still get a chance to take back the lead. Verstappen is running in P3 ahead of Hamilton and Bottas.
Lap 40, the racing action resumes and Vettel keeps the lead. The German gets a good jump on his young teammate who holds off the Red Bull behind him. But with no DRS for the first two laps after the restart, Charles struggles to be close enough to Seb.
On Lap 43, Sergio Perez’s race comes to an abrupt end due to a mechanical failure. The Racing Point driver is told to shut off immediately and tries to let the car roll towards a run-off area but doesn’t make it. The SC is out yet again on Lap 44 and front order remains unchanged with 16 laps to go. These SC delays are helping Ferrari bag that 1-2 finish, something manufacturer has been able to accomplish at the Singapore GP. The racing action resumes once again, just before starting Lap 48.
On Lap 50 of 61, Daniil Kvyat makes one of his iconic torpedo dives down the inside of Kimi Raikkonen into the first corner and makes contact. The Alfa’s front suspension is snapped and it slides into the run-off area but once again, the SC is deployed. This time, the racing action resumes a bit sooner, on Lap 52.
Vettel gets an even better start ahead of Leclerc and is able to open a bigger lead than the last couple of restarts. Verstappen is still fighting with Hamilton to keep his podium spot while Bottas has resigned himself to P5. While there was hope for a last lap scrim between the two Ferraris, the earlier radio messages had made the team orders quite clear.
In the end, Vettel took the chequered flag, claiming his first victory in 2019 (not counting Canada) and his fifth ever GP win at Singapore. Charles finished P2 and Max was able to secure a P3 finish. A bit of an anticlimactic conclusion, especially after the last two races.
While some may argue that Ferrari cheated Leclerc out of a third straight victory, nobody should deny Vettel the credit for his impressive performance to hold onto the lead after having taken it some 40 laps before the finish line. This was Ferrari’s first 1-2 result since Belgium 2017. In that moment, however, Leclerc was clearly not a happy racer but did his best to swallow his bitterness and save it for the team debrief afterwards.
The front end excitement may have been defused by team orders but there was plenty of wheel-to-wheel racing going on in the middle order. More often than not, Renault was in the thick of it. Ricciardo started last on the grid and had made it up to P12 within the first ten laps which included a short battle with Kvyat too. He was running in P2 & P3 at one point as he didn’t pit until much later. On lap 34, the Renault driver tried to get past Giovinazzi but made contact which left both drivers with mild damage and punctures. In the last stint, Nico Hulkenberg had his share of on-track battles with Lance Stroll, Daniil Kvyat and Grosjean too. The McLaren racers were also involved in some interesting battles, especially the last lap scrap that never aired during the main broadcast.
We get another consecutive weekend of Formula 1 as they head to Sochi for the Russian GP. A track that has typically been a strength for the Mercedes Silver Arrows may now favour the Ferrari stallions with its fast straight line sections. Can Leclerc make it four for four in qualifying? Will Charles and Lewis get to battle head-to-head for the win? Both Hamilton and Mercedes are more than 100 points clear of Ferrari in the driver’s and constructor’s championships. So, the title race may not be alive but the racing each Sunday definitely has gotten more interesting.
Final race standings
- S. Vettel Ferrari — 1:58:33.667
- C. Leclerc Ferrari +2.641
- M. Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +3.821
- L. Hamilton Mercedes +4.608
- V. Bottas Mercedes +6.119
- A. Albon Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +11.663
- L. Norris McLaren Renault +14.769
- P. Gasly Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda +15.574
- N. Hulkenberg Renault +16.718
- A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari +27.855
- R. Grosjean Haas Ferrari +35.436
- C. Sainz McLaren Renault +35.974
- L. Stroll Racing Point BWT Mercedes +36.419
- D. Ricciardo Renault +37.660
- D. Kvyat Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda +38.178
- R. Kubica Williams Racing Mercedes +47.024
- K. Magnussen Haas Ferrari +86.522
- K. Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari DNF
- S. Perez Racing Point BWT Mercedes DNF
- G. Russell Williams Racing Mercedes DNF