THE championship-defining Singapore Grand Prix was a race that Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was in the box seat to win, and that Red Bull drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen believed they could win.
And after a wild opening few seconds and melee which eliminated both Ferraris along with of innocent parties Verstappen and a fast-starting Fernando Alonso, there was disbelief in many quarters as Lewis Hamilton surged to the front, setting up a remarkable victory.
Hamilton’s Singapore slingshot to victory has put him 28 points up on Vettel and given him a great chance of securing a fourth drivers’ title.
It was Hamilton’s seven win of 2017 and 60th of his career.
Vettel stunningly qualified on pole ahead of the Verstappen and Ricciardo, with his prime championship rival Hamilton in fifth on the grid behind the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen.
It appeared as though Ferrari, and Vettel in particular, had not only recovered from the travails of Monza but were well positioned to bag a swag of championship points, with the quick Red Bull drivers also relishing their prospects. Singapore has generally been a happy hunting ground for Vettel, while Ricciardo boldly predicted he could win the GP, a race that gave him second places in the previous two years.
Rain – the first to fall on Formula One’s only race under floodlights in its 10-year history – did little to subjugate the optimism of the drivers starting on the first two rows.
Then the red lights went out…
Verstappen made a good start, better than Vettel. But Raikkonen from the second row, instantly ranged up on Verstappen’s left, meaning the Ferrari drivers and Verstappen were heading three wide towards turn one and determinedly vying for the lead.
Vettel should have been more circumspect, but looked to be moving across the track to discourage Verstappen. The Red Bull was being squeezed by Vettel on his right and Raikkonen on his left. Failing comprehensively to disappear from the red-car wedge, Verstappen made contact with Raikkonen who spun across his nose into his teammate, also slamming into the Red Bull and Alonso’s McLaren. Vettel continued to hold the lead but his car had significant damage, leaking coolant from a broken radiator, and crashed out moments later.
In a couple of crazy moment, three leading cars were sidelined along with Alonso’s McLaren.
TV pundit and ex driver Martin Brundle pointed the finger of blame on Vettel, as did the bitterly disappointed Verstappen after yet another non-finish.
“My start was a little bit better than Seb and I think he saw that so he tried to move to the left to squeeze me out of the line a bit but he did not know Kimi was on my other side,” Verstppen reported later.
“I think it wasn’t the smartest move and you can’t make excuses for it when you are fighting for a world championship. Kimi had a great start and was alongside me very quickly, I didn’t try and defend that as I knew it would be a long race. He then started to squeeze me also, at which point there wasn’t a lot I could do.”
Vettel’s take on the melee was overly candid. "I saw Max and then next thing I see is Kimi hitting the side of me and Max somewhere there. I'm sure there will be more opportunities." That was the one that got away though.
A controversial Ferrari tweet blamed Verstappen and social media lit up with many and varied opinions, many of them ill-informed.
The FIA though deemed no further action would be taken on the opening-lap carnage, suggesting no driver was “predominantly” to blame. Hamilton didn’t give a rat’s butt either way; the seas had parted and he was leading the Singapore GP from Ricciardo (thankful he’d made a poor start and therefore had missed the nonsense up front), Nico Hulkenburg’s Renault, Sergio Perez’s Force India, Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes and, on the weekend he heard he’d been sacked by Renault, Jolyon Palmer.
The safety car immediately made the first of three appearances as officials cleaned up a rubbish tip of carbonfibre and wrecked cars.
At the lap five restart, the anticipated Ricciardo move on Hamilton didn’t eventuate as the Brit quickly opened a three-second gap.
When the rain eased and the teams switched to slicks on the slow drying track, surely the Red Bull’s stunning Friday and Saturday supremacy over Mercedes would materialise again? Surely?
But no. After the final safety car and subsequent restart, Hamilton quickly skipped away again, while Bottas had Ricciardo in a Silver Arrows sandwich.
What is going on with Daniel, we asked.
The answer wasn’t forthcoming until after the race when Red Bull boss Christian Horner revealed Ricciardo was managing an ailing gearbox issue that flared up early, and that there were real fears he wouldn’t finish the GP.
“We could see losing an awful lot of oil pressure in the gearbox,” said Horner. “So Daniel had instructions to start managing that and he had to sacrifice lap time. He did incredibly well and managed to nurse the car home for another hour and a half.”
All at a demanding circuit where drivers made 80 gear changes per lap.
Ricciardo refused to use the gearbox trouble for his failure to challenge Hamilton. “Even when we pitted and had fresher tyres, we couldn’t really make an impact on Lewis.
“The team was asking me to manage the gears through the race and after I learned we had a leak and were losing oil pressure in the gearbox from early on. Of course, I came here to win and really wanted it, but second place is great and I’m not going to complain about it.”
In terms of entertainment and excitement, this GP wasn’t a great advertisement for F1.
Still, behind the podium men Hamilton, Ricciardo and Bottas were some fine performances. Carlos Sainz Jr took fourth, his best result in F1. Perez came through to fifth, while Palmer answered his critics and his team with a strong sixth in the changing conditions.
Stoffel Vandoorne’s seventh was his best finish for McLaren Honda.
But by any measure this was Hamilton’s night due in no small part to Vettel’s recklessness.
Supercars: Waters and Stanaway take open Pirtek Enduro honours at Sandown
Cameron Waters and Richie Stanaway, A couple of young guns, have landed breakthrough Australian Supercars wins in one of the nation’s major races, the Sandown 500. Er, make that the Sandown 387.5…
The race became more of a sprint and less of an enduro after an early crash that inflicted serious damage to a barrier and caused the track action to be suspended for an hour while it was repaired. Officials had no choice but to reduce the contest to a time-certain 4.48pm, which worked out at 125 laps rather than the original 161.
This takes nothing away from Waters, 23, and Stanaway 25, who while going in as outsiders collectively controlled much of the race from pole position, withstanding sturdy pressure from more fancied combos until the chequer.
Waters, who drove the last half of the race after a sterling opening 56-lap stint up front from Stanaway, brought home their Prodrive Monster Energy Ford Falcon 0.6sec ahead of the relentless Scott McLaughlin, (sharing his Shell Falcon with Alexandre Premat) and the Supercheap Falcon of Chaz Mostert, sharing with Steve Owen. It was a rare Ford shutout of the podium.
On the last lap, Garth Tander (last year’s Sandown 500 winner sharing his GRM Holden with James Goulding) nipped past the struggling Shell Falcon of Fabian Coulthard (driving with Tony d’Alberto) to claim fourth.
No one could catch Walters, who is in just his second season full-time in Supercars. After he said he couldn’t believe he was able to hold off a fast-finishing DJR-Penske’s McLaughlin.
“I don’t know what to say, I’m so pumped,” Walters said. “I didn’t think I was going to keep him off. Scotty, I don’t know if he used his tyre up in that last stint a bit, but managed to hold the gap and we won.”
“I’m so pumped for the guys, they’ve put massive hours in, pushing the upgrades through. This guy [Stanaway] did a bloody mega job, got me the lead and I managed to hold onto it.”
Waters has shown growing all-round speed and maturity this year, and the pairing with Stanaway, very experienced internationally in other forms of motorsport but close to a novice in Supercars, proved to be an inspired choice.
Stanaway, twice a winner in GP2 and a factory sports car driver for Aston Martin, has made no secret of his desire for a full-time steer in Supercars next season. Surely he couldn’t have auditioned more impressively. He is further evidence that New Zealand seems to have a bottomless pit of hugely talented young racers.
There was a time when the stand-alone Sandown 500 was the pipe opener to the Bathurst 1000, and a vital hit-out from teams who traditionally gave newly homologated Holdens and Fords their first real trial. It was a race to eliminate potential weakness and sharpen up pit work.
In modern times, the Sandown 500 had become a key fight in the championship, with double points on offer, and co-drivers wearing great responsibility.
As well, these days, the cars are more bulletproof and well proven. Now the aim of the Sandown enduro – the opening race of the long-distance series – is to score points for the permanent drivers. Co-drivers are under the pump. Go fast is the message, and don’t stuff up.
The race start was marked by some silliness towards the back. There were a few hits, and Mark Winterbottom’s co-driver Dean Canto spun off the track along with Ash Walsh in the Tim Slade Freightliner Commodore.
Moments later, Taz Douglas in a Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport Commodore, lost control at high speed due to a deflating tyre at the end of the back straight. He went straight ahead at the same section of the track that Todd Hazelwood spectacularly crashed and flipped violently into the air in Saturday’s Race for the Grid.
The Douglas shunt triggered a red flag and almost 60-minute delay as the safety wall was rebuilt.
There were the usual hard-luck tales, none bigger than that of the Red Bull Holden #88. Jamie Whincup went to Sandown just 12 points down on championship leader McLaughlan. His co-driver Paul Dumbrell had fought his way to the lead ahead of Stanaway when the car blew a right rear, and lost many positions. Whincup then drove like every lap was a qualifying one to get back up to sixth at the finish, damage minimisation that kept his points disadvantage to 84 points going to Mount Panorama.
The other Red Bull Holden Racing Team Commodore of Shane van Gisbergen and his brilliant young co-driver Matt Campbell also had tyre failure after charging from 21st to third. The pair finished 16th.
David Reynolds/Luke Youlden were also brought undone by tyre failure after a bold early showing from third on the grid in the Erebus Penrite Holden. Seventeenth was a poor reward.
Praise though to James Moffat and Richard Muscat, who came from back in the field in their Wilson Security Racing GRM Commodore to claim seventh ahead of other forward movers Lee Holdsworth/Karl Reindler (Preston Hire Racing Commodore) in eighth.
McLaughlin (2334 points) leads the driver standings ahead of Whincup (2250) and Coulthard (2173).
WEC: Porsche nails a third straight 1-2 at Circuit of the Americas
Porsche is determined to walk away from the World Endurance Championship with a crushing final season. The factory sports car prototype team continued its winning form at the 6 Hours of COTA in Austin at the sixth round of the 2017 FIA WEC.
Earl Bamber, in the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid, crossed the finish line just 0.27sec ahead of Nick Tandy in the sister #1 car to claim a fourth consecutive victory for he and teammates Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley.
The trio has extended its title margin the drivers’ standings while also helping Porsche to pull away further from Toyota in the manufacturers' championship.
Held in challenging hot and humid conditions, the race was an epic strategic contest that saw the rhythm of the race swing between the two LMP1 Porsches. The 2017 rule change, which brought down the allocation of six sets of tyres to four for qualifying and the race, saw the teams challenged with choosing when to double-stint their Michelin tyres in the searing temperatures.
The #8 Toyota of Sébastien Buemi, Stéphane Sarrazin and Kazuki Nakajima finished third, 21.6sec behind the winning Porsche after 1058km of racing.
Toyota has also declared it is open to Fernando Alonso driving with the squad in the 24 Hours of Le Mans next year.
McLaren has said it will allow Alonso to race at Le Mans if he commits to the F1 team again next year. Alonso has said he would love to chase the Triple Crown – F1 world champion, Indy 500 winner, and winner of Le Mans.
Australian Rally Championship: Bates strikes trouble at Rally SA
Harry Bates and his new Toyota Yaris AP4 went into Rally SA as a three-point leader of the CAMS Australian Rally Championship.
But the young Canberra driver struck teething problems with his just-finished machine which left him pointless and frustrated, after he failed to complete the two legs held around Adelaide.
With Bates a reluctant spectator for much of the action, the rally became a two-car tussle between Taylor’s WRX STI and the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IX of Nathan Quinn, who went on to secure wins in both heats.
It was the first ARC round win for the Coffs Coast Rally Team’s Quinn who, with co-driver Ben Searcy, dominated the event in his Mitsubishi Evo X1 winning 12 of 14 stages across the two days.
“I’m stoked. I said that we had to come here and win and it worked out pretty well for us,” Quinn said.
“I’m very happy to finally get a win for the team after rallying for 10 years.”
Subaru do Motorsport’s Molly Taylor was the only one to steal stage successes from Quinn, taking two wins on day one. Taylor and co-driver Bill Hayes finished a solid second both days in their Production Rally Car (PRC) class all-wheel-drive Subaru WRX STI.
This hands the pair a 30-point lead in the CAMS Australian Rally Championship with one round to go; Quinn moves into second, 35 points clear of Bates.
Commenting on her chances of collecting another ARC title in the decider, Taylor said: “We’re in a much better position than we were at this time last year.
“It’s all come together so well and now we need to maintain that going into the final round in Coffs Harbour.”
Craig Brooks and Steve Glenney claimed third outright, Brook’s’ first ARC podium.
In the ARC two-wheel-drive class, Adam Kaplan and Aleshia Penny posted another solid result to take out the class win and now take an unassailable lead in the class championship.
Rally Australia, the final round of the CAMS ARC and the World Rally Championship, will take place on November 16-19.