September 23rd, 2012 (F1plus / Paul Godley).- Yesterday we had a very interesting race. Several hings happened that left us with few question marks, and somewhat certainties. Let's go over few of those.
McLaren the quickest again?
Heading into qualifying on Saturday many of us thought it would be a straight fight between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton for the pole position, with the majority backing Vettel (given his complete domination last season). Lewis Hamilton obviously had other ideas though and stormed to the pole, taking his third in four races and McLaren's fourth in a row.
The race started perfectly for Hamilton as he got off the line cleanly and began to open up a lead on Vettel behind. The front two of Hamilton and Vettel were showing their class around the streets of Singapore, exchanging quick lap times between each other and extending the gap back to the rest.
Lewis managed to maintain his lead after the first round of pit stops, despite staying out longer than his German protagonist did. Unfortunately several laps later Hamilton was forced to retire due to a mechanical failure, something the team may have suspected was coming for a lap or two before. As annoying and frustrating as the retirement was for Lewis and McLaren, he and the team can only be encouraged by the clear speed that the car has. Had it not been for today's retirement you'd have to think McLaren would have been on for their fourth consecutive race win. Things are looking good for the team for the remaining 6 fly away races, so long as the reliability problems don't arise again.
Maldonado sure can qualify, but can he race?
Maldonado at the grid for the Singapore GP (Steven Tee / LAT Photo)
I've been a long time fan and advocate of Pastor Maldonado, but I can understand why others do not feel the same way as me. Yes, he's been involved in too many incidents for anyone's liking this season, but the comments I've seen about him at times have been down right unjust and a bit disgusting. Pastor himself acknowledged that he needs to start having cleaner races, something that he has shown in the past couple of races.
We know how well he can qualify and perform over one lap, having again lined up on the front row of the grid in Singapore. For me this was one of Pastor's best drives in Formula 1, despite not actually finishing the race. He drove cleanly throughout, but more importantly and impressively than that, he drove at roughly the same pace as leaders Hamilton and Vettel.
Despite losing a couple of places at the start, Pastor didn't lose his cool and was potentially on for a strong haul of points, if not a podium. Pastor seems to have a very good knack of being quick around street circuits, as shown by today's race. Under the safety car we heard that he would have to retire the car, news that really saddened me. It's not what he deserved after an extremely impressive weekend. So can he race? Yes he can. He just needs to show it more between now and the end of the season. He's undoubtedly got the speed to be in Formula 1.
Is Kimi's lack of qualifying performance going to cost him the title?
Yet again Kimi Raikkonen was out qualified by team mate Romain Grosjean, returning from a one race ban, and found himself languishing outside the top 10 ahead of Sunday's race. Is this lack of pace in qualifying going to ultimately cost Kimi in his pursuit for the championship? Yet again he's had to try and find a strategy that would allow him to work his way through the field. He managed to come home in 6th, but when he sees that Vettel won (and took 25 points) and Alonso finished 3rd (to take 15 points), he'll realise that he's fallen further behind, despite making up the most places out of the title protagonists.
A lot has been made of Lotus failing to win a race this season, but more often than not it has been their performances on Saturday that has meant they're too far behind other potentially race winning cars when it comes to the race itself. Kimi needs to start beating Alonso soon, and that will only really happen if he can improve his performance on Saturday's. Singapore appeared to be same old same old for Lotus, unfortunately.
Force India finally turn potential race pace into actual race pace
Paul di Resta finished with a fantastic 4th place.
As the heading says really, Force India appear to have finally turned their potential race pace into actual race pace. On too many occasions this season we've seen them qualify well, having both cars in the top 10 several times, but have then dropped back in the race and taken home just a couple of points.
Throughout Friday and Saturday it became apparent that the Force India was going to be a quick car, something reinforced by Paul Di Resta's brilliant qualifying performance; setting the 6th fastest time. Paul looked very strong throughout the race, with the team even thinking that a podium result was on towards the end of the race. Unlike their main rivals, Sauber and Williams, Force India haven't been able to make it on to the podium this year.
Today was as close as they've come, and the team should be full of confidence heading into the next few races. The pace was there not only on Friday and Saturday, but Sunday as well and for the first time all season the team have put together an all round strong showing.
Is the title fight now between Alonso and Vettel?
With the retirement of Lewis Hamilton, 6th place finish for Kimi Raikkonen and no points for Mark Webber (after being penalised for overtaking Kobayashi whilst having four wheels off the circuit); is the title fight just down to Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel? Before this weekend many expected it to be just between the aforementioned drivers and Lewis Hamilton, but with Lewis' DNF today, is he now out of the title hunt? He's dropped from 2nd to 4th in the standings and now finds himself 52 points behind Alonso. Had Lewis won today and Alonso finished 4th the gap would have been just 24 points, but is 52 just too big of a gap? There's still 150 points on offer this season and with the way the McLaren and Lewis are performing you'd be a fool to definitely rule him out. All it needs is for Alonso to have a couple of non scores, which could easily happen (as shown by Lewis today), and the fight would be back on.
It seems less and less likely that Lotus will win a race, and even if they do it may now be too late. Mark in the second Red Bull has been a poor run since he signed his new deal and is now a full 62 points behind the championship leader. So is it just between Alonso and Vettel? At this stage yes, but as shown by today's race, anything can happen in Formula 1. If Lewis wins in Suzuka and closes the gap back down to under 40 points, then he is very much in with a shout. If Alonso extends his lead, then I can only see it being between him and Seb.