Singapore GP 2017: Sensational pole turned into race-ending first-lap collision!

Marina Bay Street Circuit catches my eye every time, even though last weekend marked already the 10th GP weekend in Singapore. The dark night and the artificial lights bring out the glamour in Formula 1 cars. Sebastian Vettel and Marina Bay has been a magical combination, as Sebastian has already claimed three pole positions and three victories, coming to this weekend. 

The magic continued in qualifying. Compared to Monza, the pecking order had turned around significantly. Mercedes was struggling heavily with their pace, which was expected. The battle for pole came down to two teams, Red Bull and Ferrari. Verstappen and Ricciardo were topping the timesheets in Q2, but when the decisive Q3 got underway, Sebastian’s SF70-H came alive. It was pure magic right from the beginning. Sebastian took provisional pole, edging Verstappen by 0.145s. Ricciardo was third and Kimi fourth after the first runs. The Mercedes teammates Hamilton and Bottas were inevitably out of the shootout for pole. Neither one of the Red Bull drivers managed to improve their lap time on the last flyer. Kimi was setting superb lap time on his second attempt - until he slightly touched the wall in the final sector, which ruined the Iceman’s hopes of improving his lap time! Teammate Sebastian was absolutely flying on his last run, and not even a small kiss to the wall prevented him from storming on pole! At the end of the qualifying, there were massive three tenths separating the front row runners Sebastian and Verstappen. Ricciardo qualified third, and, due to his mistake, Kimi had to settle for P4. Hamilton was fifth, already six tenths down on pole-setter Sebastian. Teammate Bottas was already a light year (1.3s) down on the pace-setting Ferrari ace. 

I had my fears before the start, as I knew that Verstappen was going to start alongside Sebastian on the front row. Max is known to be passionate to get past his rivals without hesitation, so I knew it could be a risky start. But it turned out way more horrific than I could ever have imagined! It had started to rain about half an hour before the lights went out. The sky was covered with black clouds and there were flashes of lightning. The top three teams decided to start to the race on the green-marked intermediate tyres, whereas Force India and Renault opted for the full-wet Pirellis.

What a heart-stopping start it was! Sebastian took an average start, the poorest of the top three. After a great start, Max was lurking for a chance to overtake the German. Kimi had taken an absolutely fantastic start, and the Iceman was already alongside Verstappen. Sebastian decided to defend his position, which he was more than entitled to do. But to defend his line, he moved significantly to the left, which lead into contact between the top three! In spite of the contact, Sebastian drove into Turn 1 in the lead, but because of to the contact, Kimi lost control of his SF70-H and ended up crashing into Verstappen’s RB13, taking both of them out of the race. Sebastian had significant damage to his car as well, as the cooler had failed. Sebastian only made it Turn 3, where he lost control of his SF70-H and ended up in the wall. There was an absurd moment, when Sebastian was driving on reverse, desperately trying to continue the race. But his race was inevitably and shockingly over! This was the first time ever that both Ferraris were out of the race due to a first-lap incident! I was absolutely shocked. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. It had to be a nightmare! Hamilton had just been given the greatest gift - the lead in the race. 

Safety car was deployed due to the collision. Ricciardo in his Red Bull was second, Renault’s Hulkenberg was third, Force India’s Perez was fourth, and Bottas in his Mercedes was fifth. Who could have predicted this, especially Hulkenberg’s P3? When the safety car came in on lap 5, the rain had stopped, but there was still spray coming from the cars, affecting the visibility. However, there were more safety car episodes to come. On lap 11 Kvyat lost control of his Toro Rosso and ended up in the barriers, nose first. As the safety car came out, Ricciardo pitted for a fresh set of intermediate tyres, whereas both Mercedes drivers decided to stay out. As both Force India and Renault reacted to Ricciardo’s pit stop, Bottas had already made it in P3. 

After the restart, Hamilton was leading the race, with Ricciardo second and Bottas third. Haas’ Magnussen was the first driver to switch to the dry tyres on lap 25. A few laps later the top three drivers also pitted for the dry rubber. The Mercedes teammates opted for a fresh set of ultra-soft Pirellis, whereas Ricciard’s choice was the red-marked super soft compound. By the halfway point of the race, Hamilton had already built a 10-second gap to Ricciardo. Bottas, on the other hand, was already 16 seconds down on the Australian.

However, Ericsson’s crash to the wall made the safety car come out for the third time on lap 38. Meanwhile, Renault’s Hulkenberg, who had been driving a superb race in P4, was hit with an engine issue, which dropped the German down to P10. Some laps later the unlucky German was forced to retire. The German now has the questionable honour to hold the record of most GP starts without a podium, which is now 129 races.

Hamilton drove to the chequered flag as the race winner. Ricciardo finished the runner-up, and Bottas made the day perfect for Mercedes by finishing third. Sainz scored his personal best by finishing fourth for Toro Rosso. Perez took fifth for the pink Force India, and Renault’s Palmer was impressive sixth. The result was a total knockout for Ferrari who lost the round by 0-40 to Mercedes! The catastrophic first-lap collision resulted into Hamilton’s 28-point lead in the drivers’ championship standings! It feels so bitter. This could be a turning point in terms of Sebastian’s fight for the fifth championship... It doesn’t need to be that, but it could well be so. The situation in the constructors’ standings is even more dramatic; the Red Team is already massive 102 points down on Mercedes. 

Since the first lap of the Singapore GP, there have been a lot of talk on who was at fault at the first-lap collision. It was relieving to hear after the race that the FIA gave no penalties to anyone for causing the collision, so no one was given full responsibility for the incident. However, in my opinion, the collision would have been avoided. Sebastian had the right to defend his position, but not by any means necessary! The dramatic change of line was a risk, which had catastrophic consequences for his team. I hope that this collision won’t cost Sebastian the championship this year... If it does, I’m going to cry my eyes out! 

In spite of the bitter disappointment, there are six more rounds to go. Malaysia will be the next chance for Sebastian to chase the much-needed victory. Sebastian has the potential needed to convert this setback into success. I believe in Sebastian and the Red Team with all my heart. And victories or no victories, I always support Sebastian and Kimi from the bottom of my heart! Forza Ferrari! 

With passion for racing red, 
Iina Huhmarniemi

Sep 19, 2017