F1: Untroubled Singapore victory for Hamilton

By Andy Darley

CalendarSunday, September 27th, 2009

 
 

Lewis Hamilton won the Singapore Grand Prix and Jenson Button moved a big step closer to succeeding him as world champion as their closest rivals all saw their races wrecked by errors and mechanical failures.

The McLaren driver easily led home Timo Glock and Fernando Alonso while, behind the podium drivers, the story of the day was Button’s remarkable salvage of a race which he began back in 12th but ended by increasing his championship lead.

Hamilton’s pole position had been protected from late attacks by Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg when qualifying was brought to an early close by a crash. In the race itself, both drivers were prevented from seriously challenging him for the win by drive-through penalties following pitlane errors.

Rosberg jumped Vettel at the start and kept Hamilton in his sights until he cut the white line exiting the pits after his first stop. His penalty was announced just before Adrian Sutil triggered a safety car period by knocking Nick Heidfeld out of the race, and could not be taken until after normal racing resumed – by which time the field was bunched up and Rosberg was relegated to near the back.

This left Vettel as Hamilton’s closest challenger, and he closed to within eight tenths of a second by lap 30 before Hamilton opened the gap a little. But the German’s chance of a podium ended when he was handed a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pitlane 10 laps later and immediately ran wide over a kerb, sending portions of his rear diffuser skywards and placing a cap on his ultimate pace.

With his two closest rivals disposed of, Hamilton was able to canter to a simple victory ahead of Glock and Alonso.

He said the race gave him a chance to make up for throwing away a podium at the previous race by crashing on the final lap: “This is the perfect end to a fantastic weekend. We came here hoping for a good result, and I wanted to redeem myself after the last lap in Monza.

“The race was physically very tough for all the drivers, but it was actually quite straightforward for me. I made a good start and I knew I was running longer than the guys behind me, so I was able to bridge the gap back to them. It was a very nicely controlled race in that way.

“The team did radio me about a small problem with KERS – but I didn’t have a problem in the cockpit and was able to just disable it and then re-engage it. It worked fine after that.”

Alonso had started strongly from the clean side of the track, passing Mark Webber and threatening Vettel, but could not get through and found himself in a side-by-side battle to hold his place from the Australian. Webber gained the advantage and Glock saw the chance to also nip past the former world champion.

But on lap seven Webber, running fourth and being dropped by Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel, was told to allow Alonso past by stewards objecting to the manner in which he had won back the place. Since Webber could not allow Alonso through without first allowing Glock past, the Toyota driver was gifted a largely unnoticed drive to second place at the flag.

Alonso’s third place put him legitimately on the Singapore podium a year after Nelson Piquet’s deliberate crash put him there by deception – and Renault’s former sponsor ING, whose logos could not be removed from the team’s uniforms in time for the race, got one last burst of publicity despite their break from the team.

Behind the podium drivers Vettel held off Button to take fourth, the championship leader drawing up to the back of his Red Bull rival on lap 56 of 61 before severe brake wear forced him to back off and nurse his car home.

Team-mate and championship rival Rubens Barrichello was suffering his own brake problems, but had enough left to mount a late charge in pursuit of the ailing Button, closing a 10 second gap in the final three laps to finish right on his tail.

Button’s recovery from qualifying 12th began before the race even began, when BMW discovered they had sent Heidfeld out to qualify in car without enough ballast and admitted the error to the FIA, resulting in their driver being sent to the back of the grid for runner underweight. This shifted both Brawn drivers forward a place – and, crucially, moved them off the dirty side of the track at the start.

The safety car caused by Sutil’s crash damaged Button’s race because it fell during the pit stop window, forcing the drivers who had planned long first stints to pit earlier than they had wanted. This prevented him from jumping McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen by staying out longer.

But when Mark Webber’s front right brake died on lap 46, sending him spinning artistically into a tyre barrier, Button was one of the few drivers not to dive straight into the pits in anticipation of a safety car that never came.

Among the one who did were Kovalainen and Barrichello – who compounded the strategic error with a stall in the pits – and the world championship leader used his extra laps with a lighter car to good effect, earning himself a points finish that had looked impossible during the gloom of the post-qualifying post mortem.

He said: “It was a good race for me and I’m happy with fifth position and four more points today. Getting ahead of Kazuki off the line was key and that really made my race. The first stint was quite frustrating as I could see Rubens getting away from me whilst I was stuck behind Heikki with a heavier fuel load.

“The safety car then made it very difficult as I still had fuel for a few more laps and should have been able to make up two places at my first stop. I had to put in some quick laps before my second stop to close up to Rubens and then we were pushing to catch Sebastian before deciding to save the brakes and settle for the fifth position.

“The weekend hasn’t been quite what we expected but it’s good to come through from 11th on the grid to score points today. I’ll go to Japan tomorrow feeling very positive and looking forward to the next race.”

Behind Barrichello the final points were taken by Kovalainen and Robert Kubica. Kazuki Nakajima proved again unable to score a world championship point in ninth place, although he did fend off extreme pressure from kimi Raikkonen in the final laps.

The final finishers were Rosberg, Jarno Trulli, Giancarlo Fisichella and Vitantonio Liuzzi. Both Toro Rossos were garaged by their team within seconds of each other, one with brake problems and the other with gearbox issues, while Romain Grosjean retired after three laps with a similar brake issue to the one that blighted his qualifying.

Singapore Grand Prix result

  1. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren
  2. Timo Glock, Toyota
  3. Fernando Alonso, Renault
  4. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull
  5. Jenson Button, Brawn
  6. Rubens Barrichello, Brawn
  7. Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren
  8. Robert Kubica, BMW
  9. Kazuki Nakajima, Williams
  10. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari
  11. Nico Rosberg, Williams
  12. Jarno Trulli, Toyota
  13. Giancarlo Fisichella, Ferrari
  14. Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India

Not classified

  • Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso
  • Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso
  • Mark Webber, Red Bull
  • Adrian Sutil, Force India
  • Nick Heidfeld, BMW
  • Romain Grosjean, Renault

Drivers’ championship

  1. Jenson Button, 84
  2. Rubens Barrichello, 69
  3. Sebastian Vettel, 59
  4. Mark Webber, 51.5
  5. Kimi Raikkonen, 40
  6. Lewis Hamilton, 37
  7. Nico Rosberg, 30.5
  8. Fernando Alonso, 26
  9. Timo Glock, 24
  10. Jarno Trulli, 22.5
  11. Felipe Massa, 22
  12. Heikki Kovalainen, 22
  13. Nick Heidfeld, 12
  14. Robert Kubica, 9
  15. Giancarlo Fisichella, 8
  16. Adrian Sutil, 5
  17. Sebastien Buemi, 3
  18. Sebastien Bourdais, 2
  19. Kazuki Nakajima, 0
  20. Nelson Piquet Jnr, 0
  21. Luca Badoer, 0
  22. Vitantonio Liuzzi, 0
  23. Romain Grosjean, 0
  24. Jaime Alguersuari, 0

Constructors’ championship

  1. Brawn, 153
  2. Red Bull, 110.5
  3. Ferrari, 62
  4. McLaren, 59
  5. Toyota, 46.5
  6. Williams, 30.5
  7. Renault, 26
  8. BMW, 21
  9. Force India, 13
  10. Toro Rosso, 5

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