Apologies for the slight delay to this article. It wasn’t planned to be later than usual.
Although Vettel got a rather boring pole there was more of interest than expected in Q3, and the grid is nicely setup. It’s worth considering that there’s a very small run (the shortest in F1, I think) to the first corner, which may hinder Alonso and other quick starters.
Q1 was a standard affair, with the pointless teams joined by Di Resta (who it seems is making a habit of this) and Maldonado. Di Resta, unusually, didn’t blame his team. I suspect this is because the driver market is in full swing and now is not the time to whine.
Q2 had an exciting climax, as the track rubbered in and got substantially faster (a factor we’d see heavily affect the end of Q3 as well). Raikkonen, injured with a bad back, left the stage here, and Hulkenberg was nudged down into eleventh when his teammate surprisingly got the seventh fastest time. Vergne, Perez, Sutil and Bottas also failed to make Q3.
Vettel had such an advantage (six tenths) in Q3 he didn’t bother doing a final run. The decision nearly backfired, as Rosberg got within a tenth of a second, but it wasn’t quite enough and we have a Teutonic front row. Grosjean had a fantastic (and slightly surprising given Q2 times) third, and Webber got a slightly disappointing fourth. Hamilton will be irked with fifth, not only because it’s a bit low but also because his team mate has looked better than him all weekend (reminiscent of Monaco, another very slow street circuit). Massa and Alonso come next, with Button, Ricciardo and Gutierrez (who did not set a time) rounding out the top 10.
There are small margins between the top 5, but the cumulative effect is to put Hamilton half a second off of Vettel. There’s also half a second from Hamilton to Massa (in short: the Ferraris are a second off the Red Bull).
Singapore is a circuit where passing is very hard, and safety cars are nigh on certain (7 in 5 races, with at least 1 appearance every race to date). There appears to be very little chance of rain.
The near certain safety car’s a bit of an odd one. Everyone knows it’s likely, so they’ll all have contingency plans, but you can’t hold off pitting forever and it seems likely one or more drivers will end up being compromised by its appearance. It’s also worth considering that the race is very long and that cars could break. We’ve seen Red Bull nurse gearboxes home and Rosberg’s suffered multiple DNFs due to his car breaking down earlier in the season.
I had an inkling of something and checked the last three races at the circuit. In two of the last three the chap starting 10th finished 6th or higher. I was unsure about backing Gutierrez or Hulkenberg (the former starts one place ahead, but on the ‘dirty’ side of the track) so I’ve backed both, splitting one stake evenly (so it counts as a single tip for my records). I’ve backed Gutierrez at 14 and Hulkenberg at 9.4, with hedges set up at 3 and 4 respectively. Both are able to use the medium (prime) tyre, and Gutierrez is all but certain to do so (he set no Q3 time). Plus, their pace is good enough not to be passed with ease, and with 29 seconds for a pit stop and traffic being hellish if an early one is needed (and potentially reliability issues for cars ahead) I think there’s a reasonable chance of one of them getting into the top 6.
Hopefully this’ll prove a cunning bet, rather than sleep-addled idiocy. Time will tell.