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THREE TAKEAWAYS: 2017 Singapore Grand Prix

Formula 1 treated fans to one of its most exciting races of the year as Singapore celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Marina Bay Street Circuit with the series’ first wet night competition.

On a circuit which is traditionally Mercedes’ bogey track, Lewis Hamilton led every lap to take his seventh win of 2017 ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas. Hamilton is the first driver to take three in a row this year after Belgium and Italy.

He inherited the victory after a dramatic opening lap crash involving poleman Sebastian Vettel, teammate Kimi Raikkonen, and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Just 12 of the 20 drivers completed the two-hour distance as the contest had the highest number of retirements in 2017.

The drivers’ championship fight has decreased, with Hamilton extending his three-point advantage to 28, with a maximum of 25 for a win.

Has Vettel Thrown Away The Title?

One of the questions answered after the event was what role Vettel played in the incident.

From multiple viewings of the accident, it appears that the German gradually slides left to try and stop Verstappen from attacking him, with Raikkonen going on Verstappen’s left-hand side to attempt to and snatch first place.

The Finn’s right-rear tire collided with the front left of the Dutchman’s car, sending him speeding without stopping into Turn 1, hitting the side of the Red Bull before Fernando Alonso becomes involved. Vettel continued momentarily before spinning into the Turn 3 wall, destroying his front wing.

The last time before this the German had a DNF was in Malaysia last season. It was then that Hamilton suffered power unit failure and the championship fell away from his grasp and towards Nico Rosberg. Has karma gone back into his direction, with nothing to choose between the two drivers who both have shown strong previous form at the upcoming tracks?

Meanwhile, Alonso was almost up to third early on, but took his ninth DNF of the year, tying his worst career record set back in 2001 at Minardi. Water is wet for the Spaniard.

Hamilton Again Shows Wet Weather Class

The three-time champion is probably one of the few drivers on the grid you would want to drive in damp conditions, and he set multiple fastest laps on his way to victory. His time of 1m45.008s is a new record with the faster 2017 machinery.

He made his way from fifth on the grid thanks to the chaos ahead and an important move around the right-hand side of a slow-starting Ricciardo before carrying on at the very right of the track to avoid becoming a passenger in the debris above.

“I came in and I saw that it was raining and I knew that this balances everything out,” he said. “I love racing in the rain, then everything unfolded in the beginning. Starting on the Intermediates I thought it was going to be much closer pace-wise. These conditions give you the opportunity to really make a difference with your driving.”

Ricciardo’s job to finish 4.5 seconds off the winner seemed impressive when his team principal Christian Horner said after the race that he had to control an issue.

“After the [initial] restart (Lap 5 of 58), Daniel started to lose an awful lot of gearbox oil, which created a lot of problems with oil pressure, and we were feeling that it was looking unlikely that Daniel would get to the end of the race,” he said. “However, he managed to nurse the gearbox of the car incredibly well for three-quarters of the Grand Prix, and though able to hold off any threat from behind from Valtteri, unfortunately he could not attack Lewis ahead.”

It was a familiar story for Valtteri Bottas. Many have wondered whether he can match up in damp or wet conditions after his spin in China earlier in the year, and he finished 8.8s behind in third. Not only that, but his drinks bottle was not fully working in one of the most physically-demanding tracks the series visits.

“In the dry, the car was performing better than expected and the pace was very good for Lewis and me,” he said. “In the wet, I struggled a bit more than him. It’s nice to bring a trophy home after what has been a tricky weekend for me.”

Notable Drivers Suffer Ups And Downs

Days after news of Carlos Sainz swapping Toro Rosso for Renault and Renault powering McLaren next season, all three parties had a solid Singapore night.

Sainz took a career-best fourth-place, while the replaced Jolyon Palmer finished just ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne in sixth. Rumors still say Palmer could have had his last contest with the team, but a positive performance won’t hurt as he looks for a new home on the grid or in another series for 2018.

Two drivers suffered difficult results due to car problems. Nico Hulkenberg was fourth until an oil leak took him to pit lane. He also spent some laps in the top-three, but collects the record for most starts without a podium in F1 history, beating Adrian Sutil’s total of 128. Haas’ Kevin Magnussen was fighting for points until an electrical failure.

What’s Next?

The 10th running doesn’t end Singapore’s story for now, as it signed a new four-year deal before the weekend to continue hosting the sport until 2021, confirming its place on 2018’s 21-race calendar.

Drivers now head to Malaysia for the final event in that country in two weeks’ time as the fight to become champion comes down to the next two months.

EMAIL CAMERON AT @cpatersonf1@gmail.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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VIDEO – Ocon Wins Three-Wide Battle for One Point

So how important is a single point in Formula 1? If you were watching the Australian Grand Prix, you might have gotten a pretty clear answer.

In F1 competition, only the top-10 spots pay points at the end of the event, so drivers are forced to push the envelope to try and be in the front half of the field. As the laps were winding down on Sunday, the desperation showed.

With six laps to go, Nico Hulkenberg held down the position – but only just ahead of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso. With Ocon and Alonso both closing, it made for a thrilling sequence of events through the back half of the course.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWjm1NEFdyA

 

For Ocon, it marked his first ever point in an F1 event after racing the second half of the schedule last season with Manor Racing.

“Scoring my first point in Melbourne is a very nice reward after what has been quite a tough weekend,” he said. “I spent almost the entire race fighting against Fernando [Alonso] because we were side-by-side for the first lap of the race. He was able to stay ahead, and I had to chase him for the rest of the afternoon. It was a hard fight because Fernando is a tough opponent and it was so difficult to get close and overtake. Eventually, I found a gap in the last few laps and took my chance going into turn one. It was a big moment for my race and took me into the points. I’m happy with the result, and I feel I’ve learned a huge amount from my first race weekend with this team. I hope this is the first point of many this season.”

Combined with teammate Sergio Perez finishing seventh, Deputy Team Principal Robert Fernley was happy to walk away from the weekend with seven points, stating it is “a fantastic reward for all the hard work over the winter and this weekend.”

“Esteban also delivered a fantastic drive, and everyone in the team was delighted to see him score his first point in Formula One,” he added. “His race-long fight with Fernando Alonso was one of the big stories of the race and seeing Esteban overtake with just six laps to go was great entertainment for the fans.

“Starting the season with a good bunch of points is always an important boost for the team and shows we have good reliability too. We know there is more performance to come, but we’ve started with our best foot forward and will head to Shanghai determined to build on these results.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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THREE TAKEAWAYS: Abu Dhabi GP

After American racing ended, Formula One and its sister series’ were the only thing left to look forward to until the end of the year.

Apart from announcements over next year with the calendar and three seats still to be sorted, the period of waiting and trying to kick off the withdrawal symptoms until the sounds of engines and cars gets the blood pumping in the first few months of next year.

ABU DHABI DECIDER

The final F1 race of 2016 at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was a bit like an end of semester day, just waiting for the inevitable to happen with Nico Rosberg walking away with the title.

This could be conceived because of his consistent driving; however, the circuit in question is yet to give an exciting championship decider.

This year’s contest was the third to happen at the circuit after Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton’s 2010 and 2014 victories to win the title, and it was the first time the title has been won by someone not winning the race in the country.

Question marks will remain whether it should be moved on the calendar in future years to bring a bit more entertainment to the final race in circuits such as Interlagos in Brazil.

FERRARI OPTIMISM?

Vettel used an interesting strategy that was unique to those around him, going from ultrasoft tires to softs then using supersofts for his final stint.

The Ferrari driver led laps during the middle part of the race and caught up to pass Max Verstappen and was incredibly close to a shock win, albeit because of the pace of the Mercedes cars in front.

After the race, he believed that this could be used as inspiration to develop their next car for the 2017 season.

“I hope it gives some momentum to all of us,” he said. “It has been a tough year, with lots of ups and downs, so I am really happy with the result. About our global performance in 2016, I think we don’t need to find any story or invent something.”

He agreed with the thoughts of many that Ferrari could have had better results in the first few races of the season had they capitalized on strategy and Mercedes start errors.

“I think we expected more; but after the first half, where we could have scored more points, I think we showed real strength by coming back. In the last couple of Grands Prix we had very good race pace, always enough to match Red Bull, and probably even a bit quicker: but that was not the case on Saturdays, and that made Sundays more difficult.

“Overall we showed the stamina the team has. The spirit is unbroken, and I know that we will work hard, because Ferrari deserves to come back.”

Ferrari could well improve in 2017, but Mercedes and Red Bull are expected to be top-two teams at the start of next year. The Italian team could be left in a zone not fast enough to challenge and not slow enough to lose third place in the Constructors’ Championship.

His podium finish means that he finishes ahead of Verstappen in fourth place in the championship. The German finishes with 212 points, eight more than his Dutch rival.

REACHING THE PEAK?

Force India completed a dream 2016 season with another double points finish in Abu Dhabi.

Nico Hulkenberg finished seventh, one place ahead of teammate Sergio Perez, for a third straight double points haul and fifth in the last six races.

The result leaves Perez with 101 points in the Drivers’ Championship, the first time a Force India driver has finished with over 100 points, with Hulkenberg on 72. This secured their fourth-place finish in the Constructors’ Championship.

It is a great achievement, but it is surely the highest they will ever get in the Constructors’ Championship. They don’t have the budget of other teams who can throw money at problems and move up the pecking order. They still have the talent of Perez to help them secure points, however, if he improves any further he will surely be moving on to another team in future.

In other notable championship finishes, Fernando Alonso confirmed a tenth place finish by finishing tenth in the race. Williams’ Felipe Massa did finish ahead of him in ninth on track but needed to finish eighth or higher to steal the position from the Spaniard.

Other championship positions remained the same after a mostly unsurprising race.

EMAIL CAMERON AT cpatersonf1@gmail.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Hulkenberg’s Move: Damned if you do, Damned if you don’t

Nico Hulkenberg has made the bravest move in Formula One for 2017 so far, confirming a switch to Renault from Force India.

Hulkenberg’s move should carve open the driver market for next season. Mercedes-backed driver Pascal Wehrlein could well end up at Force India to further his career, or another driver could go there to move forward, leaving smaller teams such as Manor the possibility to bring up GP2 drivers or drivers who can bring money with them from elsewhere.

It is only once in a season you see these moves being made. Lewis Hamilton’s move to Mercedes from McLaren for 2013 seemed insane at the time, and nobody would have believed that Sergio Perez would have more podiums that McLaren during the last three seasons since leaving the team. Romain Grosjean has claimed more than three times the points total of his former team Lotus (now Renault) since deciding to move to Haas for 2016.

Hulkenberg’s move is in that bracket of switches which could go well, but it is a risk. If he were in a casino, he’s just put his Formula One career on yellow. There are many distinct factors behind making this decision.

This year has been very much a reset for Renault, just getting used to life back in Formula One, and for the staff of the team who continued at Enstone, just having stability after the financial crises that happened at Lotus in 2015.

At Hulkenberg’s current team, they have been enjoying their best year in the Constructors’ Championship, sitting in fourth place. Many would think that he is mad for going for a team at this time who have a worse car.

However, the Renault move is the only real positive that Hulkenberg could find and gives him a plan going forward.

Force India can’t go any further with their position in the sport, and if they were to be somehow in the top three next season, it would either be a miracle or because of other teams having unbelievably, bad starts to the season.

That team cannot afford to race at the levels of the top three teams, Mercedes, Red Bull or Ferrari and in 2016, have maxxed out their position. They may even come under threat from Williams, McLaren or Renault as teams who have the talent within them to progress their cars in future months and slip down the order.

Renault, however, could always return to that position of cars and could potentially have the facilities to use more budget than Force India.

They are not only a manufacturer, but they are surely allowing him the chance to be the focal point of a team’s attention as lead driver. This is a situation he has not had since being paired with rookie Esteban Gutierrez at Sauber in 2013. His experience should allow him to push the team forward through the season.

Compared to being consistently rated against Perez, he could have the opportunity to beat a younger teammate and again put his name on the lips of fans who are looking for something fresh to emerge as a future driver on the podium or winning a race.

He has been out-qualified 9-8 and outraced 11-6 so far in 2016 by teammate Perez, and his career has rather stalled and left him as a decent top ten driver, but on the long list of drivers who never have fulfilled their real ambition yet.

Perez, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen and Williams’ Valtteri Bottas are all ahead of him as consistent podium finishers and first thoughts over the future of Formula One, being younger than current championship challengers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, both 31 years old.

If he stayed at Force India, he might have forever been the ‘nearly-man’. He may still end up to be unlucky in the sport, but he has given himself a chance to breakthrough, potentially for one last chance as he edges towards being 30 next year and time goes against him.

EMAIL CAMERON AT cpatersonf1@gmail.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.