Another twist in the race for the title

The fact that Valtteri Bottas was so far behind Lewis Hamilton underlined what a great job the Briton had done. Unless he has a couple of DNFs, the title is Hamilton’s to lose.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton celebrates on the podium after winning the Singapore Grand Prix.   -  AP

First off, I must say Singapore is one of the most enjoyable race weekends to go to. It’s an interesting event, and it’s always a race where something interesting happens — this year’s race was no exception.

It’s surreal in the dark when just the track is lit, and you know everyone is asleep. We do a lot of walking, to and from the hotel and the paddock. I also love running on the track. I did 46 kilometres of walking over the four days, according to my pedometer. It’s tiring but enjoyable, and the fact that we are on European time means there’s no jet lag!

The big talking point of the Singapore Grand Prix is the incident literally off the start. The stewards decided not to penalise anyone for it, but I think Sebastian Vettel will regret the whole thing. Starting on pole position — knowing that his World Championship rival is down in fifth position; knowing he has a great chance to retake the lead in the championship and get a huge haul of points on the board — he’ll regret closing out Max Verstappen in the way that he did. It wasn’t a risk he needed to take.

At the start, you can completely shut the guy out instantaneously and cause them to lift, like Michael Schumacher used to do, but the way Seb did, it meant he was actually covering a lot more distance. If he had just gone straight Max might have come alongside him, but in the wet you tend to have more grip around the outside. Fernando Alonso did that and was unlucky to get caught up by going around the outside — that is the risk, but if you watch the videos from the last eight years, he has gone for the outside and won a lot of places. The low-risk strategy for Seb would have been to go dead straight and if Max comes up on the inside, the German would have the speed and the grip to just drive around him.

In reality, even if Vettel had lost the lead, it’s a two-hour race and a lot can happen, and it wasn’t like he was losing it to Lewis Hamilton. He would have known a lot can happen in those conditions and that there was going to be a safety car. This could have been the weekend where he could have scored heavily against Lewis because everything was stacked so heavily in his favour. The grid was made for Vettel, and he had two Red Bulls and Kimi Raikkonen between him and Lewis. The opportunity was there for him to score 10/15 points more than his rival.

We can’t blame Max at all, he held the steering wheel absolutely straight and there was nothing he could do. Seb would not have known Kimi was further to the inside of Max, and therefore his thought process would have been ‘I’m going to close it down and Max will move further left.’

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel (No. 5) tries to close out Max Verstappen of Red Bull but ends up pushing him into his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen (No. 7). The incident forced the three drivers out of the race.   -  AP

It was interesting speaking with the NASCAR legend, Jeff Gordon, after the race about how they would have had a spotter telling them it’s three wide. I remember watching the onboard (camera) of Takuma Sato years ago, and Jock Clear — who is now at Ferrari, funnily enough — was on the radio straight away saying ‘go left’, or ‘go right’, ‘somebody on the inside’ by just watching it on TV. It’s hard to say whether that is something Seb should be doing now, but judging by how things transpired you have to say there’s some merit in what Jeff Gordon is saying.

Once Lewis got into the lead and it all settled down after three corners, he was superb. There was absolutely no way anyone was going to stop him. In those tricky conditions it is easy to say ‘Oh, well that was a bit dull’. It was quite anti-climactic frankly, but you can’t underestimate the concentration levels, the focus levels or the pin-point accuracy that the drivers were having to use at every braking zone, with every steering input, and every time they applied the throttle. You can’t drive on auto-pilot, you have to be so in the zone and at a heightened level of concentration. It’s easy to underestimate that.

On a weekend when he knew Mercedes was on the back-foot and from Friday that it was probably the third-favourite team, Lewis was brilliant. He drove away from Daniel Ricciardo, who had no chance of fighting. We know that Ricciardo is no slouch in the dry or the wet, and we also know the Red Bull is very good in the wet. The fact that Valtteri Bottas was so far behind Lewis underlined what a great job the Briton had done. Unless he has a couple of DNFs, the title is Hamilton’s to lose.

We often hope for rain to add an element of jeopardy and to make the race more interesting, but I was actually quite disappointed the rain came down. We had all the ingredients for a fantastic contest: we had three teams, all very close and competitive, and Seb against two Red Bulls that had great race pace — better than anyone else. Red Bull could have had two dogs in the fight against one, so there were a lot of opportunities for the race to really unfold in an interesting way.

The big news was that Carlos Sainz has taken Jolyon Palmer’s seat for 2018, and both had their best-ever career results. Carlos drove a superb race and didn’t put a foot wrong, he really outperformed Daniil Kvyat all weekend yet again. He was unchallenged in fifth place, which became fourth, and thoroughly deserves that works Renault drive.

Jolyon finally got some points on the board, but he’s been extremely unlucky this year. He’s had reliability issues — not just in qualifying or the races but also in practice and that has a knock-on effect. I was very pleased for him. Renault has proved it probably is the fourth fastest car in terms of speed. Nico Hulkenberg was the best of the rest in qualifying and could have challenged Bottas for the podium. He was going to have fourth until he ran into reliability problems and that has been an Achilles heel.

The championship now is really Lewis’ to lose, and we go on to Malaysia for the last Grand Prix there. That’s a shame, I think. Sepang was the first F1 circuit I drove at back in 2001. It’s a great track and a great challenge that the temperature only makes it harder. It has fast, flowing corners, overtaking zones, and the width to go three or four wide. Something always happens there and I’m looking forward to it.