Sunday, 23 September 2012

2012 Singapore Grand Prix

All in all, quite an unsatisfying race at the Marina Bay circuit.  Lewis Hamilton had been leading handily if not comfortably, and in the aftermath of his retirement there was a slight air of unreality about proceedings, with "entertainment" and "excitement" provided by several incidents. The resultant safety car periods led to the race feeling disjointed, and contrary to expectation they did not lead to the race at the front becoming any more genuinely exciting.

The form in Singapore largely accorded with the predictions of the pundits and experts.  McLaren maintaining their "post-break" ascendancy, and Red Bull's car and chassis proving more suited to this track than on some preceding circuits. Other outfits which had been prominent in 2012 found Marina Bay less suited to their machinery, and struggled accordingly.

The gearbox maladies which ended Hamilton's involvement will have come as a major frustration to a driver and team who had mustered real impetus in recent races.  Not quite a case of "one step forward, two steps back", but an irritation considering how authoritatively, confidently and decisively the Englishman had performed all weekend. Hamilton's philosophical demeanour after the race was symptomatic of a driver who knew that he himself could have done no more, and who once again had proved a few points.

Sebastian Vettel's fleet practice pace had argued persuasively for him to be considered a potential victor, and Adrian Newey exuded quiet confidence.  Sure enough, during the race Vettel showed signs of threatening Hamilton's lead, but even so his victory was mildly anti-climactic, a case of "what might have been" for neutrals.

Once again, Fernando Alonso displayed that uncanny knack of installing himself there or thereabouts, evading trouble and ably exploiting the machinery at his disposal and any good fortune which came his way. He concentrated on doing his job, whilst watching others encounter drama and disappointment, and the erosion of his championship points lead was less than he might have feared at one stage of the race.

One of the major incidents of the race was Michael Schumacher's collision with Jean-Eric Vergne.  The seven-times champion hinted at a mechanical failure, and looking at the replays, this would seem plausible.  My over-riding emotion was one of relief that nobody was injured, as well as admiration for the dignified and restrained reaction of the young Frenchman.

Unhappily, but also quite predictably, the Sauber team struggled in Singapore.  Much of their potency during this season has stemmed from their straightline speed, and this was negated on a more "technical" circuit such as this. The car also exhibited an aversion to the bumps, and the team appeared at sea on set-up during practice and qualifying.  The remaining races may be more profitable, if offering mixed prospects.

Force India enjoyed a more fruitful meeting, with Paul di Resta delivering a very timely fourth place, a reminder of his qualities.

For once, Pastor Maldonado's detractors were neutralised when the Venezuelan driver was eliminated by hydraulics problems when well-placed in the order.  I still think that his superb achievement in putting the Williams on the front row was not sufficiently heralded, with most people more intent on pondering the potential for fireworks at the first corner in the race itself.  Needless to say, said fireworks failed to materialise.

Looking at the points table, it is now tempting to envisage matters distilling to a straight contest between Vettel and Alonso.  Hamilton probably possesses the quickest car, but the arithmetic is unlikely to work in his favour.  Raikkonen, although currently third, looks less likely to win Grands Prix than he did a few races ago, and does not really have much momentum. Alonso may be content to sit back and watch McLaren and Red Bull share the wins, but take points off each other....

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