Having ended the previous race in Italy in the barriers, McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton entered the 2009 Singapore Grand Prix sorely wanting to make amends. On the eve of the 2013 Formula 1 Singtel Singapore Grand Prix, we remember how the then reigning world champion redeemed himself with a masterful drive under the lights…
When Lewis Hamilton crashed out of third place on the last lap of the 2009 Italian Grand Prix there was plenty of debate. Many criticized the Briton for pushing too hard and throwing away a guaranteed podium finish, while others praised his relentless pursuit of second-placed Jenson Button and his never-say-die racer’s attitude.
But whichever side of the fence you sat on, it was hard to argue that the 2009 season had been anything other than a huge let down for the reigning champion and his McLaren team, who headed to round 14 of the championship in Singapore with just one win (in Hungary) under their belts and, following the shunt at Monza, plenty to prove.
At least when Hamilton arrived at the Marina Bay Street Circuit for the second running of the unique night race he was again being talked of as a contender for victory – after all, for the majority of the year he’d been powerless to challenge the likes of Brawn and Red Bull, until McLaren’s dramatic mid-season resurgence. He also knew that whilst the likes of Button and Sebastian Vettel were embroiled in a world title fight, he had very little to lose.
“I remember my race in Singapore last year (2008) was all about damage limitation – I was driving with one eye on the world championship and wasn’t going to take too many risks,” he said. “I was happy to finish on the podium.
“This year, it’s very different – I know I’m out of the title hunt and I want to attack these last four races, pushing for as many victories as I can.”
Unfortunately, Hamilton’s hopes of attacking were hampered from the outset by a car that he found difficult to drive in Friday practice. In response, McLaren opted to give him a new MP4-24 chassis for Saturday, but that necessitated the team working overnight in incredibly muggy conditions to get it ready in time. They were rewarded emphatically, however, when Hamilton dominated final practice, ending up nearly three-tenths of a second ahead of Vettel’s RB5.
The scene was set for a thrilling qualifying battle between the two young chargers and they – along with Williams’ Nico Rosberg, Red Bull’s Mark Webber, Brawn’s Rubens Barrichello, Renault’s Fernando Alonso, Toyota’s Timo Glock, McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen and the BMW-Sauber pair of Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica – duly made it into the Q3 shootout.
But moments after the drivers had completed their first runs – with Hamilton marginally in front of Vettel, but the German lapping very quickly – Barrichello put his Brawn into the barriers and brought out the red flags.
With no opportunities for quicker times, Hamilton duly took pole, ahead of Vettel, Rosberg, Webber, a rather fortunate Barrichello, Alonso, Glock, Heidfeld, Kubica and Kovalainen. Championship leader Button, meanwhile, had qualified his Brawn back in 12th, whilst Ferrari’s miserable season continued with Kimi Raikkonen 13th and Giancarlo Fisichella a distant 18th.
But there was still hope for those lower down the order – despite the tight and twisting nature of the Marina Bay track making it difficult to overtake, the slippery surface, combined with the proximity of the unforgiving barriers and the physical challenge of driving for two hours in intensely humid conditions, would likely lead to several drivers taking an early (ice) bath on Sunday evening.
On race day conditions were as muggy as they had been all weekend. As the sun dipped below the horizon and the hundreds of floodlights came on, a huge crowd began to filter into the grandstands lining the circuit, all anticipating a titanic contest.
With most of the field starting on the hard tyre and seemingly fuelled for a two-stop strategy, it looked like being a straight fight to the flag between the leading contenders. As the red lights were extinguished and the race got underway, Hamilton made a good start and headed the field into the opening turns. Behind him, Rosberg jumped ahead of Vettel who had his hands full fending off the fast-starting Alonso. He eventually managed to keep the Renault behind him and scampered away at the front with Hamilton and Rosberg.
Further round the opening lap and the other Red Bull of Webber was trying his luck passing Alonso, only this time it ended in the Spaniard’s favour with Webber completing the move by running off track and thus having to give Alonso the place back. Taking advantage of the situation, Glock stealthily slipped by the pair of them. Having started out with victory a realistic possibility, Webber’s miserable evening’s work ultimately ended with his car nestled in the barriers at Turn 1 after his right-front brake disc failed late on in proceedings.
Untroubled by the action behind him, Hamilton maintained a steady gap until the first pit stops, secure in the knowledge that he was running heavier than both Rosberg and Vettel. Still, he would have been pleased to hear that Rosberg had slithered his threatening Williams wide coming out of the pits and earned himself a drive-through penalty for crossing the white line. As Rosberg later admitted, it was a ‘silly, silly mistake’ and one that ruined the German’s hopes of a podium.
No sooner had Rosberg been given his penalty than the stewards had their hands full with another incident, deploying the safety car as Force India’s Adrian Sutil clumsily tangled with Heidfeld whilst trying to recover from a spin. In the ensuing pit stop shuffle, Rosberg plummeted further down the order.
When the safety car returned to the pits, Vettel wasted no time in hunting down Hamilton, taking full advantage of his lighter fuel load. The German closed to within a second of the Briton, but lap-after-lap Hamilton calmly absorbed the pressure until Vettel was forced to pit again on Lap 39.
The Red Bull was topped up with fuel and sent on its way with a new set of the racier supersoft tyres. But just as Vettel seemed set to mount a final, furious challenge for race victory, he too was hit with a drive-through penalty, this time for speeding in the pit lane.
In an instant Hamilton’s last major threat was removed and he was able to make a steady final stop and then nurse his McLaren to the finish, relinquishing the lead to Renault’s Fernando Alonso for just four laps before the Spaniard made his final fuel dash.
“This is the perfect end to a fantastic weekend,” said a delighted Hamilton afterwards. “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.”
Behind Hamilton, it wasn’t all bad news for German drivers as Glock kept Alonso at a safe distance to score a superb second place, equalling his career-best finish.
“It was important to get in front of Fernando (Alonso) on the first lap and I was disappointed I didn’t do it at the start,” said the Toyota driver. “I saw he was fighting with Mark (Webber) and I just dived in and made the pass.
“It paid off because after that our strategy worked well; it was the key point in my race. I was just concentrating the whole race on my speed and we didn’t make any mistakes.”
Third place went to the feisty Alonso, who battled hard to give Renault their first podium of the year just days after the team’s former bosses Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds had been banned for their part in the controversial race at the same circuit in 2008.
With the podium places settled, late race interest focused on the battle for the title. Vettel smashed off part of his diffuser on Marina Bay’s unforgiving kerbing, but fought his way back to fourth at the flag. Unfortunately for him, his gutsy drive didn’t count for much as finishing right behind – and limiting his losses – was champion-elect Button. Fifth place edged the Briton closer to the title, especially as his closest points-rival, Brawn team mate Rubens Barrichello, could only manage sixth.
But the evening belonged to a rejuvenated Hamilton, who went a long way to answering his critics with a consummate performance under Singapore’s lights.
“I wanted to redeem myself after the last lap in Monza,” he said with a smile. “We came here hoping for a good result – and we got it!”
- Top Five Formula 1 Teams chase world championship at Silverstone, Nurburgring (roadloans.com)
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- Italian Grand Prix: live (telegraph.co.uk)
- Vettel forges ahead with Italian GP win (arabtimesonline.com)