In a season defined by the pendulum (I’ve mentioned that before), it seems it is currently well and truly swinging in Nico Rosberg’s favour. He became the first non-championship winning driver to win at Singapore yesterday, and did so with a fairly comfortable margin over Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton. Not that Rosberg had things entirely his own way – a dramatic late charge from Daniel Ricciardo put Rosberg under pressure, but backmarkers provided a key shield at a crucial moment, allowing Rosberg to see out the win.
That victory moves him back into the lead in the title fight – by some eight points – and the seeds of this win were sown in the practice sessions. Hamilton just couldn’t find a setup he was happy with, and was robbed of time in P2 due to a hydraulics problem. As a result, Rosberg was .700 of a second quicker in Q3, and Hamilton only managed third on the grid. The Red Bull of Ricciardo sat between the Mercedes pair – there had been signs of a challenge from Red Bull at Singapore, but Ricciardo was still half a second slower than Rosberg in Q3.
The race started with a bang – literally. Nico Hulkenburg was clipped by Carlos Sainz off the line and punted sideways into the pitwall, triggering the immediate deployment of the safety car. It was lap four when the safety car came back in – though someone forgot to tell one of the marshals, who was still on the start/finish straight as the cars came around! Thankfully he was able to get out of the way.
As the top four (Rosberg, Ricciardo, Hamilton and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen) peeled away from the pack, things behind them would get a little feisty. Max Verstappen had qualified fourth but had a poor start and lost a few places, ending up duelling with firstly Carlos Sainz (in a Toro Rosso that was eventually forced to pit for safety reasons; a piece of body work was hanging loose) and then Danill Kvyat in the other Toro Rosso, in a battle that got pretty intense. Kvyat was replaced by Verstappen at Red Bull earlier in the year and had a point to prove, defending aggressively. The superiority of the Red Bull would eventually tell, but it was enjoyable to watch the scrap.
Back towards the front, Raikkonen would snatch third from Hamilton after the Englishman made an error, leaving Hamilton pleading for options. Such an option would come when Mercedes pitted Hamilton for a third time, putting him on fresh supersofts, and Ferrari felt they had no choice but to pit Raikkonen to cover Hamilton off. Unfortunately for Raikkonen and Ferrari, it didn’t work, and Hamilton regained third.
The stops also triggered a stop for Ricciardo, which in turn gave Mercedes a new headache with Rosberg. After his stop, Ricciardo was 2.5 seconds a lap quicker, and Mercedes had to commit to keeping Rosberg out; otherwise he might have lost a podium altogether. He pushed on, and took advantage of traffic to see off the threat, claiming a noteworthy win.
A word on Vettel in the other Ferrari – he had been forced to start from the back of the grid following a roll bar failure in Q1 – he finished fifth, a highly credible result, especially given the difficulties in overtaking here. He is my driver of the day.