Lewis Hamilton took his second victory of 2009 in dominant fashion in the Singapore Grand Prix.
Webber in trouble at start
Hamilton never looked like being headed into the first corner, but there was a desperate scramble behind him as Rosberg and Fernando Alonso moved up from their advantageous positions on the clean side of the track.
Rosberg took second place off Vettel with little difficulty and Alonso, who’d taken Mark Webber with similar ease, shaped up to pass Vettel at the first corner.
Vettel rebuffed Alonso and that left the Renault driver back in the clutches of Webber. He moved around the outside of the Renault at turn seven, but both drivers ran wide and went off the track. Webber held the positon, and Timo Glock darted down the inside of Alonso at the following corner to take fifth.
Webber didn’t keep the position for long. On lap six he slowed and let Glock and Alonso past on the instruction of his team. Whether they felt they were likely to get a penalty, or race control had told them they would, isn’t clear – but Webber was clearly unhappy about the decision after the race.
Penalty stymies Rosberg
With a little more fuel on board than the cars immediately behind him, Hamilton didn’t pull away by much at the front. By lap six he had just 1.9s over Rosberg. That was partly due to problems with the McLaren’s KERS, which refused to work early on in the race, before coming back to life again.
Vettel was the first of leaders to pit, coming in from third on lap 16. Rosberg came in on the next lap but this stop proved the undoing of his race. On his way back to the track he asked a little too much of the surface grip at the pit lane exit, skidded wide and across the pit lane blend line. A penalty was inevitable.
Unwisely, he kept his foot down and tried to set off while Nick Heidfeld was passing in his BMW. The pair made heavy contact, putting Heidfeld out on the spot (ending his record streak of finishes) and leaving Sutil crawling back to the pits and retirement. After the race the stewards handed Sutil a fine but did not give him a penalty for the next race in Japan.
The safety car came out while the marshals dragged Heidfeld’s broken car away. With the rules stating Rosberg could only serve his penalty on a racing lap, it meant he would fall even further down the order once he finally took his penalty.
Amazingly, in a repeat of last year’s race, we now saw a car attempting to leave its pit with a refuelling hose still attached. This time it was Alguseruari, who jumped away from his mark before the signal. But he didn’t make it as far down the pit lane as Felipe Massa did, and was able to return to the race. However, both he and team mate Sebastien Buemi failed to see the chequered flag due to technical problems.
Hamilton made his pit stop as the safety car was heading onto the track and he kept the lead of the race. After Rosberg took his penalty Vettel took up second with Glock now third ahead of Alonso.
Vettel put Hamilton under some serious pressure during the second stint, rarely more than a second behind the McLaren. That was partly because he had less fuel on board, but when he came in for more on lap 39 he made the mistake that ended his hopes of victory. He broke the pit lane speed limit, and a return to the pits three laps later for a drive-through was inevitable. Making matters worse, his right-hand mirror had fallen off, and a skid along a kerb damaged part of his diffuser.
Vettel penalised too
Vettel’s problems meant Hamilton was now under no pressure at all and Barrichello moved up to fourth ahead of Heikki Kovalainen and Button. The championship leader was fuelled to pit a few laps after his team mate, but another incident gave him the opportunity to get ahead.
The lap after Vettel served his penalty, Webber came into the pits. As well as the fuel and tyres routine, his mechanics played close attention to the overheating front-right brake. He kept going but two laps later the car got away from him at turn one and he went backwards in the barrier at speed.
A swathe of drivers reacted by diving into the pits in anticipation of the safety car being deployed: Hamilton, Kovalainen, Nakajima, Alguersuari, Giancarlo Fisichella, Vitantonio Liuzzi and – crucially – Barrichello, but not Button.
The safety car wasn’t deployed, and when Button finally came in five laps later he had built up enough of a lead to hold a comfortable advantage over Barrichello.
That was the last major development in a race that had often been quiet. Button didn’t bother chasing after Vettel, preferring instead to look after his troubled brakes and increase his championship lead by a precious point. If he takes five more off Barrichello at Suzuka next week, he’s the new champion.
But it was the reigning champion who was un-catchable at Singapore. It might not have been a vintage race, but unlike last year, at least the result was genuine.
Singapore Grand Prix