Singapore Grand Prix: Vettel self-destructs, Hamilton's miracle and Sainz proves his worth

F1 boom… Sebastian Vettel ends his race – as well as Kimi Raikkonen’s and Max Verstappen’s – at the start of the 2017 Singapore Grand Prix

Whaada-mistake-ah-to-make-ah. If F1 did own goals, this would be the gold standard.

Sebastian Vettel’s amateur-hour start in Singapore took out three of the four leading drivers within a few hundred metres, and blew a massive, Seb-shaped hole in his chances of winning this year’s championship.

And it certainly spiced up Sunday for F1 fans all around the world. Cheers for that Seb, hope Ferrari appreciate the effort you made.

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Ah Mr Vettel, I believe this horse’s head is for you

Spin doctor: Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari parks itself in the wall as Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes heads off to victory, on lap 1 of the 2017 Singapore Grand Prix

Herr Vettel helped set a remarkable record at the 2017 Singapore Grand Prix. For the first time in their entire 67-year history, Ferrari’s drivers both retired on the opening lap.

That’s something that the Ferrari greats could never accomplish – not Ascari, not Fangio, not Prost, not even Schumacher, who was himself a pretty adept chopper of other drivers.

And it was all down to Vettel taking an overly-aggressive line at the start, in wet conditions, and forgetting the mantra drummed into all racing drivers: to finish first, first you must finish.

This really was a peach of a pile-up – Vettel swept across to the left of the track, squeezing Max Verstappen until he, too, inched to the left… where Kimi Raikkonen was rocketing down the inside.

Boom. Vettel crunched Verstappen’s Red Bull, knocking him into Raikkonen.

Verstappen was already radioing that he had damage when Raikkonen’s out-of-control Ferrari speared into him.

That pummelled Verstappen into the unfortunate Fernando Alonso, himself making a super-sized start, sending the Spaniard’s McLaren into the air.

Follow that?

Alonso, somewhat improbably, managed to soldier on for a few more laps but the damage was done, especially for Vettel.

Although it looked like the German had managed to survive the crash he caused, he had in fact smacked a hole in his Ferrari and all sorts of slippery fluids were spewing out behind and under his rear tyres – and so although Vettel pushed his way past Hamilton, he was to spin out ignominiously when he tried to accelerate.

Game over. Vettel, helmet still covering his blushing face, exited around the side of the Paddock Club barriers while Hamilton settled in for an unexpected victory.

Around the circuit, Ferrari fans wondered how Vettel had managed to turn a weekend when he should have re-asserted himself as the championship leader into one where he left with his Teutonic tail between his legs, having gifted Hamilton a 28-point lead in the title race.

To put that in context, had both drivers finished in their starting positions, Vettel would have been heading to the Malaysian Grand Prix with a 12-point lead, Ferrari in the ascendancy and Mercedes a bit bruised.


That’s a 40-point swing in what has been an incredibly tight championship race up until now.

A 12-point lead would have given Vettel some breathing space when, as anticipated, he gets hit with a penalty or two for changing power unit elements as the season builds to a climax.

Not now; now, he and Raikkonen both have to start taking points from Hamilton. Otherwise someone at team Prancing Horse will be waking with a horse’s head on the pillow.

Still, thanks again Seb for making things interesting – just as long as you haven’t killed off the title fight prematurely.

Dear Santa, you know what we want, love from Mercedes

Engine block party: Lewis Hamilton and the Mercedes AMG F1 team celebrate their unexpected success at the Singapore Grand Prix

If truth be told, Mercedes had a pretty poor weekend performance-wise. Neither car was hooked up and there was a real chance that the Renault-powered Red Bulls were going to push the Silver Arrows down into fifth and sixth positions.

I’ve heard people describing this as one of Hamilton’s great drives but… really? He performed well in the wet, and was confident that he could take the win once he knew there would be rain.

But here are three things that helped Merc win:

1: Vettel, obvs, taking out three cars that were expected to finish ahead of Hamilton, rain not withstanding.

2: Daniel Ricciardo’s gearbox, which ran for at least half the race with an oil pressure issue. As a result, Hamilton was able to turn the wick down and go easy on his machinery, which still allowed him to pull 1.5second-a-lap gaps when he felt the need. Pressure? Not so much. It’s a mark Of Ricciardo’s ability that no one was surprised when he finished second…

3: Hamilton in ‘cool head’ mode. As he navigated the carnage at the start, Hamilton found himself with a chance to fend off a charging Vettel and take the lead. Hamilton instead let Vettel barrel on through, and watched him spin out just a second later. If it had been Vettel who kept a cooler head at the start, things would have been oh-so-different.

With Bottas struggling to get a set-up that worked, as well as having no water to drink during a punishingly hot race, Merc’s 1-3 finish was a genuine surprise, especially to Mercedes. On such weekends are championships decided.

The remaining six F1 races of 2017 are either Merc-friendly or neutral, and they will also punish engines.

None of which is good news for Ferrari. Unless 2017 has some more surprises up its sleeve…

Boom Shackalak!

Shack-attack: Carlos Sainz had plenty to celebrate at the Singapore Grand Prix, with his best ever F1 finish

Shout-out to Carlos Sainz’s engineer for his radio celebrations as the Toro Rosso driver scored an unlikely career-best fourth place in Singapore.

‘Boom Shackalak’ was the cry, channeling a bit of Apache Indian from the 1990s (well, possibly…). ‘Vamos (come on), vamos, vamos, vamos, vamo-vamo-vamo-vamos’ came the reply. Happiness was there much of.

Sainz yet again proved his worth, grabbing the opportunity of valuable points for Toro Rosso on the weekend his ‘loan drive’ to Renault was announced.

Whether he replaces Jolyon Palmer before the season ends remains to be seen – Palmer had one of his better weekends, getting as high as second, overtaking Bottas and finishing sixth. It would have been his best weekend in F1 – his previous top finish was a tenth place in Malaysia last year – was it not for the unfortunate matter of him finding out that he’d been booted from Renault when he read about it on the Autosport website. Oops.

Stoffel Vandoorne also managed a career-best finish, seventh in the surviving McLaren.

These career-best finishes are hugely significant, not just to the drivers but also to the teams.

F1 doles out prize money based on where a team finishes in the Constructors’ Championship, and a place or two up or down the table means several million pounds more or less to spend.

As such, days like this, when smaller teams get a chance to score decent points, can make a big difference to how they’ll perform next year, based on the amount of money they’ll have to spend.

Given that it costs the same to run an F1 team as a Premiership football outfit, Williams in particular will be disappointed with their weekend – Lance Stroll finished eighth, while Felipe Massa was the last of the finishers, in 11th place and just out of the points.

When it comes to disappointment, Nico Hulkenberg deserves a special mention.

The popular Renault driver had been running in fourth, with an outside chance of a podium, when hydraulic gremlins struck and ruined his day.

As a result of that retirement, Hulkenberg becomes the unfortunate holder of the record for most F1 races without a podium. His 129 races without so much as a sniff of champagne edge him ahead of a fellow German, Force India veteran and nightclub brawler Adrian Sutil, who exited F1 with 128 podium-free races.

When Hulkenberg entered F1, plenty of us saw him as a future world champion … just not in this particular way.

Chin up, Hulk, at least you’ve got a half-decent drive for next season.

In the meantime, it’s two weeks before the F1 circus rolls into Malaysia for Vettel’s make-or-break race… and this time, he has to focus on the ‘make’ part.