2014 Singapore Grand Prix: Saturday Analysis

Sizzling Singapore Delivers Scintillating Qualifying 

Another Saturday and another front-row lockout for the Mercedes duo, with Lewis Hamilton leading Nico Rosberg for the second weekend running. However, this particular Saturday was far from straightforward for Mercedes, as Red Bull, Ferrari and Williams all made substantial bids for pole position themselves. So much so, that after the first runs in Q3, Hamilton and Rosberg found themselves P6 and P7 respectively. It was an incredible fightback, a dramatic day, and one which has set the foundations for a thrilling race tomorrow.

FP3

Qualifying is teed up nicely after an FP3 session which saw the margins at the top of the timesheet significantly reduced. Fernando Alonso topped the timesheet for the second time this weekend, while Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton finished P3 and P6 respectively. However, Mercedes have been known to conceal their ultimate pace and I would be unsurprised if they lock-out the front row come 3pm this afternoon. 
From a sporting perspective, it would be great to see a grid which reflects the FP3 formbook. Evidently, the technical Marina Bay Street Circuit, highlights driver skill and consequently, Fernando Alonso’s influence seems to be proving very valuable this weekend. The tendency is for Ferrari to look deceivingly impressive on Friday’s, while their pace begins fade as the business end of the weekend draws nearer. Topping the timesheet in FP3 is very promising for Ferrari fans who are in need of a positive result. 
Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo finished in P2, with Sebastian Vettel in P5. The Red Bull Racing duo look very impressive once again, building on the solid foundations laid yesterday, despite Vettel’s technical tribulations. While the German was playing dare with the barriers yesterday, Ricciardo was the man to use up each and every inch of the circuit this morning. The Aussie was finding the limit to good effect and as Lewis Hamilton once suggested, the fastest way around a street circuit is to kiss the barriers. Both Ricciardo and Vettel look to be in good form ahead of this afternoon.
Meanwhile, Mercedes appear to have lost some pace overnight – or at least, the timesheet suggests a drop in pace. At least Nico Rosberg managed to post a representative time this morning, with Maldonado behaving himself and staying well clear of the barriers. While Rosberg’s lap on the super-soft compound was cool, calm and collected, Hamilton’s effort was decisively ragged, in typical Hamilton fashion. At least on the surface, Lewis seems to be struggling to find a balance and has some work to do ahead of qualifying. Whether Mercedes have lost as much pace as this morning suggests is yet unknown, but I would predict that the team are keeping at least a few vital tenths in their pockets.
Worth a notable mention ahead of qualifying are Toro Rosso and Jean Eric Vergne in particular. The Frenchman ended the morning in P4 and while Kvyat was P14, it looks as though the Italian team will be working deep into the hour as a Q3 appearance is on the cards. Elsewhere, Esteban Gutierrez seems set for a promising day, with an excellent qualifying simulation run placing him in P10. Sauber are yet to reach Q3 this season, yet Esteban is emerging as somewhat of a Singapore specialist, after his appearance in the final part of qualifying last season. If he can repeat the performance today, it will be an excellent achievement and one which could prove vital in the contract negotiations.
FP3 Timesheet

1 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:47.299
2 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull +0.051
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes +0.189
4 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso +0.394
5 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull +0.412
6 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +0.439 
7 Felipe Massa Williams +0.610
8 Valtteri Bottas Williams +0.906
9 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari +0.927
10 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber +1.123
11 Nico Hulkenberg Force India +1.151
12 Kevin Magnussen McLaren +1.278
13 Jenson Button McLaren +1.300
14 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso +1.338
15 Sergio Perez Force India +1.779
16 Adrian Sutil Sauber +1.816
17 Romain Grosjean Lotus +2.186
18 Pastor Maldonado Lotus +2.850
19 Jules Bianchi Marussia +3.077
20 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham +3.640
21 Max Chilton Marussia +3.922
22 Marcus Ericsson Caterham +4.299

Qualifying Analysis

Mercedes Front Row Lockout – Just

Mercedes front row lockouts have hardly been hard to come by this season, but today’s result was an outstanding achievement for the team considering that both Hamilton and Rosberg faced significant pressure from their chief rivals, with the pair jumping from P6 and P7 at the start of Q3 to the head of the field. While their laps may not have been perfect, they were just good enough.
Even more poignant was the margin by which the title contending duo were separated – 0.007 split Hamilton in P1 from Rosberg in P2, which is the equivalent distance of a front wing end-fence. These fine margins have been a trait of their battle throughout this season and today, Nico was the party to fall just short. “Damn it” was the response given by him on the radio once he was informed of the inconceivably small margin which prevented him from claiming his eight pole of the season.
However, the gap could have been significantly greater, had Lewis Hamilton not suffered a rather substantial lock-up into the first corner on his final lap. To make the apex of the corner was an achievement in itself, but he also managed to hold the tight line necessary in order to optimise entry into Turn Three. While he may have exceeded track limits, he did not gain an advantage and in fact, lost almost two tenths. However, Lewis did not abort the lap, did not overdrive and managed to snatch Pole at the last moment.

Williams Resurgent

After a Friday which Felipe Massa suggested was the worst of his career, optimism was at a premium heading into qualifying in regards to Williams’ chances. It was no surprise then, to see Claire Williams in a state of shock when Felipe took provisional pole position after the first runs in Q3. While they eventually slipped to P6 with Massa and P8 with Bottas, it was an excellent performance considering that the circuit characteristics suggested that this weekend would be somewhat of a right off.
Even during Q2, Williams were unfortunately living up to the low expectations for the weekend, with both drivers needing a good final run to haul themselves out of the dreaded drop zone. However, as demonstrated in Austria, the FW36 has a tendency to come alive on the super-soft rubber and this was the case today. Whether they will be able to sustain a consistent race pace, considering the fact that they will have to venture to at least one soft tyre stint, remains to be seen. Overall, today was very promising for Williams and much better than expected.

“I Could Have Had Pole”

The Singapore specialist, Sebastian Vettel, may have managed to complete the Red Bull lockout of the second row, but the German was disappointed to have not enjoyed an even better afternoon. After a scruffy lap to end the day, Vettel suggested that there was the potential for a pole position today – an opportunity missed in a season where opportunity has been at a premium. That fact was compounded by Daniel Ricciardo who once again edged out his teammate.
“I’m not happy with that final lap, I was pushing a bit too hard and didn’t get it all together, so I’m not entirely happy, but it is what it is now,” Vettel stated. A Red Bull win tomorrow is a strong possibility, with Ricciardo demonstrating excellent long run performance on Friday. Ultimately, Vettel’s chances of triumph tomorrow are slightly slimmer than his counterpart, since he will enter the race without any FP2 long runs in his armoury. While he will have undoubtedly studied Daniel’s data, (and taken great optimism from it), it cannot replace that all important primary experience.
     

Rolling Back The Years

Ferrari may have been suffering one of their most disappointing season’s in recent memory, but today’s performance was so nearly reminiscent of the glory days of the Schumacher era. Both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen were in great form, with the latter managing to top the timesheet in Q1 – The first time RAI had appeared on top of the pile at the chequered flag so far this season. 
While it seemed as though Ferrari could potentially score a 1-2 when setting the timing screens alight early on in the hour, their session somewhat derailed in Q3. Raikkonen suffered a mysterious electrical issue before his final run, at a time when he sat P4 on the timesheet. A heartbreaking turn of events for the Iceman. Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso took his customary spot of P5, despite a deficit of just over two tenths to Hamilton. 
“We have been competitive in all free practice sessions as we normally are, then in the qualifying we normally lose some time, but today we remained competitive in qualifying so that is very good news,” he told Sky Sports F1. Ferrari are another team who could challenge the Mercedes duo tomorrow. While Alonso and Raikkonen may struggle to keep up with the front four, the high probability of a safety car could see them brought back into play, should they become detached.

Qualifying Result
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:45.681
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:45.688
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:45.854
4 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:45.902
5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:45.907
6 Felipe Massa Williams 1:46.000
7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:46.170
8 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:46.187
9 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:46.250
10 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:47.362
11 Jenson Button McLaren 1:46.943
12 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:46.989
13 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:47.308
14 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:47.333
15 Sergio Perez Force India 1:47.575
16 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:47.812
17 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1:48.324
18 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:49.063
19 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:49.440
20 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1:50.405
21 Max Chilton Marussia 1:50.473
22 Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1:52.287

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