Nico Hulkenberg

2016 Singapore Grand Prix Review

Photo: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1

The heat, The humidity and the back drop of a beautiful brightly lit city alongside the Marina bay set the scene for a Singapore Grand Prix that had a tense feeling in the air. The final third of championship was to begin here and the heat is now well and truly on.

Unfortunately for Romain Grosjean the race didn’t even get going after brake by wire issues hampered his attempts to even make the grid, this meant a DNS for the frenchman who clearly isn’t happy with his current situation, especially after  qualifying describing his VF-16 as “The worst he has ever driven”.

As the rest of the drivers lined up in their respective grid slots, the tension was palpable. 

When the lights went out Nico Rosberg got a great start while everyone else bogged down especially Max Verstappen, while Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg went to pass the slow Dutchman, it was Hulkenberg getting squeezed into a gap that swiftly closed, causing massive damage including a hit into the pit wall. No one was at fault for the incident, it was just an unfortunate set of circumstances.

Jenson Button and Valtteri Bottas also got caught up in the melee, while Button moved to avoid the spinning Hulkenberg he clipped the rear of Bottas’ Williams, this meant a broken front wing, damaged brake ducts and broken floor for the McLaren driver while Bottas luckily only suffered a puncture.

As a safety car was called to slow the pack down so marshals could collect the wrecked Force India, due to the amount of shattered carbon fibre across the pit straight the cars were ordered to travel through the pit lane to avoid the huge chucks of debris. 

In a strange set of circumstances messages from race control on lap two appeared confusing and the safety car ducked in at the end of that lap, however that message either wasn’t passed on correctly or that race control got the call wrong, but this led to a marshal running for his life at turn one as Rosberg led 20 other Formula One cars at full speed as the race restarted. No doubt there will be a swift investigation as to how on earth this happened.

With the race still in it’s infacy both Mercedes cars already were managing brake issues, while brakes are always on the limit in Singapore managing them this early on was a concern for those in the team.

Despite starting on the red marked supersoft tyre, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo couldn’t quite keep up with Rosberg in the early stages of the race allowing Rosberg to get away, this however would later change.

While the race continued to be a slow burner and the strategies played out, we were treated to a great tussle between Max Verstappen versus the man he replaced at Red Bull; Danil Kyvat. The Russian did not give a quarter to Verstappen at all, you could get the sense this was personal for him, to prove he can race and be just as good as he has shown before. 

Valtteri Bottas had a very strange issue with his seatbelts coming undone on lap 30, despite pitting immediately to get them done back, unfortunately he had to retire five laps later with mechanical issues, Jenson Button also had to retire following damage to car causing too many issues with his Mclaren caused by the first lap clash with Bottas avoiding the spinning Hulkenberg.

However when all thought the race was run after the second stops were made, it all burst into life on lap 45 when Mercedes ignited an inspired strategy to help Hamilton get back third place from Raikkonen, this triggered the Ferrari to stop the Finn the next lap in an attempt to prevent the powerful undercut on fresh tyres. Despite the Scuderia’s efforts Hamilton made the outlap count to pass Raikkonen as he exited the pitlane.

Because of the respective stops Hamilton and Raikkonen made, this allowed Red Bull to pull the trigger and try to do the same for Ricciardo to catch Rosberg. With the undercut being so strong the Mercedes strategists had to make a do or die call whether to pit the leader or keep him out and gamble with the race victory, or put him for fresh tyres and risk losing the lead to fight with the Red Bull for the final 14 laps.

Mercedes decided to stay out and gamble, meanwhile Ricciardo was using his fresh supersofts to full effect, closing Rosberg down at two to three seconds a lap. It was starting to look as if the win was in jeopardy because the gap between the two was in freefall, however in the final five laps Rosberg was granted a repreive in the shape of lapped traffic.

This allowed Rosberg some breathing space while Ricciardo had to make his way through it at some of the slower points of the circuit, by the time Ricciardo got clear of the traffic it appeared his tyres were beginning to scream enough and he would not make it to Rosberg. On the final lap he gave it everything he could, the nailbiter in all of us would of watched as he gained through every corner, the gap was visibily shrinking every second. 

Despite all of his efforts Ricciardo lost out by just 0.488 of a second in his hunt for victory (pictured above), both drivers looked exhausted not only through the physical endurance of the event, but also through how much they had put in to fight for that win.

Other inspirational performances from the race were Sebastian Vettel, definitely deserving his driver of the day award after coming back from last to fifth with an inspired strategy to get through the field, also a great result for Fernando Alonso in seventh place giving McLaren a boost. Danil Kyvat also made the points helping his fight to keep his F1 career alive and Kevin Magnussen who got Renault’s second points finsh of the season.

The 2016 Singapore Grand Prix was a race of many stories which culminated in a nailbiting finish, I was certainly happy with what the race has to offer and it’s given another twist in tale of the drivers chanpionship too. With Nico Rosberg taking his eighth win of the year and snatching the lead of the championship in the process, the onus is now on Lewis Hamilton to make a comeback if he wants that fourth title and to prevent Nico taking his first.

Next stop is in Malaysia. I wonder what’s next in the magical story of the 2016 championship, no doubt there will still be twists to come. 

2016 Belgian Grand Prix Review

Photo: Red Bull Racing

The hills, the forest, it calls to them. A sacred ribbon of tarmac that weaves it’s way through the forest of the Ardennes. Many drivers have conquered the legendary 7.004km Spa-Francorchamps circuit, come rain or shine. The weekend certainly saw the bright sunshine and the unusually hot conditions that made this a Belgian Grand Prix we won’t forget.

During the free practice sessions on Friday, the unfamiliar high temperatures were causing the drivers a great deal of problems in managing their Pirelli rubber through the high speed nature of the demanding Spa circuit, it was clear the race was never going to be straightforward from then on.

For qualifying while Lewis Hamilton was out of the running for pole position after his three power unit changes left him at the back of the grid with penalties, it was up to the Ferrari’s and Red Bull’s to challenge the other Mercedes of Nico Rosberg for the front row. It turned out that no one could, Rosberg had just enough in hand to keep pole position but not by much. 

Heading into Sunday with the hot tempretures not abating, it was clear that tyre strategies were going to play a great role in how the drivers and teams negotiated the 44 laps of the day. Rosberg, Ricciardo and both Ferrari’s were smart in Q2 to utilise a strategy of starting of the yellow marked soft tyres to start the race with in the hope it would benefit them at the start of the race.

As the lights went out Max Verstappen got a poor getaway and tried to repass Kimi Raikkonen on the inside of La Source, unfortunately both were pinched by Sebastian Vettel making his way around the outside of both drivers, this led to a three way collision that damaged all three cars.

With Vettel left stranded at La Source waiting for the rest of the field to pass, Verstappen fought side by side with Raikkonen down the hill to Eau Rouge. On the other hand Rosberg made a great getaway and missed out on all the shenanigans going on behind.

Unfortunately it didn’t end there, into Les Combes Manor’s Pascal Werhlein ended up in the back of Jenson Button’s McLaren ending both of their races, this is a shame considering both of their great efforts from qualifying, luckily Werhlein’s new team mate Esteban Ocon managed to avoid the debris.

Kimi Raikkonen pitted to change his broken front wing but in the process of his mechanics trying to fit a new one, the underside of the car kept trying to catch fire, thankfully they managed to put it out and get the wing on.

On Lap 6 the race took a turn, after making a great start both Renaults of Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen were running in the top ten and doing well, unfortunately on the exit of Radillion Magnussen lost the rear of his car and spun at high speed into the barrier, luckily he managed to hobble out of the car despite a noticeable limp. Thankfully after checks in the medical centre and more later at the local hospital, he only suffered a cut to his left ankle and should be fine to race in Monza next week. 

Unfortunately his R.S16 Renault was a total write off, the most concerning part of his accident as that the head rest that bolts to the inside of the cockpit came loose from it’s fixings and left the car with quite a bit of ease. The FIA are going to look into the incident to find out why it happened and to perhaps see if there is something that can be learned from it.

With the barriers needing repair a red flag was called, prior to this Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton had made their way through the pack to end up fourth and fifth respectively, not a bad effort from the back of the grid.

As the race got underway once more, Nico Rosberg had swapped to medium tyre and quickly made a break for it to escape the clutches Hulkenberg who was under immediate pressure from Ricciardo. It didn’t take him long to pass the Force India in front and try to hunt down Rosberg, however the Mercedes had the pace to eventually sprint away.

Jolyon Palmer suffered after the red flag due to high temperatures to his car much to his dismay, the British rookie really hasn’t enjoyed much luck in F1 since his arrival.

As the race wore on Verstappen and Raikkonen found themselves on the same piece of tarmac once again, this time with the Finn on the offensive, Verstappen makes a late defence move to protect his position much to the dismay of the 2007 world champion. Verstappen faced further criticisms when he ran Raikkonen and Sergio Perez off the road at Les Combes with defensive manoeuvres that led to him not even staying on the race track himself. 

At the final set of pit stops Hamilton was chasing Hulkenberg for third and passed him quite quickly leaving the German still without a podium finish from his 107 starts so far in Formula One.

Fernando Alonso managed to hold off the advances of both Williams and Raikkonen in latter stages of the race after a very impressive drive, with Honda having brought updates to the car, it certainly showed at Spa, however Monza will be the ultimate proving ground as to whether they’ve made true ground on their rivals.

Ultimately Hamilton only lost ten points in the title battle with his team mate and he’ll certainly be grateful for the race he had, while Rosberg will wondering what else he’ll have to 

Just nine points seperate them with eight races left to go, 1 dnf apiece, 6 pole positions and 6 victories between them, it could hardly be a closer run in, there is still plenty of action, speed and no doubt controversy yet to come.

Monza up next!