Sebastian Vettel was a class apart in last weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix - but is he now set to dominate the rest of the season or was it just a perfect storm?
It was a dream race meeting for Vettel as he demonstrated just how good he and his Red Bull can be when everything comes together, taking pole, leading from start to finish and setting the fastest lap.
Despite the mid-race safety car, which wiped away the 13-second lead he had built by lap 25, he still built up a 32.627s lead over second-placed Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari in the 31-lap race to the finish.
But it was a combination of elements that all came together that put him so far ahead:
THE PERFECT POLE
A well-calculated gamble set things rolling on Saturday when Vettel chose to sit out the final qualifying runs, confident that the 0.6s advantage he had on his first run in Q3 could not be overcome by any of his rivals.
Although Nico Rosberg almost upset his plan, he was right and pole was his. And the decision not to do a second run gave him a big advantage for the race itself.
It left him with a set of unused supersoft tyres for Sunday and that gave him ultimate flexibility on strategy – knowing he had a set of tyres in the garage with four laps less wear than his rivals which he could use for an additional push if needed.
It gave him confidence to set a fast pace at the start but in the end he didn’t even really need that extra boost at the finish.
Singapore is all about downforce, with 23 corners requiring a good mix of high-speed and low-speed aerodynamic grip – something Adrian Newey’s team has developed almost too much of on this year’s Red Bull.
The team complained early in the season of being held back and being unable to use the car to its full potential because the large amounts of downforce the car created allowed it to reach cornering speeds so fast the tyres could not cope, resulting in high degradation if they did push too hard.
But when the tyre construction was changed mid-season in Hungary, for safety reasons, the reintroduction of a less aggressive tyre structure from 2012 let Red Bull off the leash.
It has allowed them to use more of that downforce potential, but the low-downforce races at Spa and Monza did not demonstrate the true advantage. Singapore was the first place they had the chance to really show what it can do.
In the race, the added drag created by the extra downforce reduced Vettel’s top speed significantly through the speed trap, putting him over 8km/h slower than Alonso and 18.2km/h slower than Rosberg – but his cornering speeds more than made up for that.
On top of that, the street circuit also benefits drivers who can carry pace and cope with fast weight transfer through the twisty turns, and that also favours Vettel’s personal style.
Vettel had the pace when he wanted it – on the first lap he was 1.971s faster than second-placed Rosberg and by the end of lap two he was 4.136s ahead.
He was able to control the pace from there – but he was given an even bigger advantage by the way the race panned out.
Lap 25 created the opportunity for Vettel to stamp his dominant mark on the race, when Daniel Ricciardo’s safety-car inducing crash came right in the middle of the tyre window.
It was touch and go whether a set of mediums put on at that point would last out the race and Red Bull and the two Mercedes decided not to stop. The Ferraris, Lotuses and McLarens did, with the aim of dropping a stop and doing what they could to make the tyres go the distance.
From then on, the easiest way for Vettel to win was to push hard and build a big enough gap to stop again and stay ahead – and it was thanks to Mercedes that he managed to do just that.
Rosberg, who was second at the time, needed to drive conservatively to manage his tyres and so the Mercedes driver created a train that slowed all those behind him. When he pitted on lap 40, his team-mate Hamilton then took over at the front to hold up the chain for another two laps.
Vettel was two seconds faster per lap than Rosberg when the safety car went in and he built such an advantage that he was still 4.863s ahead of Alonso, now in second place, after his final stop.
Had Alonso not been stuck behind the Mercedes pair, he could have gone faster and Vettel would not have built up such a massive advantage and quite possibly would not have made it back out in the lead.
Even so, those new tyres allowed him to pressed on in the final stint and the fact he added another 28s to that advantage in the final 16 laps showed that he would still have made it past Alonso for the win – it just might have been a more exciting battle.
So Singapore was as close as you can get to a perfect weekend for Vettel and Red Bull - and their rivals will just have to hope that the perfect storm doesn’t happen again next time around...