The air under the podium in Monza was still filled with the echoes of the British anthem, that the paddock is already back to being that place of gossip and bad reputation that everybody knows. Anything other than fuel and pistons. This is what Formula 1 is all about. This time, Ferrari plays the part of the pirates, apparently perpetrator of an unsportsmanlike behaviour.
Rival team principals complained, like those that usually understood too late what was going on. That is, that Ferrari found a way to circumvent the regulations that reduce the costs for the development of the car for the next F1 season. How so? At the start of the 2016 season, the so-called American Ferrari will make its debut, meaning the Haas team owned by Gene Haas, one of the protagonists of the Nascar series. The American billionaire signed with Ferrari a significantly long supply contract, to the point that many people consider Haas the second team from Maranello. It has been quite some time now, though, that rumors started circulating about a trade of engineers and members between the Via Emilia and the West (the official headquarters are located in Kannapolis, North Carolina, even if the team took over The Marussia factory, already client of the team from Maranello in Banbury, England). Trade that seems to end on October 30th, 2015, when Haas will fire a bunch of people, it is said about seventy, although the number seems exaggerated, among engineers, designers, and mechanics who will have a new job secured in Maranello after November 1st.
"For us, the Haas team is not a competitor, yet".
So, over the course of these months, engineers at that factory could work without limits in terms of both expense and time, for instance circumventing the firm limitations to the wind tunnel hours. The problem now is to understand for whom they worked. And, in the meantime, Sebastian Vettel is ready to fight at the Singapore Grand Prix, the thirteenth round of the Formula 1 World Championship, scheduled for Sunday, September 20th, 2015.
"Our aim for the Championship is to push as much as possible, we must get as much as we possibly can, without disregarding any opportunity. It’s always difficult to predict what is going to happen. Nevertheless, over the past couple of years, I did well here. I like the track, one of the most challenging of the season. The circuit is unique for different reasons, it mostly depends on the feeling with the car and the confidence, that’s what makes the difference here".
So, the German driver, who shows a certain dose of optimism, has the first appointment of this long weekend in the Asian country with the Republic of Singapore president, Tony Tan, within the President’s Challenge project for charity, which aims at helping less fortunate kids of the Asian community. The meeting takes place at the Ferrari Store of Marina Bay Sands, on Thursday, September 17th, 2015.
"We’ve got a great overall package, and we hope to continue like this. For the most part, I feel very well with this year’s car, we’ve raced at different circuits, but we were competitive more or less everywhere. In general, we were fast enough to arrive within the first five positions, even though our aim was to end up on the podium. Mercedes currently possesses the strongest package and if nothing goes wrong there’s no margin for the first three positions, yet we’ve always made the best out of whatever opportunity".
Sebastian Vettel has clear ideas, for this Singapore Grand Prix, as well as for the last rounds of the 2015 season, just like Kimi Räikkönen, until now protagonist of a Championship full of ups and downs, affected by too many mistakes and a little bit of misfortune.
"Here in Singapore, overtaking is easier as opposed to other circuits. As always, our objective is to do well in qualifying to have more opportunities during the race. Obviously, we want to obtain better results, it would be more enjoyable for everybody. I think we are doing the right thing, but we also had a few issues and if something occurs at the start, like in the last race, this compromises the final result. I’m sure that if we free ourselves from issues and mistakes, we can get good results. We’re headed to the right direction; we must finish the race well. This year’s aim is to try winning more. I hope that next year we’ll be able to fight during every race as a team does".
In Singapore, Lewis Hamilton is in pursuit of milestones owned by one of the Formula 1 greatest, Ayrton Senna. The World Champion is indeed just a step away from the record of his hero: eight consecutive pole positions and 41 wins in his career. If he is going to make it, the British driver of Mercedes will obtain 41 wins in 161 races held.
"It’s a sort of milestone in my career, I’ve always hoped to emulate Senna one day, it would be really moving".
No added pressure, says Lewis Hamilton, who is 53 points ahead of his teammate, Nico Rosberg. With 40 wins, the British driver is currently the fifth driver by number of victories of all time, behind Michael Schumacher (91), Alain Prost (51), Ayrton Senna and Sebastian Vettel (41). As for pole positions, Ayrton Senna scored 8 consecutive poles, between 1998 and 1989, while Lewis Hamilton might make it over the course of one single season. With a new World Championship title, the third after the ones conquered in 2008 and 2014, the Mercedes driver may equal Ayrton Senna again, winner in 1988, 1990, and 1991.
Anyway, it will be necessary to keep an eye on Valtteri Bottas, who shows all his confidence.
"We’ll make things right during this weekend, I believe we can score points. Last year, in the last lap, I fell out of the fight for the points due to the degradation of the tires".
The Finnish driver also recalls that in 2016 he will drive for Williams, and he does not hide a little bit of delusion for how this World Championship is working out:
"We wanted to take a step forward and compared to last year we did it, but not as much as we expected. Next year, too I’ll drive for Williams, we haven’t achieved maximum results, but we know that we can improve. My season has been a roller coaster, as well, I had a few moments and unfortunate results, now we hope to have reached a turning point".
According to Valtteri Bottas:
"It’s necessary to improve downforce and horsepower. These are the aspects that allow you to perform well. Then, we also had a few problems in the pit-stops, and we must try to be more advanced in all areas, but improving derives from figuring out the mistakes, too. I’m sure that we can be much stronger than this".
Robert Mehri, Manor Marussia driver, won’t take part in the Singapore Grand Prix, given that Alexander Rossi will take his place. The American driver will race alongside Will Stevens in five of the final seven Grand Prix of the season. After Singapore, Alexander Rossi will be on track in Japan, United States, Mexico, and Brazil, too. Mehri, who took part in eleven races until now, will in turn be present in Russia, and Abu Dhabi, while during the other races he will be demoted to reserve driver.
Rossi, who won Spa and Monza in GP2 this year, boasts five appearances in Formula 1, but only during practice sessions: in Spain 2012, United States 2013, and Canada 2013 and 2014, always with Caterham, and them in Belgium last year, with the former Marussia. Rober Mehri, on the eve of the Singapore Grand Prix, says:
"I arrived here already on Monday, and the team told me that Rossi will take my place in five of the final seven races. My future? I don’t know, but I’ll wait for notices".
Alexander Rossi will use the number 53. After the last-minute call by Manor, the man from California made the number of his single-seater official, and on social media channels he published the renowned beetle starring in the Disney movies:
"Many people ask me: why did you choose the number 53? Well, this is the reason… Herbie is back".
Formula 1 lacked an American driver since 2007, when Toro Rosso lined up Scott Speed.
"It was almost a last-minute arrangement. Talks started shortly after Monza. On Tuesday morning I booked a flight, and, in the evening, I was already on the plane".
On the eve of the Singapore Grand Prix, Red Bull Racing confirms that from 2016 onwards, they won’t employ engines supplied by Renault, any more. The British-Austrian team might negotiate with Ferrari to obtain the power units for the next years. Red Bull seems very near to closing a deal with the Volkswagen Group to sell its factory to the German giant, thus getting it into Formula 1 by 2018. Then, the Red Bull team might use a Ferrari engine for two seasons, ensuring Volkswagen the time needed to build the power units. The team would be renamed Audi or Volkswagen. It is Dietrich Mateschitz, owner of Red Bull Racing, who leads the negotiations directly with Martin Winterkorn. The manager of VW. Mateschitz Group confirms that the parting with Renault was already arranged for weeks, and that Ferrari may be a very satisfactory option for the motorization of cars for the next two or three years.
"The separation from Renault will take place at the end of the season. A mutual agreement was reached. It didn’t make sense to go on for so long".
Red Bull would remain title sponsor of VW/Audi. What would happen if Red Bull Racing decided to leave Formula 1 due to lack of agreements or insufficient competitiveness with a Ferrari engine?
"Our employees (1100) wouldn’t be jobless. We’ll find them other roles".
On Friday, September 18th, 2015, Nico Rosberg sets the fastest time during the first practice session. The German driver is ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo. The time set by Nico Rosberg, 1’47’’995, is better than the 2014 one of over one second, thanks to the upgrades of the track. The Red Bull Racing of Daniil Kvyat had issues with the gearshift, such that the Russian is only ahead of the two cars of the Marussia team. Alexander Rossi, making his debut, crashes into the protections over the course of the final minutes of the session, bending the right suspension of his single-seater. The drivers dedicate their final part of the session to race trials, employing harder compound tires supplied by Pirelli. At the end of the session, Felipe Nasr gets a reprimand by the commissioners for not abiding to the rules in the case of an exit in turn 3.
The second session is interrupted by a red flag due to an accident occurred to Will Stevens in turn 12, although there are fortunately no physical consequences for the British driver. Other drivers crash into the walls that surround the Singapore track, only suffering punctures. During FP2, the fastest car is the one of Daniil Kvyat, who sets the best time over the course of the third flying lap, with Supersoft tires, while the other cars only go for a single flying lap. The Russian precedes Kimi Räikkönen by only 0.039 seconds, and his teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, by 0.114 seconds. Lewis Hamilton, second during the first session, set the fourth time. The British driver makes a mistake during his flying lap with tires of a softer compound and does not manage to beat the time of the driver in the first position. Lewis Hamilton nevertheless sets the fastest time with soft tires. At the end of Friday practice, the two Marussia cars are obliged to change the gearshift: the two drivers will be penalized with five positions on the starting grid. No Mercedes dominance in Singapore, at least for now. In the Ferrari boxes, feelings suggest that Kimi Räikkönen (fifth in the first practice session) is good over one lap and with a single-seater with low fuel, whereas his teammate, Sebastian Vettel (fourth in the morning), had an issue during the flying lap, thus the team from Maranello will work on it ahead of qualifying on Saturday. With race trim, though, the German driver seems to look at ease as opposed to the Finnish teammate. Good performance by Fernando Alonso, who did not have problems with his McLaren-Honda, and sets the eight fastest time of the day, albeit 0.8 seconds behind Daniil Kvyat. Rounding out the top ten is Nico Hulkenberg in the second Force India, with a 1.1 second gap from the Red Bull Racing of the Russian driver, and Max Verstappen in his Toro Rosso, just behind. The two Williams-Mercedes cars are slower, with Felipe Massa in P11, and Valtteri Bottas in P17, with a gap of approximately 2 seconds. Accidents occurred to the two Marussia cars, with the rookie Alexander Rossi and Will Stevens, who find themselves at the end of the provisional grid, with times exceeding the one set by Daniil Kvyat from 10 to 13 seconds. This Friday is considered positive by Sebastian Vettel, and he hopes to be a protagonist of the race:
"It’s obvious that Mercedes cars might go faster tomorrow: I don’t know what happened to them today, they seemed a bit slow, but things will certainly change tomorrow. We know that they don’t show their whole potential on day one. Moreover, as we expected, Red Bull cars go fast, too, thus we’ll be all much closer tomorrow. It’s always difficult to make predictions on the Friday. In general, I think that it was a good day for us. The car seems to work well, but apart from that, I believe we can improve further. I wasn’t fully satisfied with my flying laps, so we’ll have to do better for qualifying, although race pace looks good, but I still haven’t had a closer look at the data. I can’t wait for Saturday to come because I like the track, it’s really demanding: there are a lot of corners, the lap is long and it’s not easy to put it all together. Tomorrow we must be faster, but today is only Friday, so we’ll keep us grounded".
On Saturday, September 19th, 2015, even over the course of FP3 the Ferrari drivers are ahead of both Red Bull Racing drivers, and Mercedes ones. Sebastian Vettel precedes Kimi Räikkönen by 0.450 seconds: the two cars from Maranello present the same technical set-up and make the same decisions in terms of the braking system cooling. A few hours later, during the first part of qualifying, Daniil Kvyat sets the fastest time. All drivers, except for the Ferraris, are obliged to go for Supersoft tires, even the Mercedes drivers, that do not manage to beat the time of the Russian. Will Stevens and Alexander Rossi, the Marussia drivers, Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson, Sauber drivers, and Pastor Maldonado are out, and with his final attempt, Jenson Button secures himself the access to the following phase. In Q2, the Red Bull Racing drivers take the lead until Kimi Räikkönen first set the second-fastest lap, followed by Sebastian Vettel who takes the leadership of the timesheet using a single set of Supersoft tires. The Mercedes drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, only set the fifth and sixth time, respectively. During the final part of the session, Carlos Sainz Jr. crashes into the wall, thus not managing to finish withing the first ten positions, as opposed to his teammate, Max Verstappen, who sets the fifth time. Fernando Alonso, over the course of his last attempt, is slowed down by double yellow flags, necessary to allow commissioners to clean the track from debris left by Carlos Sainz Jr’s car. Apart from the two Spaniards, Force India drivers, Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg, as well as Jenson Button are out. In Q3, Daniel Ricciardo immediately takes the lead of the timesheet, and not even Kimi Räikkönen and Lewis Hamilton can beat him.
Nonetheless, the Australian driver is beaten by Sebastian Vettel, who sets a time of 1'44"305. Daniil Kvyat sets the fourth-fastest time, behind Nico Rosberg. During his second stint, Daniel Ricciardo does not manage to beat Sebastian Vettel, who is instead able to improve. Sebastian Vettel gets the pole position number 46 of his career, the first for Ferrari since the German Grand Prix in 2012, after a wait of 61 races: such result interrupts Lewis Hamilton’s streak of seven consecutive pole position starts, out of 23 consecutive poles obtained by Mercedes (in both cases, the longest streaks of consecutive poles for a driver and Constructor in the history of the Formula 1 World Championship), and 31 consecutive poles by Mercedes as engine supplier, historical record of the World Championship. Three years later, Ferrari is ahead of everyone else again. And it looks like the end of a nightmare. At least by witnessing Sebastian Vettel’s smile that, despite the helmet, spills over with happiness and brights up the Singapore night. He made the difference with a formidable lap, holding the breath for 5065 meters, which were dangerous for the sides of poor Eva, very close to all the walls of this circuits, as well as for Maurizio Arrivabene’s coronary arteries, team principal who, in Monza, overreached himself:
"In Singapore, we’ll be much closer to our rivals".
Sebastian Vettel is ahead of Daniel Ricciardo by almost 0.6 seconds, but above all he pulled ahead by 1.5 seconds of unrivalled Lewis Hamilton and the Mercedes team, which fell into such a negative day that it almost seems suspicious. And this is precisely the most resounding result of the day, which is historic in a way. Ferrari’s pole position stops an unavoidable dominance. Suffice is to know that since the FIA launched the new regulations regarding hybrid engines, the so-called power units, it had never happened before that a pole ended up in the hands of a car not equipped with Mercedes engine. Sometimes during the last season, Daniel Ricciardo tried to do that, but he never managed to start on pole position. For the first time in a while, Formula 1 will witness a hard-fought race. With Ferrari playing the unusual role of favourite to win, and the others chasing. Others mainly refers to Red Bull Racing drivers. But it won’t be easy to dethrone Sebastian Vettel from the place he conquered. Two are the reasons: the first is that Singapore is, as any street circuit, a place where it is almost impossible to overtake, whereas the second is that the German driver feels at ease around here.
"Here I feel confident. In a circuit like this, with walls overlooking the track, is crucial for drivers to feel confident, it allows you to take advantage of the track until the last millimeter".
Sebastian Vettel raced in Marina Bay seven times, won three times, and conquered two second places, a third, and a fifth position (with Scuderia Toro Rosso). The 1.5 seconds gap to Mercedes cannot be fully explained by this harmony between the driver and the circuit, but it is possible to say that at least 0.3 seconds were all merit of Sebastian Vettel. Now, he likes to scare opponents, as he did when he drove for Red Bull Racing:
"Which is the rival I fear the most? I don’t see why I should fear any, I have a great car and I start at the front".
Maybe the older people in the paddock are right when they say that this is the glory of a night, and that, starting with the next race, Mercedes will be on another planet again. But this is enjoyable. And in the meantime, the German says:
"It’s incredible. It’s only Saturday and the most difficult work has been done, but now I cherish this moment. At the start of the week it looked good already, the car is amazing to drive and it kept improving over the course of qualifying. We gave it all today, I’m impressed with the margin, but I believe that today everything worked out well. Overall, I did an almost perfect lap. On this track, the lap is so long and complex that once I crossed the finish line, I felt very relieved. We’re in a great position, but as I said it’s only Saturday and our main duty is tomorrow. Mercedes' cars are fast and Red Bull cars are competitive, as well, so tomorrow will be tough".
Maurizio Arrivabene keeps himself grounded and says:
"To be honest, it would have been better to get pole position in Monza in front of our crowd, which magnificently rooted for us. Apart from that, here it’s good, too. Sebastian was incredible, over the course of the last attempt he could have played it cool since he had a gap of three tenths, but instead he pushed and even kissed the wall, fortunately with no consequences. Kimi was very good, too, and he found himself again. It’s a great satisfaction, but now we must turn the page and look at tomorrow".
Regarding the unexpected struggles faced by Mercedes, the team principal of Ferrari underlines:
"I want to talk about the amazing job the guys did, their humbleness, and devotion to the team. Every team experiences difficulties, we worked on ours, and we leave Mercedes to theirs".
On Sunday, September 20th, 2015, Sebastian Vettel keeps the lead at the start of the Singapore Grand Prix, followed by Daniel Ricciardo, Kimi Räikkönen, Daniil Kvyat, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Felipe Massa, and Valtteri Bottas. At the back, at the start of the race, Max Verstappen has a problem and is thus overtaken by the entire group. Positions stay the same until drivers stop to change tires. Over the course of lap 13, Daniil Kvyat and Felipe Massa stop, but the Brazilian touches with Nico Hülkenberg while exiting the pit lane. The car of the German driver goes off track and hits the barriers. Due to the place where the car stopped, the race control decides to deploy the Virtual Safety Car. Drivers who still have not changed tires, take advantage of the situation to pit. In this way, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg manage to pass Daniil Kvyat. After three laps, the race control deploys the Safety Car to allow the cleaning of the track under safer conditions. At the re-start. Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Räikkönen are separated by tenths of seconds. Lewis Hamilton, fourth, seems to close the gap to the leading pack, but on lap 26 he tells via radio to his engineers that the Mercedes power unit is suffering from a loss of power. The British driver is overtaken by the other cars, until he decides to go back to the boxes and retire on the course of lap 33. On lap 34, Daniil Kvyat makes his second pit stop, which is however rather slow and causes him to lose a position in favor of Valtteri Bottas. On the same lap, Fernando Alonso retires. On the course of lap 37, the race control is obliged to deploy the Safety Car again, due to a spectator entering the track climbing over the barriers: this leads to another chance for the drivers to enter the box to change tires.
At the re-start, Sebastian Vettel keeps the first position, ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, Kimi Räikkönen, Nico Rosberg, Valtteri Bottas, Daniil Kvyat and Sergio Pérez. On lap 42, Jenson Button and Pastor Maldonado crash into each other. The British driver loses a part of the front wing and is obliged to go back to the boxes. During the last laps, the two Toro Rosso, with Supersoft tires, gain several positions, with Max Verstappen eight, and Carlos Sainz Jr. ninth. From the boxes, the engineers ask the Dutch driver to let Carlos Sainz Jr. pass, but Max Verstappen decides to keep the position. Sebastian Vettel wins the Singapore Grand Prix, ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Räikkönen. Nico Rosberg is fourth, followed by Valtteri Bottas, Daniil Kvyat, Sergio Perez, Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Felipe Nasr. Sebastian Vettel show: the German driver brings back Ferrari on top of the world. On Saturday, pole position, and on Sunday, the win: in a nutshell, a domination. Something unimaginable to picture up until a few days ago, which makes the tifosi of Ferrari dream. As if by magic, Sebastian Vettel is indeed suddenly returned to being that admired Red Bull driver, the one who started on pole position and won the race. A classic script then, one that he repeated in Singapore with Ferrari, including the first astounding lap which dump an abysmal gap on the driver behind him (this time, three seconds). To see Sebastian Vettel this competitive has done good to F1, not only to Ferrari fans: the show has indeed been great, with the German driver kissing the walls with absolute mastery and a strong Red Bull, just like the older days. There is nonetheless someone who had nothing to be happy about: Mercedes fans. The podium indeed saw Daniel Ricciardo in second place, followed by Kimi Räikkönen, with Nico Rosberg only fourth, while Lewis Hamilton was obliged to retire due to a drop in power.
What is happening to the ruling team? The drama: the development of the power unit does not work. And this is not a case that the satellite teams (which cannot further develop), did not have any problems. Now, Mercedes will run for cover, but in the meantime the dominance is interrupted. Ferrari and Red Bull Racing celebrate. And the World Championship changes, too. Lewis Hamilton obviously still leads the standings with 252 points, but Nico Rosberg now has 211 points, while Sebastian Vettel gets closer, with 203 points. And with this Ferrari, the second place is truly possible. As for the rest, this race is archived with yet another bad figure from McLaren (both cars retired), with yet another great result for the Scuderia Toro Rosso, which brings two cars to the points, and a crazy man who started strolling through the straight. In the super technological F1 world, where there are controls of any kind, this happens, too.
"An unbelievable weekend".
This is how Sebastian Vettel defines the Singapore weekend where, from pole position to the chequered flag, he did not have any rivals:
"Pole and victory, what else can I say. Thank you, guys, what a day, forza Ferrari".
For Vettel, this is the third win this season:
"We tried to create a gap, and I was ahead of three second on the first lap, then I slowed down, and Daniel Ricciardo recovered a few tenths. Afterward, the Safety Car was deployed two times. I kept the pace under control for a while during the second stint, then I pushed and kept the gap in check until the end. Over the course of the second part of the race, I changed strategy, with 35–36 laps left from the end, I knew that we were close to a pit-stop, yet I stayed out a few more laps".
Regarding the possibilities that Ferrari has of winning the World Championship and pass Mercedes with six races left, the German driver says:
"Of course, if there are other weekends like this, then the miracle may happen. We don’t care about what they are going through, we focus on our races".
And the team principal of Scuderia Ferrari, Maurizio Arrivabene, is very satisfied, too:
"Seb confirmed that he’s a champion. It was a very arduous race, very tough. I’m sweating like crazy, and not only due to the hot weather conditions. This team is amazing, and I’m pleased with Räikkönen, too".
Nevertheless, today, Seb draws the attention onto himself:
"This is a confirmation that we have great drivers, and above all a strong car. Moreover, Vettel is incredible, yesterday he got pole and I only saw Senna driving laps like that. Seb was great, and today he confirmed that he is a champion. Celebrating? No, I’m going to work".
Then, the president of Ferrari, Segio Marchionne, shares his joy, too:
"Congratulations to everybody for this victory. Sebastian Vettel drove as a true champion, which he is and every member of the team, on track and in Maranello, did a perfect job. I’m happy for Kimi Räikkönen, too, who is back on the podium: it’s been a long time since two Ferrari drivers were among the first three positions together. It’s a significant success, on a difficult track, that I first dedicate to all our tifosi, who never cease to show their love and support. We, Ferrari, promise them that this race is not an incidence, but rather an important step of our journey toward a stable return at the top and the Italian anthem playing more often".
Fernando Alonso congratulates his former team, as well:
"It’s good to see someone that is not Mercedes on the podium, we must take a picture and hang it at home because they’ve been dominating for two years now. I’m happy for my friends at Ferrari, let’s hope that it stays like this".
Lewis Hamilton keeps on extensively leading the World Championship standings, but he leaves Singapore with zero points and a retirement that is hard to soak in.
"Apparently, the new engine presented issues, but we don’t know the reason. I felt good and I was already in fourth position before the problem, I felt okay and thought I could close the gap to the drivers in front".
According to the British driver, the Ferraris will be quick in Japan:
"They’ll be quick, but here we were the slow ones, and we have to understand why, we hope this won’t happen again during the next race".
In the meantime, Sebastian Vettel keeps on underlining that:
"Yes, this has been one of the most wonderful races of my life".
With still redden cheeks because of the alcohol drank on the podium stage, shiny eyes for the tears, and the attitude of someone who has just won the lottery, this is an exhausted Sebastian Vettel at the end of the Singapore Grand Prix, in front of journalists from all over the world.
"It was all very intense. I felt a lot of pressure, with Ricciardo behind me, who was doing a great race, very strategic. At some point, my bottle of water broke, too, the one for the hydration. I was so thirsty… But I couldn’t make any mistake. I always tried to keep the situation under control, dictated the pace, taking advantage of the fact that, on this track, it’s not easy to overtake. I let him get closer, and then I pushed. I checked the gap between him and me and, fortunately, in the end, it worked out".
Did it ever happen to you before that somebody crossed the track as the Grand Prix was happening? Did it have the potential of ruining your race?
"The fact is that he risked his life, in that point we reach 290 km/h".
When was it that you understood you could have won the race?
"Not immediately. On Friday, I was a bit worried. But we worked all night long and the car has been strong on both Saturday and Sunday, until the last lap".
This is your third win of your first season in Ferrari, which is precisely as Michael Schumacher did in 1996. Is this a sign of fate?
"I don’t think it is correct to make such a comparison. And the car he had in 1996 was much worse than the one I have anyway".
With 42 victories, you are the third winning driver in Formula 1 history. Behind Prost (51), and Michael Schumacher (91). What more do you think you can achieve?
"Well, I’m 28, I’m not that young, any more. Anyway, if Prost is in any way reachable, I’d say that to think about Michael is ridiculous. Let’s put it like this: if it was a Grand Prix with 23 corners, I would just find myself at the first one, and him at the 23rd. I don’t even think about it".
What is the atmosphere like in the team after this result?
"The spirit is high. I wasn’t here in the last two years, but from what I understood, the situation has improved a lot".
Would you supply engines to Red Bull Racing next year?
"This is not something I decide. It’s a question that you must ask someone else. And apparently, the champagne I drank on the podium was much stronger than I thought. It’s better if I don’t say anything".
Are you surprised by Mercedes’ disappointing performance?
"Real. I’m sure that in Suzuka they’ll be back where they belong. But if this doesn’t happen, I won’t complain. And we’ll try to make the impossible possible".
To be happy, there is no need to understand. On the contrary, maybe sometimes not understanding helps. This might be the reason why, in the Singapore night, men and women from Maranello have no time nor desire to think about what happened to Mercedes. They only want to scream. They look at Eva, the number 5 car of Sebastian Vettel, crossing the finish line alone, after a two-hour battle, and then they run toward the podium, ready to celebrate together with his new leader, that former very smart young boy, that everyone keeps on comparing to Michael Schumacher. Even if for a bit, this situation reminds us precisely of those past and cheerful times. The Italian anthem played before the German one, the fireworks, mechanics that clash with the security guards, the tears. This is the third victory this season. But it feels like the first. The results obtained in Sepang and Budapest were straightforward, as a result of favorable conditions. For the first time since the start of the hybrid era, meaning the one of engines turned into extremely complicated power units, Mercedes struggled from start to finish, and is obliged to leave the whole stage to Ferrari and Red Bull. And it is on that stage that Sebastian Vettel burger into. The German driver built his personal triumph up with obsessive accuracy, starting from the Friday of free practices.
"We need to improve on the single lap".
He told in the middle of the night. On the next day, he crashed the ambitions of the rivals in both free practices, and qualifying, with a lap on the borderline of what is humanly possible. During the race, he was perfect. Straightforward start and strategic management, track millimetre after track millimetre. Such a significant performance does not come by chance, especially here in Singapore. The Marina Bay circuit is quite an ugly track, where it is not possible to overtake or drive extremely fast. This is, nonetheless, a track for real drivers, with walls looming over and those sharp corners. In seven appointments, only Fernando Alonso won two times, while Lewis Hamilton one, and Sebastian Vettel four. He is the most winning active driver, and today we understood why. And to think that when he was winning with Red Bull Racing, almost every Ferrari fan said that it was all thanks to the fast car he drove. Moreover, Ferrari still has 4 out of 32 tokens to invest in the engine, whereas Mercedes used them all with the latest development, until now deluding. In Suzuka, Mercedes will quite probably solve its mysterious technical issues, Lewis Hamilton will be the usual cannibal, and the season will end as predicted. Nevertheless, somewhere in Maranello, somebody is working tirelessly, maybe fostered by a new conviction: unbeatable people do not exist, anymore.
"Yes, for a moment I thought about it. I thought that Pirelli may have given us different tires compared to the others. I don’t want to say that this occurred. On the contrary. But yes, I thought about it".
Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, does not accuse anyone of anything. Nonetheless, by admitting that he had a doubt, even if for a moment, Mercedes team principal ends up fostering that idea that is circulating in the paddock since Saturday evening, that is the so-called conspiracy theory against Mercedes. The matter is easy. The British-German team notoriously has at its disposal a superior car as opposed to all the others, in terms of both aerodynamics and power unit. Nonetheless, the team arrived in Singapore, and it was made light of by Red Bull Racing and Ferrari. It was as if the car was never on track. At the end, in qualifying, Lewis Hamilton had 1.8 seconds gap from Sebastian Vettel; in the race it was even worse, with the car retired due to a failure of the intercooler. Lewis Hamilton, very suspicious, explains:
"We had a few issues, this is true. But this would be justified by a gap of half a second per lap, not a gap of a second and a half".
Ultimately, this is what everyone thinks. But nobody can explain it. Therefore, here it is the conspiracy theory, which might have decided to punish Mercedes after what happened during the Italian Grand Prix, in Monza. After the race, the cars of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were found with more under-inflated tires, exceeding the permissible. Consequently, Pirelli might have supplied different tires to Toto Wolff’s team, thus indulging this theory. Mercedes team principal explains:
"Something like this already happened to us in the DTM".
Without advising the team first, the supplier had given to BMW and Mercedes heavier tires, thus damaging the set-up of the cars.
"So yes, for a moment I thought about it".
Lewis Hamilton thought about it, too, when he let off steam in front of the press:
"The car is the same, I’m the same, you tell me what happened".
Obviously, Pirelli rejects any direct or indirect accusation with disdain. They explain that the lots of tires are assigned in a totally computerized way. And that it is ridiculous, as well as defamatory, to have such an idea in mind. The alternative theory to the conspiracy one is certainly much more reassuring. A sequence of unfortunate events played against Mercedes: the full traction circuit, couple and mechanic grip, which basically resets the advantages related to the power unit and aerodynamics; the hot and humid weather, which Mercedes always suffered, the tire inflation wanted by Pirelli, which once again penalizes the British-German cars. If we add to this list that the race engineers probably chose the wrong set-up, then we have an explanation of the disaster. Of course, until now, none of these elements was ever able to make Mercedes supremacy vacillate. Conspiracy or not, many doubts remain. We wonder whether the Japan Grand Prix will be enough to clear things up. To think that Ferrari could win the World Championship is more an act of faith, which is legitimate, than a reasonable belief. However, Sebastian Vettel says:
"We try to make the impossible possible".
And he is right about that, since he is quite renowned for comebacks, and he knows that the first condition to fulfil the dream is never give up, be in the right place when the rival makes a mistake. In 2012, more or less at this point of the season, precisely Sebastian Vettel was behind Fernando Alonso of 43 points. And he won the World Championship in the end. Nevertheless, during those times, Sebastian Vettel was in a Red Bull, which was much faster than the others. He currently has a gap of 49 points, but most of all he drives a Ferrari, which nobody, after the agitated Singapore Grand Prix, knows where to collocate in the infinite gap that Mercedes cars have created over the course of these two years of dominance. By taking into consideration time and manner of Sebastian Vettel’s triumph, Ferrari might not find itself at the top (the Marina Bay circuit was significantly in favour of the cars from Maranello), but certainly very close to that spot. On the contrary, if all the other previous races are taken into consideration, up until the Italian Grand Prix, they still find themselves behind. This oscillation is not particularly due to Ferrari performance, but rather to Mercedes, which in Singapore faced a debacle as much formidable results-wise as mysterious as for the reasons behind it. The main opinion in the paddock is that it was a single instance that won’t happen again anyway. The outcome of a combination of elements, among which the track, the temperature, the new regulations regarding tires, and some struggles with the new engine, which will unlikely happen again in the future. Starting with the Singapore Grand Prix already, in all likelihood the World Championship will find his undisputed leader again. Nonetheless, the win of Ferrari in Singapore also showed something else. Something that sounds like a promise in view of the next season. The team from Maranello found the right path to aim at being competitive again, and it is following that path at full speed. The win in Singapore has been less straightforward than the ones in Budapest and Sepang. It is the outcome of a precise work, started with the accountability of the technical director James Allison, followed by a reduction of the entire Gestione Sportiva. The numbers of the Italian Grand Prix were very clear already. The new Ferrari engine got dangerously close to the Mercedes one, so the latter had to act - apparently hurriedly - by investing the last tokens (the power unit development is measured in tokens). On the one hand, the British-German team can count on a position of superiority, but on the other hand, it compromised the reliability of the engines. But above all, everyone thought that the competition rekindled. This idea took shape in Singapore, on a track where the Ferrari engine superiority took the spotlight. The following circuits will have different characteristics, temperatures will change, the power of Mercedes engines will be back prevailing compared to the agility of Ferrari, and for Sebastian Vettel it will be difficult to make the impossible possible. From the standpoint of the night of Singapore, 2016 does not look that scary, though.