You may have heard it claimed that F1 is never predictable. The claim may wear, particularly in an age of single-car dominance like this one we’re in. It’s hard to deny too that it’s often said mainly to perk up waning interest.
But the claim also has truth in it, and boy did we get a reminder in this Singapore Grand Prix weekend. Almost unbelievably, like we’d slipped into a parallel universe, the usually-haughty Mercedes simply was nowhere. It took a while for the realisation to sink in, but qualifying confirmed it in gaudy text as they were a full second and a half off the pace. And the race was much the same; the Mercs never a factor. And the explanation for this wasn’t obvious.
Vettel dominates in familiar style
Upfront in their stead meanwhile, in a weekend with a very new competitive order Sebastian Vettel’s brand of dominance was of the familiar sort.
The template from his days of commanding races with Red Bull was almost precisely-replicated, about the only difference being he was now in a Ferrari. From the red light going out Seb was off at full pelt like someone flicked a switch, leaving Daniel Ricciardo a breathless three seconds behind after just one lap. Quickly his advantage was around five seconds, where it stayed for the most part. Seb performing the next section of his party piece by managing the gap at a comfortable level but no more, and responding to whatever threat might have the temerity to materialise behind.
Furthermore this is a track on which he has a stunning record. He has now won here four times – precisely half of the Grands Prix here – and he’s never finished lower than fifth. Even after two safety car appearances as if on rails he still led by the end. His old boss Christian Horner – more acquainted with Seb’s ways than most – summed it all up: “He’s always been fantastic at this track and this was classic Seb today…”.
The afore-mentioned Ricciardo while impressive could only pedal gamely on his way to runners-up spot. Seb’s team mate Kimi Raikkonen did something similar in the Australian’s wake to complete the podium.
Only then and some time later did we get a Merc, Nico Rosberg’s. Lewis Hamilton’s didn’t make the flag due to mechanical woes. He at least had the comfort that this ill-fortune struck on a weekend where he was due to take less of a hit to his championship lead, which remains sizeable.
And as you’d expect such a shock weekend has started a debate about whether this is the shape of things to come or simply a one-off. The smart money remains on the latter. The Singapore track and the chosen tyre compounds could have been designed not to suit the silver cars while Suzuka in a week’s time is close to the polar opposite. The probability is that normal service will be resumed there.
But doubtlessly Ferrari has improved. There likely is too much ground to make up in the championships, but the red cars not for the first time this campaign should at least make the races more interesting. And we’ve said already that this game is never predictable.