As Sherlock Holmes noted in Silver Blaze, the only thing noteworthy about this dog was that we didn’t hear a peep out of it. Nico Rosberg entered the Singapore Grand Prix weekend just two points shy of his team mate Lewis Hamilton at the drivers’ table top, but still you’d hardly know that we had any sort of championship fight.
The assumption around was that Lewis would, one way or another, prevail. But the weekend in Singapore felt like a watershed, one in which all had to frantically re-calibrate whatever assumptions they had.
Mercedes had recovered from whatever its problems were at this venue 12 months ago and again led the way. But of the Merc pair Nico, in the most unanticipated and trying circumstances, all weekend was on another level.
Singapore GP 2016 Review – Rosberg’s Rout
Lewis all things being equal is quicker we thought. He always goes well at the Marina Bay track, possibly the year’s toughest challenge. Nico in any case falls away when the pressure’s on. But this weekend at least, not a bit of that happened. A few common barbs against Nico were dashed.
In qualifying he was a whole seven tenths of a second up on Lewis, and in the race his advantage was about as comfortable. For 45 of the 61 laps it was typical Singapore fare. Nico had led off the line and looked comfortable staying there. But ironically it was a move by Mercedes, pitting Lewis an additional time to get him third place back from Kimi Raikkonen, that started the chain reaction that oh-so nearly lost Nico what looked an assured win.
And the threat wasn’t from Lewis but from his closest challenger in both qualifying and the race this time – Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull. The pit stops mentioned left Ricciardo with nothing to lose, so he bolted on new boots himself and started to tear chunks out of Nico’s lead, routinely by more than two seconds a lap. Nico had no choice but to stick it out, as pitting himself would lose him first place. For a time we looked on course for a dead heat, but Nico held on – just – by under half a second after nearly two hours of racing.
History repeats itself – but not entirely
F1 has an uncanny ability to repeat itself – and this time it was rather uncanny. Go back to 2008 and replace Nico’s name with Felipe Massa’s and the parallels are disquieting. Just like the German Massa headed to Singapore in the drivers’ championship mix on points, but with many observers struggling to take the fact seriously. Assuming that the self-same Lewis would win out. Then around the Marina Bay circuit Massa seized pole position by a country mile. Suddenly even the most resolute Massa critics went ‘woah…’.
That time though come the race Massa’s Singapore hopes were dashed, indirectly, by a professional foul by the Renault team, with Nelsinho Piquet crashing deliberately and infamously. Even worse for Massa the points lost it transpired more than would have swung that year’s championship his way, that which he lost so narrowly at the very last. Thankfully for Nico the first part of history at least didn’t repeat.
In F1 we love ‘what if?’ stories and perhaps, in a way, this time we’re going to get to find out what will happen in a way we didn’t eight years ago. Nico now leads the table by eight points with six rounds remaining. Lewis meanwhile was remarkably sanguine, insisting he remains confident. If the dog of the 2016 drivers’ title destination had been quiet, fully prepare yourself for it to start yapping now.