Midweek Wrap: Vettel Wins, KMag and RoGro, Hulk in for Kubica?

With Sebastian Vettel returning to the winners’ circle and a flurry of silly-season action, the past seven days saw plenty of action in the F1 world.

Singapore GP Aftermath: What a strange weekend. On Friday, it looked for all the world like Ferrari’s brief run at the top was over, with Mercedes and Red Bull back to the fore at a high-downforce track, yet come Saturday, the Reds had completely flipped the script and were just as strong as they’d been at Spa and Monza.

With that in mind, I’m having a hard time placing this race in its proper context. Did the Scuderia really just unlock the magic formula to their aero upgrades on Saturday? Or were Mercedes and Red Bull thrown completely off-course by their defective simulations? Or maybe it’s a combination of both? Right now, it’s very hard to tell, and that makes this weekend’s race in Sochi even more intriguing.

On a similar note, is this the turnaround Sebastian Vettel was looking for? He didn’t exactly outshine Charles Leclerc in taking the win at Marina Bay, but at the same time, confidence is a valuable commodity in this sport, and Vettel has been seemingly lacking it this season. Maybe that changes now – again, I guess we’ll find out in Sochi.

Haas Retain Grosjean and Magnussen: You may be able to make a decent case for Kevin Magnussen, but to see Haas re-sign Romain Grosjean for another season, particularly after incidents like this one is nothing short of an absolute shocker.

Either Guenther Steiner is the most forgiving man on the planet, or he needs to get checked for memory loss, because there is simply no way the Frenchman was the best option available. No, he’s not considered a slow driver, and he reportedly gives his engineers useful feedback, but how much does that count for when he keeps finding new ways to put his car in the wall? As Paul said last week, “if they were really serious they would have used this as an opportunity to really show their intent or at least maximise the obvious opportunities” and brought on someone like Alex Rossi or Nico Hulkenberg, to say nothing of the myriad other capable drivers.

Assuming Haas wants to actually challenge the likes of Renault and McLaren in 2020, it’s going to be awfully hard to do so with this lineup. In comparison, those teams each have two drivers with the quality to make it at the best teams on the grid, and you definitely can’t say that about Magnussen, let alone Grosjean.

Kubica Steps Out, Hulkenberg to Step In? Seemingly an inevitability given his sub-par performances this season, Robert Kubica made it known last Thursday that he was indeed leaving Williams at the end of the season.

One of those situations where you wonder if it was Kubica saying “you can’t fire me, I quit!”, there’s no getting around the disappointment of a former race-winning F1 driver coming back to the sport and looking like a shell of his former self, but it’s still a remarkable human story. No one would’ve blamed him if he’d been unable to return to any level of motorsport after his 2011 accident, so to make it back to the biggest stage of all is quite the testament to his resiliency. Here’s hoping he finds another series where he can thrive once more.

On the flip side, is this the lifeline Nico Hulkenberg needs? With the Haas door now shut, and Red Bull apparently not interested, it seems Williams is the only seat left on the grid for the German, although he’ll have to fend-off Nicholas Latifi and the gobs of cash he can provide. Unfortunately for Hulkenberg, with the current state of the nine-time former world champions, they might have to prioritise money over ability, and that means for the first time in a long time, he’ll be forced to look elsewhere.


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Abiteboul: FIA are ‘losing the plot’

Renault principal Cyril Abiteboul believes some people at the FIA are “losing the plot” following Daniel Ricciardo’s DQ from qualifying at the Singapore GP.

Daniel Ricciardo was disqualified from qualifying in Singapore after his MGU-K spiked over the 120kW limit during Q1 when going over a kerb, a decision which infuriated the Australian due to him gaining no performance advantage at all from the incident.

Ricciardo would be forced to start P20 after qualifying P8, and Abiteboul was unhappy with the lack of leeway which is being shown towards breaches of the technical regulations at a time in Formula 1 where penalties for in-race incidents are becoming less extreme, even accusing the series’ governing body of “losing the plot”.

“It’s a bit sad because we all know the fans want less penalties, that’s obvious,” Abiteboul told Motorsport.com.

“It’s strange because on the one side you can see that on the race track [race director] Michael Masi is coming with a new doctrine, the black and white flag, a sort of yellow card, so we’re trying to be sensible about the regulations and the impact on the sport and the show.

“And on the other side we have this, and for me there is disconnect between the two that we can only regret because we were on the receiving end, and obviously you can’t expect anything else from me.

“In my opinion in the future there has to be a discussion with the FIA on whether we want to follow more that system that is going on on the race track, or that strict application based on machines, not based on people.

“We will be able to save lots of money when we will be able to be governed by machines in the future.

“We’re trying to be a bit less black and white on track. There are other precedents. The same thing happened to Pierre Gasly [a fuel flow irregularity in Baku] earlier in the season. I think some of the people at the FIA are losing the plot, in my opinion.”

Masi responded to make it clear that breaches of the technical regulations are black and white in the FIA’s eyes.

“When it comes to technical infringements, Martin Brundle put it best, you’re either pregnant or you’re not,” he said.

“It’s one of those. I think everyone knows when it comes to technical infringements of that nature what the outcome is. You either are or you aren’t.

“I can feel for Daniel, it was an error, and sadly it is what it is. Personally I think we’re treading on dangerous territory when we’re starting with technical infringements in particular building margins in upon margins.”

As part of the FIA’s system for dealing with such breaches, FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer will often warn teams of an issue before heading straight to the stewards, and Renault had reportedly already been warned for similar spikes during practice sessions earlier in the season.

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Hamilton: Was Singapore as boring as Monaco?

Lewis Hamilton wants the Marina Bay Circuit to be modified after fearing the Singapore GP was “as boring as Monaco to watch”.

The opening stint of the race saw drivers crawling around the street circuit, led by Charles Leclerc, as they looked to save their tyres.

At one point George Russell was the fastest man on track for Williams, but there was little anyone could do but stick to the reduced pace due to a lack of overtaking spots.

Hamilton, who finished P4, wants to see more overtaking spots added to the track because he fears the Singapore GP is becoming like the Monaco GP – little overtaking and arguably boring to watch.

“This unfortunately, it is a really beautiful place that we come to and it is such a great track, but it is worse than Monaco almost. Was it as boring as Monaco to watch that race?” he asked reporters after the Singapore GP.

“Maybe we need to change the last corner so we stop in a hairpin and we have a tight hairpin to go around.

“The [current] last corner, you cannot follow and it is a sequence of five quite fast corners that come up after where you never get close. That will make it even more special this track maybe.”

Hamilton was confused as to why Leclerc drove so slowly – the Brit tried a similar tactic in 2018 but ultimately bolted to create a gap, while Leclerc didn’t do this.

“I don’t really know why he drove as slow as he did,” said Hamilton.

“You could say that he probably studied my race last year or what I did last year when I drove off the pace then picked up the pace and made the gap. But he never made the gap. He just kept everyone bunched up.”

Lando Norris had also lashed out at the way drivers were crawling around the track early on, saying it “isn’t racing”.

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Palmer: Ferrari needed Vettel to win

Ex-Formula 1 driver Jolyon Palmer believes Sebastian Vettel was the racer Ferrari needed to win the Singapore GP to boost his confidence.

Vettel ended a year-plus run without a victory when he saw off team-mate Charles Leclerc to take the chequered flag at the Marina Bay Street Circuit. He will now bid to follow up in the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi this weekend.

Leclerc was left frustrated afterwards because Vettel had been given the better strategy as he used the undercut to get ahead of his younger team-mate, but Palmer believes that looking to the future, Vettel was the right winner for Ferrari to give them two drivers on form and full of confidence.

“The race yielded the perfect result for Ferrari – a one-two – and probably the perfect order for them as well, whether that was intentional or not,” he wrote in his BBC column.

“The pressure has been mounting on Vettel all year, but it has become intense since Formula 1 returned from its summer break, as team-mate Charles Leclerc took victories in Belgium and Italy and Vettel made the latest in a series of errors at Monza.

“For Ferrari, the upside of this could be huge.

“Finally, in Singapore, Vettel was smiling again after the race. He drove perfectly once out front and looked back to his best in terms of race performance.

“The confidence he can take from ending his year-long drought of victories and hushing some critics should give him a boost heading to Russia this weekend.

“And if Vettel can now respond and raise the bar within the team even higher, the whole Ferrari team can find performance in it.

“With the latest one-two finish continuing their clean sweep of races since the summer break, they are marking themselves out as serious contenders and a threat to the Mercedes dominance, if not for 2019, then for next year.”

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Ferrari victory ‘revitalises all of Formula 1’

Ex-Formula 1 boss, Flavio Briatore, believes Ferrari’s victories are helping “revitalise” the World Championship and Formula 1 in general.

Ferrari have returned from the summer break in red-hot form with Charles Leclerc winning in Spa and Monza and Sebastian Vettel keeping the winning streak alive at the Marina Bay circuit in Singapore.

And Briatore has said that the Scuderia are revitalising the sport which has been dominated throughout the turbo hybrid era by Mercedes.

“The Ferrari victory revitalises the World Championship and all of Formula 1,” Briatore told Adnkronos.

“Although I don’t think there’s a chance of winning the World Championship, this Ferrari 1-2 does a lot of good.”

Briatore labelled Leclerc as a “great talent” but feels the Singapore win was something that Vettel needed.

“As for Leclerc, on the other hand, we can safely say that it has proved to be a real great talent,” Briatore added.

“He could win, but I think there is nothing to say about teamwork. Vettel needed a victory.”

Briatore also praised fellow compatriot Antonio Giovinazzi for battling bravely to a P10 finish under the floodlights in Singapore.

“He did a super race too,” Briatore said.

“The results depend above all on the machines that the drivers have at their disposal.  It is difficult to find them [good results] outside Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.”

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Pit Chat: The love is strong for Hamilton and Vettel

Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have a lot of time for each other these days. And we have a lot of time for them both, too.

Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen take a trip down memory lane, bet regret is strong in Singapore and Sky Sports F1’s David Croft provides one of the best commentary lines of the season. Yes, really.

But first…

Suits you

Sponsor adverts involving drivers can often lead to our toes curling due to the high amount of cringe levels, but there was no danger of that happening when this particular video was released ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix race weekend.

Daniel Ricciardo: The Presentation

When he’s not driving, he’s planning, and when he’s not planning, he’s presenting 📈Want to see what else Renault F1 Team driver Daniel Ricciardo gets up to when takes over at an INFINITIMSport dealership? #promotedWatch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFXRRbEwA-E&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR3CX-4NUOvqK3Qz9kQcsqb0RrLelSoIVS01cGVtCsUIKvz9yaEzKsylZIk

Posted by Motorsport.com on Friday, 6 September 2019

It’s very difficult not to laugh when Ricciardo is around. Putting him next to Lando Norris in the press conference (again) was only going to end one way.

The dangers of betting

Getting laughs for very different reasons are those who put themselves forward for ridicule with bets and dares. Pain manifested itself in two distinct ways in Singapore…

Exhibit A:

It appears the Reddit user in question is going to stick to their promise.

Exhibit B:

We will overlook the fact the bread is in fact sliced and could have easily been made to look as if it had been eaten. We will give them the benefit of the doubt and hope they had a very full stomach.

Feel Good Inc

Now to the headline matter in hand and it warmed our hearts to see two multiple World Champions have so much respect for each other. Could be different if the title was on the line of course, but at least we get moments like this.

On reverse grid races…

And post-race congratulations…

Lovely stuff.

Bye phone

Another wholesome Lewis Hamilton moment came after he accidentally broke a fan’s phone in the paddock area on his way to the garage.

Usually phones lose value when they break or smash. Not when Hamilton signs it though…

Any other business

Got seven minutes to spare? The correct answer is yes because this lap-by-lap comparison with former team-mates Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo is TV gold.

Valtteri Bottas’ weekend was one to forget for him. He couldn’t even have his usual cup of coffee in peace…

It is also nice to see Rich Energy are taking the break-up with Haas well.

And it’s good to see that ‘silly season’ is still alive and kicking…

Now that is a stretch.

Last word

Over to you Crofty…

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Mercedes’ treatment of Bottas in Singapore went too far

Valtteri Bottas is no stranger to the ‘wingman’ role at Mercedes, but their treatment of the Finn in Singapore was very harsh.

The Singapore Grand Prix did little to follow the script – while most thought it would be Mercedes and Red Bull fighting for the win, in the end Ferrari would blow away their competition with Sebastian Vettel scoring his first victory in over a year and Ferrari’s third in a row.

It remains to be seen whether Ferraris “new parts” have offered a miracle cure for their struggles on high-downforce tracks, but while they had an unhappy Charles Leclerc on their hands after they used the undercut to get Vettel out ahead of the 21-year-old, Mercedes made a far more controversial call with Bottas.

The Silver Arrows were all at sea with their strategy around the Marina Bay Street Circuit. When Vettel pitted from P3 they decided to keep Hamilton out, but with the German lapping seriously faster than their Championship leader, Mercedes had a choice to make.

As it turned out they left Hamilton on track for another six laps, hoping that Vettel and Leclerc would lose major time as they approached the traffic ahead and also banking on a early Safety Car.

Hamilton was facing the prospect of pitting and rejoining the track P6 behind Max Verstappen, Bottas and Alex Albon – that was until Bottas was ordered to reduce his pace significantly to open a gap for Hamilton to slip into in front of him.

The plan worked, just about, as Hamilton re-entered the race, and a further dulling of the throttle from Bottas allowed his team-mate to drive on with P4 to his name, the position where he would ultimately finish.

Now, Bottas is of course a regular victim of Mercedes’ orders – remember Russia last year? At least at that point Bottas letting Hamilton through for the win was important for the Drivers’ Championship, but there was very little need for what happened in Singapore.

By doing what they did, Hamilton extended his Championship lead over Bottas by another two points, wow!

Leclerc, the best non-Mercedes challenger to Hamilton is 96 points adrift, so even if Ferrari are about to dominate the rest of 2019 it would take something spectacular to deny Hamilton World Championship number six.

Mercedes principal Toto Wolff said after the race that the “harsh reality” was that they were “nowhere” in the race. So if there was no realistic expectation for Hamilton to go on and challenge for the win, then what was the point of doing that to Bottas?

Wolff assured us that it wasn’t something they wanted to do, Bottas told the media he was “fine” with it, but while the Finn is a clear No.2 in the team and in acceptance of that, it just isn’t racing.

A clear favourite is certainly nothing new in a Formula 1 team, even up until Singapore Vettel was fighting to prove that he was Leclerc’s equal, but there is very little joy a viewer can get out of seeing a driver being told to go slow so their team-mate can overtake them for no major gain.

Formula 1 isn’t fair, that is the simple truth, but some things just take the p***, and Mercedes’ treatment of Bottas at the Singapore GP did exactly that.

Jamie Woodhouse

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Mercedes did not recognise change in C5 tyre

Ferrari “ruthlessly took advantage” of a tyre weakness Mercedes had during the Singapore Grand Prix, according to Alberto Antonini.

Antonini was Ferrari’s press officer up until the end of Maurizio Arrivabene’s reign as team principal at the Scuderia and maintains strong contacts within the Ferrari garage. He also says he is still part of a WhatsApp group containing Ferrari members.

It is through this group that he has gathered information about a weakness at Mercedes that Ferrari were able to exploit regarding the soft tyres.

The C3, C4 and C5 tyres that Pirelli announced for the Singapore Grand Prix this year are broadly the same as the soft, ultrasoft and hypersoft tyres brought to the 2018 race.

The difference, though, that Ferrari noticed according to Antonini, is the hypersoft (this year’s C5 tyre) has even less grip than last year.

“Ferrari pointed out to me that this year’s soft tyre, or the C5 specification, despite being comparable to the pink 2018 hypersoft, actually had a little less grip than last year,” Antonini told FormulaPassion.It.

“Mercedes stumbled into this window [of less grip] with a suicidal strategy, leaving [Lewis] Hamilton out on track until the soft tyres were completely finished.

“Ferrari knew that changing the tyre earlier would give them a big advantage because the soft [or C5] has less grip compared to last year.”

The first indication of the difference of grip levels on the fastest tyre came in qualifying when Hamilton was nearly four tenths slower in qualifying on Saturday compared to his 2018 pole position lap.

Antonini added: “The proof is the fact that Hamilton did not even get near to approaching his pole time last year and so Mercedes failed to fully exploit the enormous difference in performance between the hypersoft/C5 compound.”

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Rosberg: Vettel out-lap ‘best he’s ever done’

Nico Rosberg heaped praise on Sebastian Vettel claiming that his out-lap in the Singapore GP was “one of the best laps he has ever done”.

Ferrari were able to perform the undercut with Vettel on his team-mate Charles Leclerc as the German went on to win for a record fifth time at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, much to Leclerc’s frustration.

That was Vettel’s first win in over a year, and Rosberg praised his compatriot for overcoming the mounting pressure on him to claim victory.

“Vettel has done a really good weekend in these difficult circumstances. The criticisms of him were so hard and he lost a lot of support, even from his team internally, his family, Ferrari being his racing family, that is really hard,” Rosberg said in his review of the Singapore GP.

“It’s tough for a driver when you feel that everyone is supporting the young gun, the up and coming star, and you’re losing the support even though you get paid so much more salary.

“With all that pressure he was driving really well and even in qualifying he was on it, didn’t quite get it [pole] in the end, but was really on the pace with Charles all the way.”

Vettel pitted a lap before Leclerc and was able to nail his out-lap to jump his younger team-mate for the net race lead, and Rosberg described that as “one of the best laps” Vettel has ever done.

“In the race we have to say yes, the strategy was in his [Vettel’s] advantage, but still that out-lap that he did on those hard tyres was surely one of the best laps he has ever done because it was absolutely epic,” Rosberg explained.

“The computer calculations said that you should only be able to gain about two seconds, and he gained 3.4s on Charles so surely Charles didn’t do the best in-lap either, and Sebastian just did the absolute most epic out-lap the world has ever seen.

“If you do the job there in those crucial moments then you somewhat deserve the race win.”

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Vettel: Ferrari is bigger than me and Leclerc

Amidst the controversy of Singapore, Sebastian Vettel has made it clear that Ferrari is “bigger than any individual”.

Charles Leclerc was left frustrated with Ferrari after they used the undercut to Vettel’s advantage as he jumped Leclerc in the pit stops and went on to win the Singapore Grand Prix.

It would have been a third win in a row for Leclerc, and he made Ferrari aware over team radio that he wasn’t happy with what they had done.

However, Vettel was keen to stress that both he and his team-mate had to respect the call Ferrari made because they and no other individual is bigger than the team.

“I said on the radio after the race that the team is bigger than myself, bigger than any individual,” Vettel, now a record five-time winner in Singapore, explained to reporters.

“I’m happy for the guys and we finished one-two, so for me the order is important, and for Charles the order is important, that is why we are here. We ultimately want to fight for victories.

“As I said, the team in this regard is bigger than us.”

Vettel remains P5 in the Drivers’ Championship after the win, but closes to within six points of Leclerc.

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