Sebastian Vettel shouldn’t have won the 2012 Singapore Grand Prix. However, he did so in controlled and clear fashion to take his second consecutive win around the Marina Bay Street Circuit, picking up the pieces after Lewis Hamilton exited the race early on.
His race victory proved to be the first in a dominant run of four fly-away wins for the Red Bull driver, enabling him to dramatically close the gap on championship leader Fernando Alonso.
The German’s 25 point haul in Singapore edged him to within 30 points of Fernando Alonso, who then led the title by 29 points, and kick started a stunning run of victories that put him in the lead of the championship just two rounds later.
The F1 field arrived in Singapore for the only night-race of the season, hot off the back of a dramatic Belgian Grand Prix in Spa and a clear race win for Lewis Hamilton at Monza. The Brit finished the first practice session of the weekend in second place, one position behind 2011 victor Sebastian Vettel.
The German’s best time of 1m50.466 was half a second faster than Hamilton’s best attempt. Vettel completed 24 laps during the 90 minute session, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Pastor Maldonado completing the top five.
However, the green track and low grip levels produced numerous trips to the escape roads and a number of off-track excursions, although everyone managed to keep their cars out of the barriers.
Unlike first practice, which took place just after the setting sun, the second session took place under dark skies as night drew in. Conditions continued to be dry on Friday with the heat and humidity also remaining a factor.
Vettel finished on top once again with a best time of 1m48.340 as drivers continued to build in confidence around the twisty and ‘green’ street circuit. Button, Alonso, Webber and Hamilton rounded out the top five.
The Force India duo of Di Resta and Hulkenberg looked in fine form in sixth and seventh, just ahead of Rosberg, Massa and Grosjean. Bruno Senna was the first driver of the weekend to find the wall after launching over the kerbs at the ‘Singapore Sling’, bringing out the red flag.
The daytime arrived but the F1 paddock was fast asleep, tucked up in bed and – as always during F1′s only night race – following European time. Third practice took place on Saturday evening with Sebastian Vettel making it a clean sweep, adding to his fastest FP1 and FP2 times in the third and final session.
The German continued to bring the lap times down with his best time of 1m47,947 being four tenths faster than his benchmark set in FP2. It was three tenths faster than second placed man Lewis Hamilton with Alonso, Hulkenberg and Raikkonen finishing close behind.
The field was noticeably spread out with the top 10 separated by two seconds. With drivers eager to find the limit and perfect set-ups ahead of qualifying, there were three crashes during the session.
Mark Webber and Sergio Perez clouted the wall at turn 18 but managed to continue, with Vitaly Petrov bringing out the red flag in the closing stages after finding the barrier.
Qualifying is always important around a street circuit, so the pressure was on as Q1 arrived. The 20 minute session was topped by Romain Grosjean after he felt the need to strap on a set of super-soft tyres. Di Resta and Raikkonen rounded out the top three.
The likes of Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton remained in their respective garages after just one run. Their gamble proved to pay off with all the front running teams progressing through, the midfield runners failing to displace them on their super-soft runs.
Kobayashi took the risk and remained in his garage too, but paid the price after he fell to 18th by the chequered flag. He was knocked out alongside the usual suspects, Petrov finishing ahead of Kovalainen in Caterham’s fierce inter-team battle. Glock, Pic, Karthikeyan and De La Rosa rounded out the results.
Q2 was an action-packed session with plenty of off-track excursions, drivers pushing the limit in a bid to progress through to the third and final session. Hamilton finished on top with Vettel close behind, the two in a league of their own. Webber, Grosjean and Alonso rounded out the top five.
Grosjean managed to make it through despite hitting the barriers. Someone who wasn’t so lucky was Bruno Senna. After his crash on Friday, the Williams driver found the Armco once again and finished the session in 17th. Raikkonen was a surprise casualty from the Q2 drop-zone, failing to make it through in 12th – behind Nico Hulkenberg.
Massa, Perez, Ricciardo and Vergne joined them in the drop zone, failing to progress to the top 10 shoot-out.
Q3 arrived with just 10 minutes to decide the top 10 on the grid. It was a busy session with Hamilton looking strong from the outset, eventually ending the session in pole position with a best lap time of 1m46.362. His time was four tenths faster than Pastor Maldonado who was a surprise in second place.
Vettel could only manage third with Button, Alonso and Di Resta all finishing within one second of the McLaren driver. Webber could only set the seventh fastest time in Q3 with Grosjean, Schumacher and Rosberg rounding out the top 10.
Race day arrived and temperatures were typically hot, with anticipation was building after a few surprises emerged from qualifying on Saturday night.
With the path ahead clearly illuminated by over 1,600 custom-made floodlights, the toughest race of the season got underway.
Hamilton made a good start off the grid and led into turn one. Maldonado dropped to fourth, behind Vettel and Button, with several drivers cutting turn two. Contact for Vitaly Petrov on the first lap meant that he had to limp back to the pits for repairs after dislodging his nosecone.
By the end of lap one, Hamilton had eked out a 1.2 second lead as he edged out of the DRS zone. Massa pitted with a left-rear puncture as the leading two started to edge away from Button, the gap extending to seven seconds by lap six.
The first scheduled stops kicked off on lap seven as Hulkenberg and Perez moved on to the soft Pirelli compound, ditching the super-soft. Webber merged off into the pits on lap nine, meanwhile his team-mate was starting to drop back from Hamilton and fell into the clutches of Button.
He pitted on lap 11 but emerged in the midfield pack. Despite the race still being in its early stages, the Singapore barriers had already taken a hit after Timo Glock tapped the wall at turn 18 – where the track heads under the grandstand.
The Marussia driver managed to continue but lost time in his battle with the Caterham and HRT drivers. Ferrari and Mercedes brought Alonso and Schumacher in to the pits on lap 12 with race leader Hamilton following on the next lap.
Jenson Button moved briefly into the lead, but he failed to make progress despite staying out on track when he emerged from his lap 15 pit stop behind Vettel. Maldonado almost collided with the barriers after a violent twitch at turn six, his DRS wide open in pursuit of the car ahead, the Venezuelan having lost ground after his front row grid slot.
Hamilton and Vettel traded fastest lap times as the gap remained pretty consistent. However, Vettel was promoted into the lead after Hamilton dramatically slowed on lap 23. He was stuck in neutral with a gearbox failure and retired from the race, a blow for the Brit after looking on course for his fourth win of the year.
The second stops kicked off on lap 28 with Webber pitting on lap 29 for a fresh set of soft tyres. The safety car was deployed on lap 30 after Narain Karthikeyan clumsily crashed at turn 18. Cars flooded into the pit lane to take advantage of the break in proceedings, Vettel and Button still emerging in the lead.
Maldonado retired during the safety car period on lap 37 after a hydraulics issue. The race resumed on lap 39 but Vettel wasn’t ready to put the hammer down, Button almost running into the back of him.
The drama continued with Schumacher running into the back of Jean-Eric Vergne on the run to turn 14. The German locked his brakes and careered into the back of the Frenchman, deploying the safety car once again.
The pack was released from the safety car a few laps later with Vettel soon eking out a lead over Button. The battles in the midfield were fierce with Ricciardo and Senna duelling intensely, Perez and Hulkenberg squabbling behind and Webber battling with Kobayashi.
Hulkenberg made contact with Perez during their battle, then colliding with Kobayashi on the following lap and developing a puncture. The race went down to the timer as the two hours limit closed in. Button continued to fall away from Vettel as the German edged closer to his second consecutive victory.
However the German remained unchallenged by the chequered flag, taking the race win by a considerably margin and edging closer to Alonso in the championship battle. Due to the safety car periods, the race fell two laps short of the full distance.
Button finished in second place with Alonso holding off pressure from Di Resta to round out the podium. Di Resta still managed to finish in a career best fourth position, ahead of Rosberg, Raikkonen and Grosjean.
Massa, Ricciardo and Webber rounded out the points finishers after a long and busy battle in the midfield. Perez just missed out on a point in 11th with Glock finishing in 12th place, a fantastic result for Marussia.
He finished ahead of the troubled Kobayashi and Hulkenberg, Pic also finishing well in 15th. Kovalainen, De La Rosa, Senna (who pulled off with two laps to go) and Petrov completed the classified finishers.
It was a dramatic race packed full of excitement, with Vettel picking up the pieces after Hamilton’s retirement to take victory. It was a race win that proved to be very important in the title battle.