To win the 2011 drivers’ title at the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday, Sebastian Vettel, the leader of the Formula One series, had several scenarios available. But whatever happened, he had to finish on the podium, in the top three spots.
That feat would not be difficult, given that he had ended first or second in all but one of the 13 previous races this season, when he finished fourth. In the end, just as he had done eight times before this year, Vettel, the reigning world champion, won the race, easily.
“A good day at the office, the car was amazing,” Vettel said. “I was surprised myself that I could pull away that much. A nice smooth race in the front. The speed was phenomenal that the car had.”
It was Vettel’s 19th career victory, and his first in Singapore.
But the win was not enough to take his second consecutive driving title and become the youngest double world champion in the history of the series. Finishing second for McLaren Mercedes was Jenson Button, who is the last of four surviving challengers.
Still, Vettel has 24 points more than Button, with five races left and 25 points awarded for a victory. Vettel leads the series with 309 points to 285 for Button.
He needs only one point to take the title, and that, of course, will be merely a formality for the German driver, 24.
“I was the best we could have done today,” Button said. “I feel I got everything I could out of the car. It’s a fun place to drive and your adrenaline is pumping through your veins all the time.”
The race for the driving title is finished for Vettel’s teammate at Red Bull, Mark Webber, who came in third, and for Fernando Alonso, of Ferrari, and Lewis Hamilton, of McLaren Mercedes, who finished fourth and fifth.
Throughout the race, these five drivers were the focus of the action of an otherwise calm stroll through the streets of this business hub in Asia.
“It is not the easiest track for me,” Webber added. “We all got what we deserved today.”
The Singapore race is the series’ only night race – starting at 8 p.m. – although the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix starts late afternoon and finishes in the evening. But the Singapore race takes place on a street circuit on which it is difficult to overtake: It is bumpy, dusty, relatively narrow, and run under spotlights.
For the first half, therefore, there was little action as Vettel got off to a clean start, and Webber dropped back as he tried to defend his position against Hamilton, who also dropped down the pack as a result.
Hamilton climbed back in sensational manner, passing Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg in their Mercedes on Laps 4 and 5. But he was then involved in an incident trying to pass Felipe Massa in a Ferrari on Lap 12 and the two collided. Hamilton stopped to change the front wing of his car and he was later penalized with a drive-through the pits and he dropped into the middle of the pack. He then made a superb charge through the pack again.
Button ran second throughout, while Alonso and Webber passed each other for third and fourth.
It was not until Lap 30, at the halfway point of the 61-lap race, that there was any real potential for a shakeup at the top. Shortly after setting the fastest lap of the race, Schumacher tried to pass Sergio Perez in a Sauber for in eighth position. The German ran into the rear wheel of the Sauber, went slightly airborne, and ran into the wall.
The race was neutralized as Schumacher’s car and the debris were removed.
Vettel, Button, Alonso, Webber, Hamilton and practically all the other cars in the race made a pit stop during that period and Vettel’s lead of more than 20 seconds was reduced to nothing.
The safety car returned to the pits and the race started again after Lap 33. It had not affected the order at the top as Vettel led, Button was second, Alonso third and Webber fourth. Hamilton was ninth.
“I really love the track, I love the challenge,” said Vettel of the Singapore race. “For the championship, it looks like we have another chance at the next race.” (www.nytimes.com)