FORMULA 1: Singapore springs surprises
IN A HOPEFUL sign that Ferrari’s renaissance is continuing to build, Sebastian Vettel has raced to a dominant and beautifully driven victory in the Singapore Grand Prix.
In a race of two halves – the first dull and processional, while the second came alive – Vettel held command throughout, managing his tyres well and judging the right time to put the hammer down and when to ease off.
Vettel and the Marina Bay circuit have a steamy love affair going: the German had racked up a stunning record of four wins and two seconds in the six grands prix there.
Now, with six rounds remaining in the world championship, what we all want to know is whether normal service will be resumed at the next round – or was Singapore a portent of what will continue to be served up by Ferrari.
Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo was a strong second for Red Bull, 1.4 seconds behind the cruising Vettel. He was realistic afterwards.
“I think this was our best chance of a win and we got close, so we can be proud of what we did,” Ricciardo said. “We have made the most of our opportunities here. At the start Seb just went away and then I was coming back to him and if it hadn’t been for the Safety Car, we’d have got pretty close and maybe an undercut would have been possible at the pit stop. “
That first safety car was triggered when Felipe Massa and Nico Hulkenberg got together heavily as the Williams was leaving the pits.
There was another later in the race, which also hurt Ricciardo’s strategy. This time the cause was a bizarre track invasion by a 27-year-old man who was arrested and charged.
Commented Ricciardo: “Making both stops under the safety car affected our chances and I think that dictated the race really.”
Ricciardo’s consolation prize was the race’s fastest lap.
Also on the podium, but never really a threat, was Raikkonen, who complained that he could never get the Ferrari to feel comfortable.
Championship leader Lewis Hamilton was forced to retire mid-race with a lack of power, while his team-mate Nico Rosberg was a benign fourth. Mercedes said the Hamilton non-finish was the result of a freak failure. A metal clamp holding the plenum broke, allowing a power leakage.
Valtteri Bottas was fifth in the Williams, followed by Daniil Kyvat’s Red Bull.
American’ Alexander Rossi’s debut in very trying conditions ended well with a 14th place finish ahead of his Manor Marussia team-mate Will Stevens.
Both McLaren Hondas failed to go the distance.
The first of a series of shocks at the Marina Bay circuit came on Saturday – a Mercedes was not on pole, for the first time in 15 months.
A delighted Vettel nailed his first pole for Ferrari – an upgraded Ferrari. Beside him on the grid was his former team-mate, our man Daniel, in a car that better likes the twists and turns of Singapore but was all of half-a-second slower in qualifying.
The second row was also bereft of Mercs. That was taken by Raikkonen’s Ferrari and Kvyat’s Red Bull.
You had to look to the third row to find the Silver Arrows – Hamilton in fifth with Rosberg alongside. It was if someone called Bernie had waved a magic wand and got his wish for some unpredictability with the grid.
The turn of events left everyone mystified, including those within the Mercedes team. There was no explanation, but Vettel expressed the view that the Mercs would come bounding back on race day.
That was about the only thing he got wrong all weekend.
WEC: Red face and then triumph for Webber in Austin
MARK WEBBER has won his second successive World Endurance Championship round but only after an embarrassing and very public mistake, at the end of his second stint in the Six Hours of the Americas in Austin.
Hitting the front in the first turn and then opening a lead of more than half a minute, it was the perfect start for Webber.
But after his second stint, Webber overshot his waiting crew and had to be pushed back to his bay, losing 25 seconds of that handy lead.
A commentator wryly observed: “Maybe Mark was looking for the Red Bull pit…”
“I had a super start, got the braking point for turn one perfectly right and passed Neel [Jani]," said Webber after the race. "Everything went really well except for my second pit stop. In this very wide pit lane I overshot our garage.”
But there was more bad news ahead for the #17 Porsche 919 Hybrid squad. Webber’s co-driver Timo Bernhard was called back in to serve a one-minute stop-go for a bizarre pit infringement incurred when, against the rules, a mechanic touched the car while it was being refuelled.
This thrust the pole-winning #18 Porsche of Jani/Romain Dumas/Marc Lieb into a comfortable lead, and on track to win its first race of 2015.
Until…with just 33 minutes remaining, the leading #18 Porsche was crippled with electrical maladies meaning a long stop and handing the race to the sister Porsche of the almost disbelieving Webber/Hartley/Bernhard.
Both Audi R18 e-trons, never really in the picture, suddenly found themselves in with a shot at the podium.
With three races remaining in this year’s WEC, the title race is heating up tantalisingly for Webber and his cohorts, now just 10 points adrift of Audi’s Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer with three races remaining.
FORMULA 1: VW ‘close to F1 decision’
GERMAN car giant Volkswagen Group is close to sealing a deal to buy the Red Bull Formula One team, according to former race team owner and now BBC F1 analyst Eddie Jordan.
Whilst the Bulls are believed close to locking down an arrangement to have Ferrari engines from next season, the VW takeover, which would include VW building its own power unit and the drink brand continuing as the major sponsor, would not have an impact until 2017-2018.
Just which of the VW Group’s portfolio of brands would be highlighted through F1 is the subject of much intrigue. VW also owns the Porsche, Bentley, Lamborghini, Audi, Bugatti, Seat and Skoda marques. Audi is favoured although this points to the Ingolstadt car maker abandoning sports car racing, where it has been astonishingly successful.
Maybe the grand plan is for world domination in global motor sport: Audi in F1, Porsche in prototype sports cars, and VW in rallying.
Bentley, Lamborghini and Audi are also prominent in international GT racing.
One potential impediment to any costly F1 involvement is the huge fine – potentially billions of dollars – faced by VW, accused by the US Environmental Protection Agency of installing software on 482,000 diesel cars in the US to evade federal emission regulations, potentially exposing citizens to harmful exhaust pollutants. VW admitted to investigators that it had installed a “defeat device”.
At the Singapore Grand Prix, Red Bull team figures Christian Horner and Helmut Marko, and Horner, again declared that Red Bull would quit F1 if it did not secure a competitive engine.
RALLY: Ogier opposes making Rally Oz the WRC grand finale
HOPES OF Rally Australia organisers that the FIA will shift the event to November and make it the final round of the world championship have met a setback in the form of Sebastien Ogier.
Three-time champ Ogier is no supporter of the plan, citing the Aussie event’s loose gravel and dust as being potentially unfair in a tense championship decider.
He is against traditional last round Rally GB swapping with Rally Australia for 2016.
Next year's WRC calendar is due to be announced at the end of this month, but Australia’s behind-the-scenes organisation has been lobbying hard to force a move to the season finale.
Ogier urged FIA officials to ponder the sporting implications of such a change, pointing to the “road sweeping” that the championship leader would face in Australia.
For two days at last weekend’s Rally Australia, world championship leader Ogier started first on the road, and was therefore the nominal loose-gravel sweeper for rivals starting behind him.
"Imagine if it was the last round and you go there and play for the championship on that event; on such a rally," he told Autosport.
"With such a disadvantage on the starting order, would it be a nice end for the championship? I don't think so.”
Ogier stated the obvious, that in damp and muddy Wales such conditions just never exist and there is little handicap being first on the road.
Ogier and some team bosses also dismissed another reason for the season to climax in Australia: an end-of-championship black-tie function to be held in Sydney.
Though they were all diplomatic, the clear message was that they didn’t want to hang around after the rally was done and dusted. They’d prefer to celebrate closer to home back in Europe.
GT RACING: Bathurst 12 Hour to be part of Intercontinental GT Challenge
THE BATHURST 12-Hour race for sports cars continues to grow in importance and appeal, with the annual enduro poised to be part of an Intercontinental GT Challenge for 2016.
Under a series name yet to be revealed, there would be one race per continent: the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour in Australia, a three-hour race at Austin in America, the Total 24 Hours of Spa for Europe, and the 12 Hours of Sepang for Asia.
This series, aimed at GT manufacturers in order to give their products a worldwide stage, would consist of four key GT endurance races, held across four continents, all of which have GT3 cars as the leading category.
John Casey of Supercars Events, promoter of the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, has welcomed the idea and is excited by the prospect of participating in this series.