Hamilton eases to victory as rivals fall by wayside
Button increases world championship lead despite only claiming fifth place
Monday 28 September 2009
He said he wanted redemption after crashing on the last lap of the Italian Grand Prix in Monza two weeks ago and in Singapore Lewis Hamilton earned it with a crushing victory for the McLaren-Mercedes team.
The world champion drove a perfect race to deliver a richly deserved result that lifted the team on an evening when Jenson Button increased his world championship points lead over Brawn team-mate Rubens Barrichello for the first time since the German Grand Prix in July.
As Hamilton won as he pleased, Button bided his time after starting 11th, and then exploited a different refuelling strategy to close in on Barrichello and overtake the Brazilian who stalled during his second pit stop.
This was by no means a classic event, but given the controversial circumstances of Fernando Alonso's victory in last year's inaugural race around the floodlit city streets, perhaps that was just as well.
Hamilton took the lead at the start, and led throughout apart from a four-lap period from 47 to 50 when Alonso temporarily went ahead before making his own final pit stop.
A safety car period between the 21st and 25th laps reduced Hamilton's advantage after Adrian Sutil's optimistic overtaking attempt of the Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari ended with the spinning Force India driver collecting the BMW of Nick Heidfeld, prompting Heidfeld to comment after the race: "I think we need to find Sutil a new brain."
Both Hamilton and title contender Sebastian Vettel had already made their first pit stops by then, and now the German homed in on the McLaren until his Red Bull was on its gearbox. But it was illusory. Vettel was going to run five fewer laps than Hamilton and was therefore lighter, and the Englishman knew perfectly well what he had to do and did not get flustered. "It was a very, very tough race," Hamilton conceded, "but generally it was pretty straightforward for me. I had a good start, managed to bridge a big enough gap, and knew that I was going to run longer than the guys behind me, so there was no serious pressure. I was looking after my tyres and it paid dividends later."
His sole problem came when the team radioed to warn him of a possible problem with his Kers energy recovery system. "I had to disable it and reboot it," he explained, "like I don't have enough things to think about in the car, pressing all these buttons! But it was OK. When Vettel was behind me I knew I just had to keep cool and not make any mistakes."
When the Red Bull had to pit a third time to serve a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane during his second stop on the 38th lap, the last threat to Hamilton disappeared.
Earlier, Nico Rosberg had thrown away the chance of victory for the popular Williams team. The German had out-dragged Vettel for second place at the start and was keeping Hamilton honest when he pitted on lap 18, but unaccountably he crossed the white line exiting the pits and plummeted down the order after the safety car period when he too had to serve a drive-through penalty.
Button, meanwhile, started slowly, moving from his 11th grid slot to 10th at the end of the first lap. But he was carrying plenty of fuel and did not duck into the pits until the safety car came out on the 21st lap. By lap 30 he was running seventh behind Hamilton, Vettel, Timo Glock, Alonso, Barrichello, and Hamilton's team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, but as many of them again stopped sooner than he did he was able to make ground on a clear track. After Barrichello stalled during his final stop on the 46th lap, Button was able to complete another five and stay ahead of his rival and team-mate when he rejoined after refuelling.
"I wish I did those laps in qualifying," Button said as he became the fastest man in the closing stages as he chased down Barrichello. "That's the frustrating thing. It would have made life easier for me in the race. I got stuck behind Heikki Kovalainen for quite a few laps, but when he pitted I was able to get past him.
"I could see Rubens pulling away because he was stopping four or five laps shorter than me but I couldn't do anything. It's difficult because when you're that close behind someone you lose downforce," said Button.
"The first safety car was frustrating because I was going three or four laps longer than Heikki. When he pitted I should have had three full laps and would have done Rubens and maybe Mark Webber, so it didn't work for me then. But I'm very happy with the result."
Between the two Britons, German Timo Glock made the most of sound strategy and strong driving in the opening stages to snatch second place, with Alonso driving home a fighting third for the beleaguered Renault team. Vettel, whose car shed one of its mirrors partway through, kept his fading championship chances on life support by claiming fourth.
"This was a timely podium for us," Glock said, as Toyota have still to decide whether to continue in F1.
Alonso expressed similar sentiments. "This is a fantastic result for us, our first podium of the season. A very important one for Renault. Finally it came in this particular moment after what happened from Monza to here," he said, alluding to Renault's "Crashgate" scandal which marred last year's inaugural race. "It's been a difficult time for the team, but now we can put that behind us and concentrate on the remaining races."
And then he ventured into potentially dangerous territory, when he added: "I dedicate this to Flavio [Briatore] who is watching this race at home, because he is a part of this."
Renault's management cringed at the crass reference to the man banned for life for his cheating tactics here in 2008, but they acknowledge the open secret that the Spaniard will soon depart for Ferrari. Alonso himself virtually admitted it in the post-race press conference, and Renault F1 managing director Jean-François Caubet did likewise when he told French television: "Renault will remain his family. We will miss him, but he will miss us."
Singapore Grand Prix: Result and standings
1 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 1hr 56min 06.337sec
2 T Glock (Ger) Toyota 1:56:18.971
3 F Alonso (Sp) Renault 1:56:22.961
4 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault 1:56:26.598
5 J Button (GB) Brawn-Mercedes 1:56:36.352
6 R Barrichello (Br) Brawn-Mercedes 1:56:38.195
7 H Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 1:56:42.494
8 R Kubica (Pol) BMW-Sauber 1:57:01.391
9 K Nakajima (Japan) Williams-Toyota 1:57:02.391, 10 K Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:57:05.229, 11 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Toyota 1:57:06.114, 12 J Trulli (It) Toyota 1:57:19.346, 13 G Fisichella (It) Ferrari 1:57:26.227, 14 V Liuzzi (It) Force India-Mercedes 1:57:39.839
Not classified: 15 J Alguersuari (Sp) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 47 laps completed, 16 S Buemi (Swit) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 47 laps, 17 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault 45 laps, 18 A Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes 23 laps, 19 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW-Sauber 19 laps, 20 R Grosjean (Fr) Renault three laps.
1 Button 84pts
2 Barrichello 69
3 Vettel 59
4 Webber 51.5
5 Raikkonen 40
6 Hamilton 37
7 Rosberg 30.5
8 Alonso 26
9 Glock 24
10 Trulli 22.5
11 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 22, 12 Kovalainen 22, 13 Heidfeld 12, 14 Kubica 9, 15 Fisichella 8, 16 Sutil 5, 17 Buemi 3, 18 S Bourdais (Fr) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 2, 19 Nakajima 0, 20 N Piquet Jnr (Br) Renault 0, 21 L Badoer (It) Ferrari 0, 22 Liuzzi 0, 23 Grosjean 0, 24 Alguersuari 0.
1 Brawn GP 153pts, 2 Red Bull 110.5, 3 Ferrari 62, 4 McLaren 59, 5 Toyota 46.5, 6 Williams 30.5, 7 Renault 26, 8 BMW-Sauber 21, 9 Force India 13, 10 Scuderia Toro Rosso 5.
Japanese Grand Prix (Suzuka) 4 October; Brazilian Grand Prix (Sao Paulo) 18 October; Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (Abu Dhabi) 1 November.
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