Dominant Vettel goes wire-to-wire under the lights in Singapore

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Sebastian Vettel has won the Singapore Grand Prix in emphatic style after dominating the entire weekend and bouncing back from a safety car period to win the race by over thirty seconds.

Having stormed into an early lead, Vettel was forced to regroup after a safety car period eradicated the gap he had created. However, the defending world champion lived up to his credentials by setting down a remarkable pace to win the race with ease. Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen managed to take advantage of the safety car’s appearance to finish second and third respectively as Mercedes and Mark Webber struggled to recover their pre-safety car positions, missing out on the podium.

The start saw Nico Rosberg make a fantastic getaway, going side-by-side with Vettel heading into turn one and outbraking his compatriot to move into the lead. However, it lasted a matter of seconds as the Mercedes ran wide heading into turn two to hand the position back to Vettel, with Alonso tailing the pair having made a superb start from P7. Lewis Hamilton could not match the pace of his teammate early on, dropping to seventh and wrangling with Felipe Massa for position. Sergio Perez also enjoyed a good start, making up four places on the first lap including a fine pass on compatriot Esteban Gutierrez. However, Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas both dropped back, with the latter falling behind Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde.

At the front, Vettel was told to look after his tires in anticipation of a safety car, given that there has been one at every single Singapore Grand Prix held. Teammate Mark Webber was hounded for P4 by Romain Grosjean as the front runners began to spread out. Having suffered from back pain during qualifying, Kimi Raikkonen required a valiant drive to fight his way back into the points, but he opted to stop early along with Gutierrez. The rest of the field chose to bide its time, coming in a few laps later with varying choices of tire. A few chose to run on the faster super-softs, with the majority on the longer-lasting mediums. Having jumped him at the start, Alonso remained ahead of Webber after the first round of stops, whilst Grosjean elected to buck the trend and took on a fresh set of super-softs in an attempt to pass the battle ahead. Vettel went deeper into the race than his rivals, re-emerging in the lead ahead of Rosberg and a long-running Paul di Resta who had battled brilliantly to work his way up to P3 before stopping on lap twenty.

Having been stuck behind di Resta, Alonso lost the chance to undercut Rosberg for P2 and soon found himself being caught by Webber and Grosjean behind. However, their charge was soon halted by a safety car after Daniel Ricciardo put his Toro Rosso into the wall at turn seventeen. Not only did this bunch the field, but it also sparked a flurry of pit stops as drivers looked to take on fresh rubber. This left Vettel leading from Rosberg, Webber and Hamilton, but Alonso in P5 had far fresher tires and looked to rectify his race following the stoppage.

Off the restart, Vettel quickly set about re-opening the gap to Nico Rosberg in P2, for once being told by his engineer to push as much as possible. He duly responded, lapping between one and two seconds per lap quicker than the rest of the field. A problem with Grosjean’s car forced the Frenchman to pit for a third time from sixth, dropping to last when he eventually came back out again, but he could only complete a further four laps before retiring from the race. van der Garde’s fine drive continued at the expense of Bottas once again, passing him for P16 not long after the safety car had come back in. At the front, Vettel’s charge continued as his lead swelled to over twenty seconds while Rosberg suffered from a lack of grip due to some rubber lodged in his front wing.

As his teammate steamed ahead in P1, Webber pitted for a second time on lap forty-one, taking on a fresh set of mediums that would see him through to the end of the race. With Rosberg pitting one lap later, Webber was able to undercut his rival perfectly, leapfrogging the Mercedes driver to give Red Bull a chance of a one-two finish. Hamilton could not do anything to intervene, with a slow stop seeing him fall behind Webber and his teammate. A poor stop from Ferrari allowed di Resta to get the jump on Massa, whilst it was plain sailing for Vettel in the pits, with the German driver taking on super-soft tires just in case of a late safety car.

This round of stops played into the hands of those who pitted under the safety car. Alonso, Button, Raikkonen, Perez, Hulkenberg and Gutierrez all looked to go to the end of the race. The young Mexican found himself being hounded by Webber, Rosberg and Hamilton, with all three drivers finding a way through before being followed by di Resta and Massa to drop the Sauber out of the points. Button and Raikkonen became embroiled in a battle for the final podium position, with the Finn’s back problems subsiding in time for the race, and he pulled off a remarkable overtake around the outside of turn four to move onto the podium. The Webber-Rosberg-Hamilton train continued to power through the field, picking off Hulkenberg and then Perez. Their charge was nearly halted when Paul di Resta ended his race in the wall with five laps remaining, but Webber rallied to find a way past Button for fourth, subsequently setting his sights on Raikkonen. However, he was given the call to short-shift, ending all hopes of having two Red Bulls on the podium. He then lost out to Rosberg and Hamilton because of the issue late on, before eventually pulling over and retiring from the race.

At the front, Vettel refused to back off, setting a relentless pace even in the dying stages of the grand prix to take the checkered flag by over thirty seconds, having led every lap and set the fastest lap of the race. Alonso and Raikkonen completed the podium thanks to some good strategic work, but with Vettel clinching a third successive win and extending his championship lead to sixty points, the German driver looks to be en route to a fourth straight title.

MRTI: Barber Motorsports Park Preview

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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After a month break, the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is back in action this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, with two of its series tacking the 2.38-mile road course in Birmingham, Alabama.

Both the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires have double-headers this weekend, with Pro Mazda returning to Barber after not running there last year.

The season-opening weekend in St. Petersburg was a tale of two completely different stories, with two different winners – Pato O’Ward and Santi Urrutia – and more than a fair bit of chaos for Indy Lights, while Pro Mazda saw Rinus Veekay sweep the weekend.

Talking points for both series heading into Barber are below.

Indy Lights

Santi Urrutia heads to Barber leading the Indy Lights championship on the strength of finishes of second and first in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Santi Urrutia displayed great patience at St. Petersburg, finishing second in Race 1 and winning Race 2 after rivals like O’Ward and Colton Herta faltered. However, Barber has not been one of his better tracks, with finishes of 11th, 15th, and 13th in three of his four Indy Lights starts. Yet, he did win Race 2 at Barber 2016, so he has had success there before, and he will be one of the favorites heading into the weekend.
  • Pato O’Ward looks poised to be a title contender in 2018 and will look to avenge a somewhat disappointing outing at St. Petersburg. O’Ward had the speed to sweep the weekend, winning Race 1 handily and dominating Race 2, but a mistake late in the race saw him overshoot Turn 4 and briefly stall before he could rejoin, relegating him to seventh. If O’Ward can show the pace he showed at St. Pete, he might end up being the man to beat.
  • Colton Herta will look to rebound from a St. Pete weekend in which he flashed the speed that caught everyone’s attention last year, but also committed the same mistakes that ultimately prevented him from taking a championship. After finishing third in Race 1, Herta crashed while chasing then leader O’Ward in Race 2. Herta won Race 2 at Barber last year, and getting another win this weekend, along with staying mistake free, would go a long way to erasing his problems from St. Pete.
  • Aaron Telitz is also looking to rebound after a down weekend, as his St. Petersburg weekend lasted all of two corners across both races – he won the Pole for Race 1, but crashed in Race 2 qualifying, and the Belardi Auto Racing team could not repair the car to allow him to race. After the team borrowed a chassis from Carlin for Race 2, Telitz get collected with Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni right off the start, and he crashed again, this time in Turn 2. Telitz finished on the podium at Barber in 2016, the year he won the Pro Mazda championship, and he’ll look for more of the same this weekend.

Pro Mazda

Rinus VeeKay swept the Pro Mazda weekend in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Rinus Veekay had a perfect weekend to open the Pro Mazda season. The Juncos Racing driver outdueled Exclusive Autosport’s Parker Thompson for the Race 1 victory, and then ran away with Race 2 to complete the weekend sweep. Veekay was expected to be a title contender after moving up to Pro Mazda in 2018, and if he can repeat his St. Pete performance, then he may leave Barber as the heavy favorite in the championship.
  • Not to be forgotten, Parker Thompson sits second in the Pro Mazda title chase, and looks to avenge losing out to Veekay in St. Pete Race 1, and then fading somewhat to finish fifth in Race 2. Thompson was the only driver to regularly challenge Veekay and Oliver Askew in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season, and he and Exclusive Autosport have adapted nicely to the new Tatuus PM-18. If they can show the same form at Barber, and then finish the job with at least one trip to Victory Lane, then it could set the stage for another titanic Pro Mazda championship fight.
  • Last year’s USF2000 champion Oliver Askew had a quiet weekend in St. Pete, finishing fifth and sixth in the two races. He swept the Barber races in USF2000 last year, and will need a similar performance to vault himself forward from his current place of sixth in the standings.
  • Carlos Cunha and David Malukas head to Barber third and fourth in the championship after solid St. Pete weekends – Cunha had finishes of fourth and third, while Malukas had finishes of seventh and second. Neither was necessarily looked at as a title combatant entering 2018, but repeat performances in Barber could vault them into title contention.

A full weekend schedule, including the Mazda Road to Indy sessions, can be viewed here.

**Note: NBCSN will broadcast Sunday’s Indy Lights race (Race 2 from the weekend) on Monday, April 23.**

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