2017 Singapore Grand Prix

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Vettel loses huge ground in title race after Singapore blip

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SINGAPORE (AP) In the space of three races, Sebastian Vettel has dropped twice as far behind Lewis Hamilton as he was ahead of him.

After winning the Hungarian Grand Prix in late July, Vettel led by 14 points, with both drivers on four wins heading into the summer break.

But after crashing out on the first lap in Sunday’s Singapore GP, the Ferrari driver trails Hamilton by 28.

“That was very disappointing and it was definitely not the result we were expecting,” Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene said. “But it doesn’t mean that the battle is all over, just that it has become more difficult.”

Yet it might seem to Mercedes that, for all of his experience, Vettel is throwing away the Formula One title.

“Clearly we would not feel comfortable in Ferrari’s shoes,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “But this is not the time for cheering.”

Hamilton has won all three races relatively comfortably since the championship resumed in August, and with only six GPs remaining Vettel faces a huge task to stop Hamilton.

“We guarantee that we will be fighting right to the final corner of the very last Grand Prix of the year,” Arrivabene said.

Mercedes is still expecting a challenge.

“This result doesn’t change a thing in the big picture,” Wolff said. “If anything, it’s a stark reminder that there are six more opportunities for the luck to go against us this season, just as it happened to Ferrari.”

But it will be abundantly harder now for Vettel because, unlike last season, Hamilton has so far not retired from any races. Although he has failed to finish on the podium four times for Mercedes this season, that is the same number as Vettel’s finishes outside the top three.

After winning three of the first six races, Vettel’s grip has loosened with only one win in the past eight.

Points have been thrown away, too.

At the British GP in July, Vettel looked at least assured of a podium finish until an unexpected tire problem at the end of the race bumped him down to seventh.

On Sunday, he had a great chance to win starting from pole position on a hard-braking track much more suited to Ferrari than Mercedes.

A few seconds later, he was out of the race.

Vettel made a hasty error of judgment trying to cut off Max Verstappen heading into the first turn and ultimately caused a crash that also took out Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen – who had made a blistering start – Verstappen and Fernando Alonso.

Vettel apologized to his Ferrari team afterward.

With both Ferraris out, Mercedes had a clear path as Hamilton won his 60th career race and teammate Valtteri Bottas took third.

Mercedes faced a similar scenario at the Spanish GP last year, when Hamilton and then-teammate Nico Rosberg collided on lap 1 and both went out. Mercedes was livid with both drivers that day, and came perilously close to imposing team orders on them.

“You kind of feel for Ferrari. I have been in the situation of losing both cars,” Wolff said. “I know how bitter this is.”

The difference was that Hamilton and Rosberg were fighting each other for the title and, with no main rival from another team, it effectively cost them nothing.

Within Mercedes, Hamilton’s title charge is now the priority.

Although team orders are very unlikely to be imposed, it is clear – unofficially at least – that Bottas will be racing to help Hamilton equal Vettel on four world titles.

Wolff confirmed as much when he inadvertently referred to Bottas as “our second driver” in his post-race debriefing on Sunday, before quickly correcting himself to say “ah, other driver.”

Bottas has had a fine first season since joining as an emergency late replacement for Rosberg, who retired days after winning the 2016 title. Bottas has even exceeded expectations with 10 podiums in 14 races, including two wins, and sits in third place overall.

With a new contract for next year already signed, the Finnish driver has no need to impress Mercedes management and can play an ideal support role to Hamilton in the closing part of the campaign.

Still, he has a little bit of ambition left.

“There are plenty of races to come and plenty of opportunities,” said Bottas, who is 23 points behind Vettel. “Definitely Sebastian is the next target.”

With Hamilton ahead and Bottas closing behind, Vettel is under pressure to deliver at the Malaysian GP in two weeks’ time.

Hamilton not changing approach despite increased F1 points lead

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Lewis Hamilton says he has no plans to change his approach in his bid for a fourth Formula 1 world title despite seeing his points lead over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel increase in Singapore on Sunday.

Vettel retired on the first lap after getting caught up in a crash with Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen, while Hamilton was able to dodge the chaos and score his seventh win of the season.

With Vettel failing to score, Hamilton saw his lead swell to 28 points, putting him more than one race win clear of his Ferrari rival in the standings with six races to go.

Should Hamilton win next time out in Malaysia, he would be able to win the championship by finishing second at all of the remaining races.

However, the Briton has no plans to change his approach to this year’s title race, stressing he will remain on maximum attack for the rest of the season.

“It definitely won’t change anything, because it’s working, the approach that I have. There’s no need to change it,” Hamilton said.

“It’s the perfect balance of being aggressive and being cautious at the same time. The formula works at the moment so I will just continue with it until the last race. It’s still soaking it up really.

“I can’t believe it’s my 60th grand prix win and I don’t know why it’s not sunk in yet. Also the gap [to Vettel] is also quite hard to believe. I definitely went into today thinking it was about damage limitation, trying to minimize the loss somehow.

“If I’d stayed behind Kimi [Raikkonen] I could have just been finishing fifth, I could have come out a lot worse. So to come out in completely another direction for sure is a shock but I’ll take it.

“I’m grateful for it and as I said we’ve been working so hard as a team. I think today was fortunate conditions towards our direction.”

Sainz, Palmer, Vandoorne all take best F1 finishes in Singapore GP

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Carlos Sainz Jr., Jolyon Palmer and Stoffel Vandoorne all capitalized on chaos at the front to claim their best Formula 1 finishes in Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix.

A start-line crash between Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen combined with a wet first half of the race presented a golden opportunity to the midfield runners in Singapore, with Sainz coming out on top in fourth place.

Trailing only Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas, Sainz capped off a memorable weekend in Singapore that had already seen him be confirmed as a Renault driver for 2018 by charging to fourth place at the checkered flag.

The result saw Sainz better his previous best finish of sixth in F1, something he managed on three occasions (USA 2016, Brazil 2016, Monaco 2017).

“Wow, what a day, what a result! I’d say this is probably my best day in Formula 1 up until now,” Sainz said.

“After a weekend with so much media attention, to put together a perfect weekend and finish the race in P4 is just amazing. To start the race on intermediate tires, then switch to the supersoft – where I struggled a bit during the first laps – and then make it to the end without losing positions is just the perfect way to celebrate a difficult weekend. It’s definitely one I will always remember.

“I had my flight booked to go back home tonight, but I’m definitely canceling this – we need to celebrate this excellent result altogether, this team have also done an amazing job this weekend.”

The man Sainz will replace at Renault next year, Jolyon Palmer, will also be in a celebratory mood after he dodged the minefield ahead to finish sixth, marking his first points since Malaysia last year.

“I’m so happy, it’s been a long time coming but today everything fell into place,” Palmer said.

“It was a tricky race with the drama at the start and the heavy rain but the circumstances put us in a good place to score some points.

“We had a good strategy, good pit stops and the car was good in the wet conditions. The next race should be even better.”

Palmer spent the closing stages fending off McLaren driver Vandoorne, who bettered his previous best effort of P10 to cross the line seventh.

“To race under the rain at the beginning was definitely not easy, so my main focus was just to stay out of trouble, which we managed to do. From that point on, I just managed my own race,” Vandoorne said.

“I think seventh place was really the best it was going to get for me today. Sixth was perhaps on the cards at one point, but it didn’t work out at my second pit-stop.

“After that, I just focused on getting everything I could from the car and maximizing the performance. Getting a couple of points means we finish our weekend on a high.”

All three drivers were the sole points-scorers for their teams, with Daniil Kvyat, Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso retiring from the race.

Raikkonen: No point playing blame game over Singapore crash

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Kimi Raikkonen saw no reason to point fingers over the three-car crash at the start of Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix, instead ruing a rough day for Ferrari’s Formula 1 title aspirations.

Raikkonen and teammate Sebastian Vettel were both caught up in a start-line crash with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, eliminating all three drivers on the spot.

“Unfortunately I had a good start then I got hit and the race was done right there,” Raikkonen told NBCSN after the race.

“One of those things. I don’t think I could have done anything to avoid it.

“The cause of the accident doesn’t change the end result. We’re out.”

When asked if any blame could be laid with one driver, Raikkonen said: “I don’t know. Like I said the end result was the same whichever way you look at it. The rest comes after that.

“I still would have made the decision to start like that. We are not in the race. And that’s the bad part of it.”

The FIA stewards closed the case soon after the race, deeming no driver to be wholly or predominantly responsible for the clash.

Alonso feels Singapore Turn 1 crash cost him F1 podium shot

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Fernando Alonso was left disappointed after getting caught up in the multi-car crash at the start of Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix, believing he could have ended his Formula 1 podium drought had he stayed out of trouble.

Starting eighth on the grid, Alonso made a lightning start in greasy conditions after rain to run alongside the Red Bull and Ferrari cars at the front of the pack.

A clash between Max Verstappen, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen was the main point of focus off the line, only for Alonso to get tagged in the aftermath.

After being clouted by Verstappen’s car, Alonso’s McLaren was popped into the air before coming down on its wheels, allowing him to continue.

A number of problems emerged as a result of the damaged sustained, though, forcing Alonso to ultimately retire from the race.

“The start was amazing. The car launched amazingly well,” Alonso told NBCSN after the race.

“I was in the wrong place at the wrong moment. Kimi and Verstappen crashed and it hit us.

“Arguably we could be leading the race because we were in front of [Lewis] Hamilton. Podium possibility missed.

“Hopefully we finish off the bad luck this year.”

Without a podium since 2014, McLaren has endured three difficult years with engine partner Honda, with Sunday’s race in Singapore appearing to be its best chance this season of a big haul of points.

Stoffel Vandoorne did give the team some solace, taking his best F1 result in seventh to increase its constructors’ total to 17 points for the season. McLaren executive director Zak Brown also joined the show twice; his first interview is below.