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2011 Singapore Grand Prix proves bright lights can't replace race action [spoilers]

Monday, September 26, 2011

2011 Singapore Grand Prix

What makes Formula 1 stand out above all other forms of motorsport is not the level of competition, and it's not the glitz and glamor. It's the combination of the two. The race action keeps the hardcore fans coming back, while the allure draws in new fans from all walks of life. But the two need to be present in equal measures in order for the formula to work.

Many of those die-hard fans, however, have bemoaned some of the newer tracks on the calendar – circuits that offer great panoramas in exotic locales, but that don't make for particularly close race action. The Marina Bay Street Circuit in Singapore is one such track. While offering plenty in the way of glitz and glamor – particularly under the spotlights and a starry sky – it doesn't quite measure up on the racing action side of the equation.

That was, unfortunately, the case this weekend for the fourth running of the Singapore Grand Prix since its resurrection in 2008. Follow the jump to see what we mean.

The qualifying order settled over three sessions on Saturday left things in a nice tidy package, with the Red Bulls (Vettel and Webber) at the front, followed by the McLarens (Button and Hamilton), the Ferraris (Alonso and Massa) and the Mercedes-Benzes (Rosberg and Schumacher), with the Force Indias (Sutil and di Resta) leading the midfield in the starting order.

The formation lap went off without a hitch, but once the race began in earnest, Button moved up from third to second and Alonso from fifth to third. Webber dropped from second to fourth trying to fend off his challengers, and Hamilton was relegated from fourth to seventh. Schumacher briefly took that seventh position from Hamilton on the second lap, only for the young Brit to regain position on the elder German two laps later.

Eleven laps in, Webber took back third from Alonso as Timo Glock became the first of a handful of DNF classifications that would, by race's end, claim Alguersuari, Trulli and Schumacher as well.

A hard-fought battle unfolded between Hamilton and Massa on the subsequent laps, the two exiting pit lane in close proximity until the McLaren champ clipped the back of his Ferrari rival going through the chicane. The collision punctured Massa's tire and decimated Hamilton's front wing, sending both back into the pits almost as soon as they'd been released. The stewards later found Hamilton at fault and handed him a pit-lane drive-through penalty that would ratchet his stop count up to five, where the leaders ran on three. He was forced to battle his way back up the grid over the course of the race distance.

Sauber's Perez got himself in the middle of the Mercedes duo around thirty laps in, taking seventh place from Rosberg, who subsequently took it back, but Schumacher fared worse and ended up in the tire wall after a failed passing maneuver.

Past the halfway mark, Hamilton was surging back up the field, passing Sutil, Rosberg and di Resta to land back in fifth place – only one down from where he started. The same would unfold again in the closing laps after his final pit stop.

That would be as far as Lewis would make it, though, as Vettel sailed unchallenged under the bright lights to take the checkered flag from pole. Button followed him in for second, with Webber in third. Alonso had to settle for fourth, Hamilton behind him in fifth. Paul di Resta made a strong finish in sixth place for Force India, showing up not only the Renaults but also both Mercedes and a Ferrari. The remaining points went to Rosberg, Sutil, Massa and Perez.

With these results tallied, Vettel is even further in the lead with 309, his nearest challengers Button, Alonso and Webber way behind with 185, 184 and 182 points, respectively, and Hamilton – suffering the consequences of his own aggressive driving style – relegated to fifth with 168. That leaves Red Bull just as far in the lead for the constructors' title with 491 points to McLaren's 353 and Ferrari's 268. And so we sail up the Pacific coast to Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix, where we hope for a higher level of competition on October 9.


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