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15 Sept 2018

Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale does a Hamilton and absolutely nails his qualifying report in double quick time
Ambient 29° Track 33° Humidity 70% Wind 01.3 m/s


Night in the paddock at the Singapore Grand Prix is always a highly surreal scene. The artificial light creates its own universe, crystalline pools of light flashing off the liveries, suspending time in man made daylight, fierce activity and the short sharp bursts of pneumatic wrenches punctuated the pre-race homily as the teams delivered the final adjustments to the cars to ready them for battle.

Ferrari, specifically Vettel, crushed FP3, nearly half a second up on Hamilton and nearly as much up on Raikkonen, who was but a tenth up on Lewis. Mercedes was losing all the time in Sector 1, actually a hair faster around the rest of the track and they were struggling to find traction from the rear tyres, to the point where they had, according to SKY, abandoned warming the wheels in a bid to find that magic window where all the things worked for the full lap.

Hypersoft looked to be the choice for qualifying, fairly significant gaps between all the compounds, and teams looking to limit pitstops and maximise track position, as Singapore is a track that lends itself to defense over offense, even with DRS. Despite "good race pace" Red Bull suffered from a rather tragic FP3, struggling with drivability, and Verstappen, having apparently learned from Alonso, reported the "product in the back" as the source of their issues, along with a series of rather unpleasant noises. Grosjean was best of the rest, by a decent margin and there was nothing but a tenth between Ocon and KMag, just behind. Again the battle for the midfield looks to be the tightest, and at the sharp end it will be all in for Ferrari v Mercedes, with Vettel looking to have the advantage as qualifying rolled around...

Also significant was the movement of personnel, with Norris officially confirmed at McLaren and Leclerc at Ferrari. Of the drivers on the outs, Raikkonen had already found a seat (and possibly some team ownership, though rumours only at this point) whilst both Ocon and Vandoorne appeared to be losing out in the game of musical chairs currently being played in the paddock. Toto Wolff was rather vocal in his support of Ocon, accusing several teams of not honouring prior commitments, though without naming names. Of course, without a signed contract it's all a bit of sound and fury, but in this case it does signify that Mercedes continue to view Ocon as the logical successor to Bottas, though a full year out of F1 will do him little good.

Significant as well, in a rather hysterical way, was Ferrari's response to the FIA edict that their yellow ice bag would no longer be permitted to block the view of the FIA camera by sitting atop the airbox. In a very Formula 1 response, they engineered a complex machine to attach to the airbox that, quel surprise, entirely blocks the view of the camera, but does NOT sit atop the airbox. And when you're finished chuckling over that, consider that the strongest current rumour concerning Toro Rosso's driver vacancy is Daniil Kvyat....that's right, it's entirely possible that the Russian Rocket might be returning to the team that first demoted, than dropped him like a hot potato.... Never change F1, never change.


Green Light!! Grosjean and K-Mag were first out of the gate when the pitlane opened, followed by Leclerc and Ericsson. Traffic loomed as an issue, having been problematic for several drivers on their FP3 Quali sim runs. Raikkonen and Perez were the next to hit the track, and as Grosjean rounded the final turn to kick off the fun, Vettel was just onto his outlap, his car having been in a rather large amount of pieces between the end of FP3 and the start of qualifying.

RoGro continued his turn of form, ahead of K-Mag, clocking a 1:39.817, but it was Kmag making it all up in the last sector, and going to the top, a tenth up on his teammate. Raikkonen then surpassed the pair, and both the Force Indias rocked ahead of the HAAS pair, Ocon leading Perez on the timing sheets. Ocon into the 38's and just 0.378 seconds off Raikkonen's time, which looked to be slightly problematic for the Red Bull's and indeed Vettel, who came a rather insipid P4 on his first effort.

10 minutes to go and off went Hamilton, on the Ultras, not the Hypers, and the times reflected that, with Hamilton to P5 with a 1:39.717 as Bottas trundled around, having given up on his first go. Ricciardo then put it to the top, with a 1:38.153 whilst Vettel, having apparently been given permission to turn all the things up, rocked into P2 just a tenth back of the Red Bull.

At the other end, Ericsson, Hartley, Stroll, Sirotkin, and Bottas, who abandoned his first effort, were all on the outside looking in. Bottas got the job done fairly easily, up to P8 on his Ultras with Hamilton down to P10. RoGro improved to better than the rest, ahead of a confused sounding Verstappen, not sure where his pace had wandered off to, relative to his teammate (coincidentally, heading to Renault and not complaining about the PU)...

Minute to go and again the Mercedes were on it to and desperate to make their tyre gamble pay off. Bottas across the line, no improvement as the midfield hammered around in their own, private battle to move on. Hulk to P7, Hamilton P11???!!! Gasly P13 with Leclerc next to P11.

No improvement for Vandoorne, as last minute heroics from Ericsson put Kmag out of the running as Stroll drove off the track. P14 for Hamilton, and he sounded less than happy about Mercedes leaving him out on those tyres. Quite a gamble for the WDC points leader.

Off for some Curry Laksa went Magnussen, Hartley, Vandoorne, Sirotkin and Stroll, whilst the rest turned it round for Q2. Particularly loathesome performance from Williams, a frightening 1.4 seconds off the tail of Vandoorne, whilst Kmag was lost as to where his pace had gone on the weekend...

Raikkonen was first off for Q2, on the Ultras this time round. Contra that move, Hamilton and Bottas were both off on the Hypers, while Vettel matched his teammate and the strategic battle was on.

Kimi looked fast early on, but a bit wide he went in S2 and into S3 he went, still faster than Hamilton on the Hypers in S1 but having abandoned the remainder of his lap due to his mistake. Hamilton went P1, no surprise, with a 1:37.344 but the best Vettel could do was a 1:38.544 and on the radio, Raikkonen rather matter of factly pointed out what had become obvious, the Ultras were way too slow. To the pits they went as Verstappen, possibly with a bit of software massaging between sessions, now had some use of his engine and to the top he went, 0.13 up on Hamilton, with Ricciardo taking P3. Bottas was rather far off in P4, having made an error in his first effort. Hulkenberg had outpointed Ocon for best of the rest as HAAS had dropped to P11 and suddenly looked rather vulnerable.

After RoGro, it was Leclerc, Ericsson, Gasly and Raikkonen on the outside looking in, with Vettel on the bubble, and Alonso next up in the window of anxiety.

3 minutes to go and off Raikkonen was on his hotlap, now on the Hypers and purpling the sectors on his way to a much more respectable 1:37.194, P1 despite leaving margins round the tighter turns. Vettel, too, appeared to be playing it careful as he was slower than Raikkonen and it was a big helping of traffic he hit, costing him nearly half a second to his teammate, leaving him P5 and 0.682 seconds back...

Checquers and Bottas was improving and up to P3 he went. Leclerc to P11 as Ocon improved to P8. Alonso was next to P10 , then RoGro to P8, which knocked Alonso right back out. Gasly was last man on track, but it was P15 the best he could do. Off for some Tiger beers to drown their sorrow, while the creme de la creme got ready to tilt for the ultimate palmares of Q3.

Q3 and Ocon led the way, followed by Hamilton. The rest of the field wasted little time following suit, with Raikkonen performing a number of overtakes on the way, getting ahead of Hamilton by turn 14 to guarantee himself nothing but clear air. Ocon hit the line first, followed by Raikkonen then Hulkenberg and Perez, as Mercedes looked to need a rather slow lap to get their tyres where they wanted them. Much slower for Kimi in S1 than his previous effort in Q2 as Hamilton lit the board purple. Lewis kept the hammer down as Vettel continued to try and match him, but there was nothing in it as the Mercedes driver crushed it with a 1:36.015. Vettel was 0.613 seconds back but it was clearly not a happy lap for the Ferrari driver, as Verstappen plopped himself in between, going P2 with a 1:36.334. Bottas, Raikkonen and Ricciardo topped off the sharp end with Hulkenberg, best of the rest, the gap to the midfield a rather stark 1.2 seconds.

On the way into the pits, Vettel suggested he needed a better outlap, and perhaps a slower outlap, after seeing the destruction wrought by Mercedes.

2 minutes to go and it was a replay, with Raikkonen again passing Bottas and Hamilton to get in front before kicking off on his hotlap. RoGro, true to HAAS usual method, clocked his first time in the interlud and as the outlaps for the rest were on it was P7 for the HAAS driver, properly ahead of Renault and in a no-man's land relative to the rest of the midfield. Second time round, Kimi nearly matched Hamilton's time in S1 and then it was Vettel, suddenly lighting the board purple through S1 as Hamilton, finding no improvement, gave up his lap in S2, thinking his chances were perhaps done...

P5 for Raikkonen as Verstappen was on it, pushing Hamilton off the top in S2 as Vettel meanwhile lost time in S2 with a lockup. Verstappen was suddenly the last threat to Mercedes and it was Vettel under his heel, as the Red Bull driver slewed it through the final turn and took his chariot to P2. Completely unobserved, Perez stuck a massive thorn into the side of HAAS, as he snuck his now properly funded Force India into P7, 0.335 seconds ahead of RoGro. Looking at the fastest sectors, It was Vettel S1, Verstappen S2 and Hamilton S3. It was S2 that started the trend that sunk Vettel at the end, losing a tenth to his previous effort and nearly 0.4 seconds to Hamilton and the bleeding continued into the last sector where his best effort was roughly 0.25 seconds off. The championship calculus has swung once again and despite the brave statements of hurr hurr racepace, lotta thinking going on at Ferrari tonight as their entire presentation of qualifying made them look out of sorts and ill prepared. Between the UltraSoft gamble, which saw Vettel argue he had the pace to get through and Ferrari putting the kibosh on that, to the quibbling about the outlap in Q3, the pressure has come home to roost and it's clear that Ferrari are feeling the brunt of it.

On the bright side, with Verstappen next to Hamilton into T1 plenty of chances for shenanigans at the start of the race. With nothing to lose, the Red Bull driver will no doubt chuck it all into T1 off the start and the resulting chaos could well work to the advantage of Ferrari, despite their seeming penchant for self sabotage. What is undeniable is that Hamilton's lap was staggeringly fast, so fast that comparisons to years past flashed across the intertubes, 11.9 seconds faster than his 2009 time and well on 5 seconds faster than 2015, Singapore Sling excepted. What is also undeniable, is that Hamilton is absolutely at the top of his game as a driver and is feeling no pain.

Game on in the midfield as well, with the no longer illegal HAAS (they're appealing, so don't think THAT story is entirely done yet) now having the once again upstart Force India to deal with, after having had a waiver for the first half the year due to the lack of budget the Silverstone based team endured. IT's not all bad news as Force India will now serve as a foild to Renault, who were lagging 0.268 seconds off the pace of RoGro and the Force India's.

Toss in the possibility of a bit of rain, chuck in the ever shifting whims of the race gods and stir for what's shaping up to be a keenly interesting race tomorrow....


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