Historic feature: Singapore GP 2011

On his third attempt with Red Bull Racing Sebastian Vettel scored his and the team’s first Singapore GP victory in the 2011 edition of the race.

The win followed on from successes at very different venues in Belgium and Italy, and yet fate decreed that Vettel failed to secure his second World Championship title by the tiniest of margins.

He may have made it look easy, but the victory was earned the hard way. It was the result of a typically polished performance from the driver and another faultless weekend from the team that had worked so tirelessly – with help of course from Renault – to optimise its car for each and every circuit.

Seb and the team still had to get everything right though Friday and Saturday, and managing qualifying was no easy task for anyone. In the end Red Bull showed a clear edge over the opposition as behind pole winner Vettel his team mate Mark Webber took second place. Meanwhile Jenson Button lined up third for McLaren, ahead of Lewis Hamilton.

Vettel blasted into the lead at the start, leaving the opposition trailing. He was helped by the fact that Hamilton and Webber were fighting for the same piece of road, and both lost momentum. Meanwhile Button jumped up to second place, and thus led the pursuit.

Vettel stunned his rivals was his storming pace over the first 10 laps. His margin over Jenson went 2.5s, 3.5s, 4.4s, 5.5s, 7.0s, 8.2s, 9.1s, 9.9s, 10.9s, 11.6s, at which point the gap pretty much stabilised. It was astonishing progress.

“They were amazing opening laps,” said Adrian Newey after the race. “He felt confidence in the car and therefore confidence in himself to chuck it around a bit.”

Seb stretched his first stint out to 14 laps, and when he pitted Button followed him in. Vettel thus retained the lead, subsequently extending his advantage by a second here and there through the second stint. Indeed it was up to 18.4s at the point when Michael Schumacher crashed into Sergio Perez, and the safety car emerged.

Vettel lost his lead, but it was Red Bull’s good fortune that once the pit stops had shaken out and the queue formed up, he had the lapped cars of Jarno Trulli, Tonio Liuzzi and Kamui Kobayashi between himself and Button.
They provided a welcome cushion. A clear track would have given Button a chance, but just crossing the line for the restart Jenson was already 4.0s behind the leader, so slow were the backmarkers.

In fact Kobayashi sat in front of the McLaren for over a lap, and after just one lap of green running, Button was an amazing 8.9s behind Vettel. Even with a clear track he couldn’t hold the gap and over the next few laps it edged out to around 12-13.0s, a number with which Seb appeared to be comfortable.

Vettel could have gone to the end on those tyres. But later he pitted again in response to Button coming in, to head off any danger of a second safety car closing up the field and giving Jenson a chance to jump him with fresher rubber.

After that last stop, and with 11 laps to go, Seb was 9.5s clear of Jenson. And then the gap began to come down. Was there a problem? McLaren urged Button to push and the margin continued to shrink, while traffic made life difficult for both men. In fact Seb had it all under control.

“We were just managing the car,” said Newey. “It’s a tough race round here, there’s no point in taking more out of it than we needed to.”
Traffic in the last couple of laps helped to slow Button’s progress, but Seb cut it pretty fine, giving himself a lead of just 1.7s as he cruised past the flag.
Webber meanwhile paid the price for a bad start, losing initially out to both Button and Fernando Alonso. He eventually recovered third place, some 29s behind his team mate.

The only frustration for Red Bull Racing was that Button was 124 points behind with 125 on offer if he won all five remaining races. The chances of that happening and Vettel failing to add to his Singapore score were slim, but nevertheless Seb had to postpone his title celebrations. He wouldn’t have long to wait...