Written by Vyas Ponnuri, Edited by Ishani Aziz
With the 2022 Formula One season at a close, some of the DIVEBOMB team will be selecting some of their favourite races of 2022 in the coming weeks, as we start to reflect on yet another thrilling Formula One season. My name is Vyas Ponnuri, and I am a journalist for Project DIVEBOMB, and my choice for Race of the Year is the Singapore Grand Prix.
While 2022 may have been a year of Max Verstappen winning races left, right, and centre, the new regulations did help in providing closer racing, as the cars were able to follow each other more closely. This led to a number of thrilling races being thrown up over the course of the 2022 Formula 1 season, and one race that stood out in particular, the returning Singapore Grand Prix. So why does Singapore stand out as the Race of the Year?
Part I - The backdrop: the stakes coming into the weekend
Max Verstappen entered the Singapore Grand Prix weekend on a five-race winning streak, one that began at the French Grand Prix. In an earlier piece, I had pointed out how this phase of the season was his purple patch. The Dutchman had grown his 38 point lead by leaps and bounds, to 116 points. And following this trajectory, Verstappen headed into Singapore with a chance to seal the championship over his closest rivals, Charles Leclerc and teammate Sergio Perez, should he outscore them by 22 and 13 points respectively. That would still be a tall order, although not impossible.
For the first time since 2019, F1 made its return to the “Lion City”, in the backdrop of the Marina Bay. The Singapore Grand Prix, Formula 1’s premier night race, had finally made a return to the calendar. One of the most demanding courses in the sport, further amplified by the humidity levels around the circuit, has always been a tough one for the drivers. And this weekend, another factor was likely to make this race tougher for the drivers - the rain gods hovering over the confines of the circuit, and expecting to make the event a soggy affair. With there being a Safety Car intervention in every race held at the circuit, the stakes for an action-packed race were even higher.
Ferrari came into the weekend with high expectations, the track expected to suit the downforce-oriented nature of the F1-75. The slower corners in the second and third sector were expected to play to their strengths, should qualifying and the race be held in dry weather. Although, the chances of dry running were looking less likely.
Elsewhere, Mercedes were chasing their first win of the season, and second place, as they sat 35 points behind Ferrari. McLaren too sat 18 points off Alpine in fourth, and fancied a strong result to stay in contention to match their finishing position from 2021.
So yes, a lot was at stake as the caravan headed into Singapore.
Part II - That Qualifying session
Another variable added to the challenge of Singapore.
Qualifying is always an exciting affair on the streets of Singapore. Being a street circuit, drivers aim to push their car as close to the barriers as possible, in order to attain the Holy Grail - a mighty lap time! However, another variable was added to spice up qualifying around Singapore - Rain. It was now down to the drivers and strategists to co-ordinate and make the difference in these changing conditions.
The session started off with all drivers setting laps on the intermediate tyres, on an already-drying track. While Q1 did see an unlikely elimination in Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, Q2 would witness an even bigger shock, Mercedes’ George Russell getting knocked out in 11th place, not getting the lap in at the right time. At the same time, the Aston Martin drivers Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll attempted to gamble on the dry tyres to get through, albeit not being able to set quick lap times to advance to the top ten shootout.
The top ten shootout saw all drivers bar one (Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda) emerge from their garages on soft tyres. Tsunoda, on the slower intermediate tyres, set the fastest lap time, albeit briefly, being eclipsed by a speedy Lewis Hamilton. The track was getting quicker, with the times tumbling, the likes of Charles Leclerc, Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, and even Max Verstappen heading to the top of the timesheets through the session. Ultimately, Leclerc prevailed to get pole position for Ferrari, by the slender margin of 0.022 seconds from Checo Perez, with Hamilton getting his first top three start of the season, only 0.060 seconds slower. Verstappen looked to be on course for pole on his final lap, but was told to abort as he didn’t have enough fuel in the car to finish the lap, thus confining him to a lowly eighth on the grid, in a closely contested qualifying session.
Part III - Another Singapore Spectacle
A crazy race, delayed and then cut short by the time limit.
The main race on Sunday saw hurdles right from the outset, with the start of proceedings being delayed by an hour due to torrential thunderstorms. Nonetheless, all went according to the revised schedule, and the drivers started on the intermediate tyres on a wet track, which was expected to dry out halfway through the race. Pole-sitter Leclerc lost out to Perez at the start, with Hamilton too going off the track and losing third to Carlos Sainz. Further back, Verstappen was having a tough first lap, almost being punted into the wall in the middle sector, following a protracted battle with Kevin Magnussen. The Haas driver damaged his front wing in the process, as he was passed by the Dutchman soon, before being ordered to pit for repairs. Verstappen advanced to ninth by lap seven, and then to seventh after a Safety Car period, in a flurry of overtakes. He would gain sixth when Alonso retired ahead on Lap 21, triggering a Virtual Safety Car.
With nothing to lose, Mercedes brought George Russell in for dry tyres in this period. He was outside the top ten. His teammate Hamilton got caught out at Turn Seven on lap 33, going straight on and into the barrier. He was able to reverse out and rejoin behind Lando Norris, and just ahead of a recovering Verstappen. However, an unscheduled stop for a front wing change dropped him to ninth.
Despite lapping considerably slower for the first few laps, Russell’s pace began to improve, as he set the fastest lap of the race on lap 34. This was the cross-over point to dry tyres, and most drivers came in, including Leclerc, Perez, Verstappen, and Sainz. The McLaren drivers Norris and Daniel Ricciardo stayed out another lap, when Tsunoda went into the barriers at Turn 10 and brought out the Safety Car. Norris and Ricciardo benefitted from this intervention, pitting and rejoining in fourth and sixth respectively.
As the race resumed once again, Verstappen went for a move on Norris right away, but locked up his tyres heavily doing so, going into the run-off area at Turn Seven. He pitted once again, and rejoined in 14th and last. He would gain two free positions, following Russell making contact with Mick Schumacher, and causing a puncture.
The main battle was at the head of the field, with Leclerc chasing down Perez for the lead. While he was able to keep up with the Mexican for a few laps, Leclerc ultimately lost touch at the front. Perez, who was told to increase his pace following chances of a late-race penalty after a Safety Car period infringement, upped the gap to 7.5 seconds, taking his second win of the season as the time ran out. He would later get a five-second penalty for the aforementioned infringement, but kept the race win. Leclerc and Sainz finished on the podium together for the first time since Miami, with Norris and Ricciardo taking a massive points-haul for McLaren, moving them up into fourth in the standings by four points from Alpine, who had suffered a double-DNF. They weren’t the only gainers though, as Stroll and Vettel finished sixth and eighth, taking home 12 points, which saw them jump up to seventh in the standings. Verstappen recovered to seventh, whereas Hamilton ultimately finished ninth. Tsunoda’s teammate Pierre Gasly took the final point in tenth place.
All in all, Singapore provided us with a weekend full of action and surprises, and a race with World Champions getting caught out by the tricky conditions, and drivers achieving unlikely results by virtue of incident-free races. The championship fight carried on for another week, to Japan, and many others achieved crucial points to strengthen their battles for placings in the standings. Thus, Singapore is my choice for Race of the Year.