Sebastian Vettel: The Lion of Singapore
Written by Vyas Ponnuri, Edited by Simran Kanthi
The Singapore Grand Prix returns to F1 after a two-year hiatus and what better way to relive the history of this race than by looking back at the record of the "Lion of Singapore" Sebastian Vettel. The four-time Champion has had plenty of success around the streets of Singapore, with five victories in the 2010s.
Some of these victories stood out more than others. The German's last race win came during the previous running of the event in 2019. The 2013 Singapore Grand Prix saw one of his most dominant race weekends in the sport. Vettel has started all the Singapore Grands Prix held and has been off the podium only four times in the history of this event. Four pole positions, eight podium finishes, and five on the top step in 12 runnings give us an idea of Vettel's prowess around the streets of Singapore.
With the 2022 Singapore Grand Prix expected to be Vettel's last, let us take a look at why the German is popularly known as the "Lion of Singapore."
Vettel's love affair with the streets of Singapore began in Red Bull in 2010. The German lined up second on the grid behind Fernando Alonso. He got a better start, but Alonso moved across and covered off Vettel going into Turn One. He couldn't keep up with Alonso in the first stint of the race, the Spaniard setting the fastest laps to increase the gap to 3.2 seconds at one point. In a strange sequence of events, both drivers came into the pits on lap 30, and Vettel almost stalled in second gear attempting to pull away from his pit box. Vettel then set a series of fastest laps to close the gap to the Spaniard in the lead.
Their rivals Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber tangled on the second Safety Car (SC) restart on lap 34. Webber had suffered damage to his right-front tyre and limped to the end of the race. Up at the front, the gap between Vettel and Alonso remained constant, with around one second separating the pair. Vettel tried his hardest to induce an error from Alonso, but Alonso prevailed to win by 0.293 seconds from Vettel. Webber limped home to third place in the other Red Bull, maintaining his championship lead. Although it wasn't the ultimate result, Vettel still earned his first podium in Singapore.
In the succeeding year, Vettel would get his first pole position around the streets of Singapore. He took pole with a lap-time of 1:44:382, over three-tenths separating him and his teammate Webber. The following day, Vettel put in a strong drive to take a lights-to-flag victory by 1.7 seconds from Jenson Button's McLaren. He braved a close call with Heikki Kovalainen in the pits and an SC period which saw his 20-second lead reduced to nothing. This win took him a step closer to his second World Championship, which he sealed in the following round in Japan.
Another important Singapore Grand Prix for Vettel was the 2013 edition. That race weekend would see Vettel in another league compared to his rivals. He took pole position by setting only one lap in Qualifying Three (Q3). Despite his rivals improving their times, they couldn't eclipse the German's lap time of 1:42.841, with Nico Rosberg's best lap being 0.091 seconds off Vettel's time.
Come race day, Vettel put one of the drives of his career and was never challenged after the first corner. He stretched his lead to around 10 seconds after the first round of pit stops when Daniel Ricciardo's crash under the grandstand brought out the Safety Car. Both the Ferrari and Lotus drivers pitted for a second time during this SC, whereas Vettel, Webber, and both Mercedes drivers stayed out. Vettel would have had to create a big gap to the field to pit again and retain the lead. And he would go on to do just that, creating a big gap to second-placed Alonso, pitting and retaining the lead. Vettel went on to win the race by a massive 32 seconds from Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. With this victory, he completed a hat-trick of wins in Singapore.
Come race day, Vettel put in the drive of his career and was never challenged after the first corner. He stretched his lead to around 10 seconds after the first round of pit stops when Daniel Ricciardo's crash under the grandstand brought out the Safety Car. Both the Ferrari and Lotus drivers pitted for a second time during this SC, whereas Vettel, Webber, and both Mercedes drivers stayed out. Vettel would have had to create a big gap to the field to pit again and retain the lead. And he would go on to do just that, creating a big gap to second-placed Alonso, pitting and retaining the lead. Vettel went on to win the race by a massive 32 seconds from Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. With this victory, he completed a hat-trick of wins in Singapore.
Vettel moved to Ferrari in 2015 and added two more victories in Singapore during his stint with the Italian team. In 2015, he took pole position setting a blistering time of 1:43.885 during the qualifying session, around half a second ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull. It was the first non-Mercedes pole position of the season and since the dawn of the turbo-hybrid era in the sport. And on race day, Vettel sprinted clear at the start, putting three seconds between himself and Ricciardo by the end of the first lap. It was similar to the Vettel of the old, his Red Bull self when he pulled away from the pack easily. Vettel stretched the gap to five seconds by lap five. The Virtual Safety Car (VSC) was deployed on lap 13 due to a collision between Felipe Massa and Nico Hulkenberg at the pit exit which was then converted to a full SC. The front-running drivers used this opportunity to make their pit stops. Another surprising incident took place on lap 37 when the SC was deployed due to a man walking on the side of the track. The top runners used this SC period to make their second stop of the race. The race restarted on lap 42, and Vettel managed to maintain his lead until the end of the race to take his fourth Singapore Grand Prix win, and first for Ferrari. His radio message after the win showed how much the victory meant to him.
A "What could have been" moment for Vettel occurred in the 2017 Singapore Grand Prix. Vettel had taken pole position setting a time of 1:39.491, despite Ferrari appearing to have been slower than Red Bull during qualifying. With his championship contender Hamilton only qualifying in fifth, the stage was set for Vettel to take an important victory at Singapore on Sunday and regain the championship lead, considering how difficult overtaking was around the streets. However, rain before the race spiced things up, with all cars starting on intermediate tyres. It all unravelled for Vettel when he moved left to cover off Max Verstappen and his teammate Raikkonen at the start. The latter two made contact sending Raikkonen into the side of Vettel's car. With extensive damage to his Ferrari, Vettel could no longer continue in the race. He was out along with Verstappen and Raikkonen. Hamilton won the race, further adding to Vettel's woes.
However, Vettel redeemed himself by winning the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix. Starting third for the race, he battled with Hamilton at the start, albeit not being able to get past the Brit. Vettel made his pit stop at the end of lap 19 along with Verstappen. His teammate and race leader Charles Leclerc came into the pits a lap later, but due to Vettel's brilliant out lap on new tyres, he managed to jump Leclerc for the net race lead. The rest of the race saw the front-runners get past the slower cars who hadn't made their pit stop yet, with Vettel taking the race lead on lap 31 from Alfa Romeo's Antonio Giovinazzi. The rest of the race was tense, with a test of who could hold their nerves during three Safety Car restarts. Vettel managed to do so on all occasions, maintaining the lead and coming round the final corner on lap 61 to take his 53rd and last win to date in F1. It was a special moment for the German, with the win coming on one of his favourite tracks. This was evidenced by his race engineer calling him the "Lion of Singapore" on the radio.
Coming to 2022, this will be Vettel's first Singapore Grand Prix for Aston Martin. It will be exciting to see what the German can achieve on one of his most loved racetracks for one final time in the sport. Do make sure to tune in this weekend to watch Sebastian Vettel race in the streets of Singapore one last time.