Sebastian Vettel takes dominance to new levels in Singapore
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner ran through an impressive array of superlatives as he summed up Sebastian Vettel's crushing victory in the Singapore Grand Prix.
"Outstanding," he said. "Phenomenal." "Remarkable." "Devastating." "Unbelievable."
They all fitted perfectly, and Horner could have chosen many more. Vettel's was an awe-inspiring performance on every level.
It was easily the most dominant drive of a year in which Vettel and his Red Bull team have seemed to get better and better as each race has passed.
The only slight hiccup came at the start of the race. What he described as a "lazy" getaway allowed Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg to get alongside on the inside into Turn One.
It looked like the silver car would take the lead, but Rosberg went in too deep, ran a little wide on the exit. On the inside and alongside in Turn Three, Vettel was in the lead again. And with that, he was gone.
The magnitude of his superiority was breathtaking - 1.9 seconds clear after lap one, his advantage grew to 4.2secs after lap two and then 5.6secs next time around. By which time the team were already on the radio telling him to cool it to ensure his tyres went the required distance for their planned first stint length.
From then on, Vettel set about controlling the race, while continuing to eke out an ever larger advantage.
No race is easy in Singapore, where the heat, humidity and bumpy track make brutal demands of the drivers. But this was as comfortable as it gets for Vettel. Until, that is, a mid-race safety car threw a spanner in the works.
It came, as Horner put it, "at probably the worst time for us", only eight laps after Vettel had made a pit stop for fresh tyres, and at a time when Red Bull knew they would not be able to get to the end of the race on just one more set.
Behind him, title rival Fernando Alonso's Ferrari team had gambled the Spaniard could - they brought Alonso in and set about hoping his tyres would last the remaining 36 laps.
It was a journey into the unknown for Alonso. It lost him two places - to Vettel's team-mate Mark Webber and Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton - but the potential gains if he pulled it off were great.
A second place was there for the taking - and there was the possibility Alonso might even have been able to be in front of Vettel after the German's second stop.
Red Bull knew this and unleashed Vettel, with the aim of building enough of an advantage to make that stop and get out still in the lead.
The effect was stunning. Vettel pulled out 3.2 seconds in the first lap after the safety car came in, was 10 seconds ahead after a further three, and 20 after the next five.
By lap 43 - 12 laps after the safety car had been withdrawn - Vettel's advantage over Alonso, now in second place following the stops of Rosberg, Webber and Hamilton, was 30.6 seconds, more than enough for a pit stop, which he duly made next time around.
With that sort of pace, even a brake vibration in the closing laps was no real concern.
Not only was it the most dominant performance this season. It was probably the most convincing in years.
In many ways, it reminded one of 1992, when Nigel Mansell exploited the Williams-Renault FW14B - also designed by Adrian Newey, now Red Bull's chief technical officer - to a level way beyond the rest of the field, including his team-mate Riccardo Patrese.
Webber is this year cast in the Patrese mould, only occasionally able to get out of the Red Bull what Vettel can.
Singapore was Vettel's third consecutive win and his seventh in 13 races. No-one else has won more than two, and the way he and the Red Bull are going at the moment no-one looks likely to win any more.
Drivers' championship standings
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 247 points
2. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 187
3. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 151
4. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 149
5. Mark Webber Red Bull 130
Undoubtedly, Red Bull have made a significant step forward since the sport's August break.
In the race before that, they were - as Webber put it in Singapore with a bit of exaggeration - "towelled" by Hamilton in Hungary. Since the season re-started in Belgium at the end of August, Vettel has been untouchable.
Team boss Christian Horner said this was down to a number of changes to the car, both aerodynamic and mechanical. But the key seems to have been what Newey describes as "developments" to the diffuser, or rear floor.
Ironically, these were initially aimed at helping the car on high-speed, low-downforce tracks such as Spa and Monza, but they have also given it a significant boost in the high-downforce trim that was required in Singapore, and will be for the remaining races of the season.
This has allowed them to further exploit their main advantage - the use of the exhaust gases for aerodynamic effect.
Vettel has perfected the driving style that getting the best out of this requires - turning in on the brakes, getting the car rotating around the inside front wheel, and controlling the resultant slide by getting counter-intuitively early on the throttle and using the exhaust gases to nail the rear end.
Webber is less comfortable with this - and admits he is not as good as Vettel at exploiting the peak of the softer tyres used in Singapore. There were two cars between Vettel and Webber on the grid and the Australian's race was compromised by being behind slower cars, before his last-lap retirement with an engine failure.
Vettel has no such problem. He is totally at one with the car, and only a gamble not to run at the end of qualifying made the battle for pole look closer than it really was.
The only real cloud on Vettel's horizon were the boos he received on the podium - as he has at virtually every race since mid-summer. He handled them well, making a joke about the fans being "on a tour - they go around with a bus". But he shouldn't have to.
He did not, as Horner said, deserve that. Sporting performances of this level should be received with admiration, not resentment.
Beside him on the podium, Alonso cheekily thanked the fans for their support, which was well merited. The Spaniard was brilliant as ever in the race in Singapore.
An electric start and brilliant first corner elevated him from seventh on the grid to third on the first lap. And then he drove spectacularly well to keep up a strong pace while nursing his tyres to the end after that early final stop under the safety car, netting a well-deserved second place and limiting his losses in the championship.
Alonso will keep pushing, as he always does, but everyone already knows how this story ends.
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