Lewis Hamilton shines in Singapore
The first Singapore Grand Prix was pure drama. The 2008 event was not only the first-ever night-race, but also the only ‘fixed’ race in Formula One history. Nelson Piquet Jr intentionally crashed his Renault on the street circuit so that the Safety Car period would benefit his teammate, Fernando Alonso, who went on to win. After an investigation, despite suspensions and bans, the race results were controversially allowed to stand. (Championship contender Felipe Massa was justifiably irate; had the race results been nixed he would have won the 2008 World Championship by 5 points instead of losing it by 1 point.)
As drama goes, it was too much — and too literal. The man who won that 2008 title by one last-corner point, Lewis Hamilton, coasted to victory in a very different race this Sunday. Singapore is a race better attended than observed. Microbreweries come alive, nightclubs throb with fans wearing racing shirts both bootlegged and bonafide, and, while the Grand Prix in the centre of the city is indeed a spectacle, it becomes yet another loud and flashy backdrop, an excuse to party.
This year, the top six drivers started and finished in an eventually obedient cavalcade, and worse than merely a dull race, this was a tease: one that continually promised action and overtakes and rain but all of it, in hindsight, felt like playacting on the part of the broadcasters and, sometimes, the drivers.
Sebastian Vettel was running in second place when the pit-radio of his Ferrari crackled to life. “Hamilton is reporting that there is not a lot left on his tyres,” said Vettel’s race engineer, based on one of the Mercedes driver’s transmissions. “I don’t believe him,” said Vettel instantly, following Hamilton on track with a great view of his tyres. “Me too,” said his engineer in perfect agreement about this gamesmanship as Vettel emphasised his disbelief. Lewis finished the race without the hint of a hiccup. Drama means different things to different people.
Hamilton, who drove a stunning lap to take pole position, will be glad the race was boring. The British driver, who just launched his own fashion line and might be dating rapper Nicki Minaj, is in his element. He leads by 40 points with six races to go, which all but seals his fifth World Championship. To wrest the title now, Vettel needs to win all six races, which looks improbably steep. Especially, when Hamilton seems incapable of the unforced error. Flawlessness is its own kind of drama.
(Raja Sen is a film critic and one of India’s longest-running Formula One columnists.)