Mysterious Mercedes failure leaves door adjar in Formula One championship
A maniacal intruder stumbling across the track was about the most alarming obstacle presented to Sebastian Vettel on his way to a -serene victory here in the Singapore Grand Prix.
It certainly was not a Mercedes or Lewis Hamilton. The world champion retired midway through with a car failure, allowing Vettel and Nico Rosberg, his team-mate, to cut his lead in the standings.
The door is just about ajar, particularly if Mercedes’ bewildering lack of speed persists in Japan next weekend.
First, though, to the 27-year-old man, who left his indelible mark on this race. The imposter, thought to be English, staggered on to the track on lap 37 of 61 at Esplanade Drive, where the cars accelerate -towards 180mph.
According to Vettel, the man went from one side to the other, taking a quick photographic memento before hopping over the barrier.The man was arrested, while the FIA -ordered an urgent investigation from the circuit into how such a major and deeply embarrassing breach of security could have occurred.
Vettel said: “I think I saw him take a picture - I hope it was a good one at least, in focus.”
The German added: “It was pretty crazy. Maybe we need to block the grandstand a bit better. Fortunately -nothing happened to me or him.”
The four-time champion was not alone in expressing serious concern after the second incident of its kind this year. A man ran across the pit straight in practice for the Chinese Grand Prix, waving his ticket and trying to jump into Ferrari’s garage.
It also brought back memories of Silverstone 12 years ago, when defrocked priest Neil Horan ran along the Hangar Straight.
Jenson Button, a director of the drivers’ association, said: “You can make the barriers only a certain height but you’ve got to trust in the human race to be sensible.”
The incident led to the safety car being brought out, which cost Daniel Ricciardo any chance of overhauling Vettel in the second round of pit stops. However, even this intruder could not stop Vettel, with the German leading from pole and extending the gap to Ricciardo whenever needed.
Meanwhile, the mystery as to how Mercedes could go from being the dominant car two weeks ago in Italy so some way off the pace here continues. The best explanation, but by no means the most conspiratorial, remains how the Mercedes uses its rubber.
Toto Wolff admitted they had no explanation but expect it to be a blip. The Mercedes head of motorsport said: “You cannot write it off as a one-off, and on the other side you can’t say we are terrified now by this. Then you go into panic mode, which is inappropriate and wrong. It’s just about analysing.”
Sebastian Vettel pumps his fist after winning the Singapore Grand Prix. Picture/AP.
This weekend has enlivened a championship that for a while had seemed like a forgone conclusion. Rosberg is 41 points back but, if anything, Vettel, 49 points adrift, presents the bigger threat.
Hamilton can beat his team-mate on demand at the moment, but if Ferrari have found a silver bullet then there is less he can do about that.Both Fernando Alonso and Button endured gearbox failures but the latter’s tangle with Pastor Maldonado did not prove costly in the end.
The race itself, although heavy on incident, was relatively short on action.
Sebastian Vettel leading the field at the Singapore Grand Prix. Picture/AP.
Towards the finish a resurgent Max Verstappen ignored orders to allow his team-mate past, and quite right, too.
The 17-year-old drove superbly to eighth and was even excused by his Toro Rosso team principal.Then came delirious celebrations for Ferrari, which spilled over into an expletive-filled kerfuffle with security during the podium ceremony.
The team were order to write an “unconditional apology” but escaped without sanction.
Unlike the wandering man who could so easily have spoiled Vettel’s race, and so much more.