Hamilton Takes Title Lead and F1’s Embrace of Social Media

We knew the Singapore Grand Prix was going to be mad as soon as Second Practice ended on the Friday. Talk of Pirelli saying that the gap between the two tyre compounds was three seconds, rain potentially on the cards, high chance of Safety Car. It all sounded a bit like the NASCAR race which happened later in the day rather than a Grand Prix.

Whilst we didn’t get rain, we did get two of our three wishes granted in order to allow for what was a very strategically driven race on Sunday. The tyres in particular managed to produce some pretty interesting pit stop windows, and the Safety Car really did throw up the strategy and make our race winner, Lewis Hamilton work for the victory in the closing stages. But perhaps the biggest story was Nico Rosberg’s retirement.

Coming into this race he was leading the drivers championship by some margin, and in the pre-race weekend interviews on Thursday, Hamilton sounded somewhat resigned to his championship hopes when asked about whether or not he could deliver heading into the final six races. But in true Formula 1 fashion we got thrown yet another plot twist in this increasingly challenging battle for the drivers title, and now Lewis Hamilton heads into the final five races leading by three points.

However whilst Hamilton can sit back knowing that he is still in the title battle, reliability is still a cause for concern at Mercedes. In fact I was expecting reliability to be a big factor in the race on Sunday, particularly when it came to the Brakes and Power Units. Considering the humidity is borderline 100 per-cent in Singapore, I thought the race would be more survival of the fittest both with the car and driver after what happened in Monaco earlier in the year.

Sutil_Singapore_2014_F1weekendsBut as it turned out we saw two sights that are now quite familiar in this new era of Formula 1; both Sauber’s and the Caterham of Kamui Kobayashi retiring. Sauber Team Principle Monisha Kaltenborn said on Friday that this is Sauber’s worst season in the history of the team, and I can only agree. I said in my mid-season review that they had the second worst car on the grid, but after Caterham were able to show a hand with Marcus Ericsson on Sunday and finish ahead of both Marussia’s, I’m inclined to say that the C33 is now probably the worst car on the grid.

You wonder what this means for Sauber given the talk of three-car teams for next year, and the proposed team takeover from fashion businessman Lawrence Stroll seemingly falling through at what supposed to be one of the “business” race weekends in the season. Very tough times at Hinwill indeed.

Other topics from the race I want to talk about include the penalties given out by the stewards. I thought Fernando Alonso was lucky at the start not to get any more action warranted against him. Whilst I can see where the stewards are coming from because he gave the place back to Vettel, I still think he should’ve got a penalty for not also allowing Riccardo through as well. As for the Gutierrez/Perez contact, it was a tough call from the stewards but I believe Perez was sufficiently alongside the Sauber in order to warrant leaving a space. Its hard to tell from the camera angles how far along he is, but I guess you could say that Perez could have backed out of the move and Gutierrez probably should not have not squeezed into him as if he didn’t see the Force India in his mirrors.

I think the thing I’m mostly unimpressed with is the Safety Car period. The rule of allowing lapped cars to be waved through I think needs to go since they were both too slow and letting faster cars through at the restart anyway. I worked out we lost a net five laps of racing because of that, and it ended up taking time off the race distance as we finished a lap earlier. Without the extended Safety Car period that could have allowed for a more interesting mix up in the midfield scrap for sixth place, and perhaps even up front between Alonso, the two Red Bulls and Hamilton.

Its a compromise though given that this very rule was made up at this circuit three years ago when Button was bogged down by traffic chasing Vettel for the lead. But if slower cars are willing to get out of the way quickly, I don’t see why we should have to wait for them to join the back of the queue when they’re really not relevant to the rest of the race.

Vergne_Singapore_2014_F1WeekendsAs for my driver of the day on Sunday, that award has to go to Jean-Eric Vergne. I’ve always professed that his talent should not be overlooked, and I think his sixth place in Singapore proved that. He made his strategy work, a mantra that former teammate Daniel Riccardo has taken with him into Red Bull and won races through it. One could say that Vergne should have shown this determination in the last two and half years of his F1 career at Toro Rosso, but there are a number of factors that stopped him from doing that. And lets not forget, a lot of people weren’t expecting Riccardo to outpace Vettel were they?

It would be good if a competitive team did pick him up for 2015, but its such a packed driver market now. You’ve got Grosjean now completely disinterested in the Lotus looking to move to a better outfit with all his proven talent, Hulkenberg and Perez potentially on the move, rumours of Alonso going to McLaren, more younger drivers coming up the ranks. It will be hard to get a race seat in 2015 for sure.

Final thoughts from the weekend go to FOM and their embracing of social media. Bernie Ecclestone said earlier in the year that he wasn’t concerned about F1’s lack of social media presence, which sparked a lot of controversy in what is a world centred around the second screen experience. I could have just been business tactics from Bernie, given that most entrepreneurs like to say they aren’t doing anything to get people talking, then go and do it anyway. And of course the only reason he brought it to Sky Sports in the UK was because he wanted a viewership of people “who can work Sky boxes,” and those tend to be the people who also socialise through the Twitter medium.

Podium_Singapore_2014_F1WeekendsBut with the introduction of the F1 app video content this year coupled with this weekends increased Twitter activity and “#SingaporeGP” hashtag showing up on the world feed – which will presumably change to #JapaneseGP once we get to Sukzuka – F1’s social media embrace is what will keep people informed of race weekends. @F1Broadcasting posted an interesting stat which said the Singapore GP raked in an average of over 4 million viewers between Sky Sports and BBC, which is the highest this race has ever got. It will be interesting to see what it does to the early morning races, but I can see the next couple prime time ones based in America bringing in a lot of viewers if FOM continues to promote through Twitter activity.

The only thing I could probably criticise FOM for is their superimposed banners that appear on the circuit. We first started to see concepts of this with circuit sponsors on the run off areas of the track last year, and I didn’t really think it was a bad idea. But putting them on the track for me is a no-go. Its tacky and in some cases blocks us from seeing the cars. But other than that, their Power Unit stats graphics and fuel usage overlays are all good ideas for keeping viewers around the world informed of relevant bits they’re showing on TV [i.e. Vettel pulling off to the side with an engine failure and showing his list of used components in the Power Unit].

And that my friends, is your lot. Its Japan next. I can’t wait to see the cars around what is one of my favourite circuits on the calendar, particularly at 130R and the degners.

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