By Stephen Williams
Written in association with Missed Apex Podcast. Listen in the player below the article.
Nico Rosberg led the Singapore Grand Prix comfortably at the halfway stage of the race, looking certain to claim victory to retake the lead in the Driver's World Championship. However, when Lewis Hamilton moved from a two stop to a three stop strategy, the race swung from a procession into a late race thriller.
Kimi Raikkonen's pace had forced Hamilton into an error allowing the Iceman to overtake the Brit for third. Hamilton pushed hard to close the gap, demanding a change of strategy before pitting for used super soft tyres on lap 45. Ferrari had the choice whether to go to the end or pit to cover from the Mercedes. However, the undercut had been significant enough for Hamilton to take third when Kimi stopped a lap later. Interestingly, Raikkonen chose the ultra soft tyre, initially closing in on Hamilton, but he was never able to sustain the challenge to attack Hamilton' third position.
Ricciardo, who was running second, also moved to a three stop strategy and had the luxury of using a set of new super soft tyres. Christian Horner explained that Red Bull's use of tyres throughout the weekend was what brought "Daniel tantalisingly close to Nico" at the end. Ricciardo had a big enough lead over Hamilton that he was able to rejoin the race in second. The Mercedes mechanics appeared in the pit lane so they could convert their strategy too, but Rosberg was instructed not to pit having been held up by traffic on his intended in lap. Stopping a lap later would have put Rosberg behind Ricciardo, so Nico had no choice but to stay out, and hope his tyres would hang on enough to take the win. Ricciardo began closing at a rate of two-to-three seconds a lap, which Red Bull calculated would enable the Australian to catch Rosberg with four laps to go.
Traffic in the form of Felipe Massa and Esteban Gutierrez cost Ricciardo time. When the drivers started the last lap the gap for the lead was down to two seconds. As such, Ricciardo's best opportunity to take the lead with drs was gone, but he continued to close the gap as Rosberg approached more back markers. By the finish line, the gap was down to less than half a second. Rosberg held on for a well earned win, not buckling under the pressure like he had on the final lap in Austria.
The strategy was so nearly pure genius from Mercedes in helping Hamilton recover ground in the championship to Rosberg, but it also inadvertently almost cost Nico the win. Before Hamilton stopped he looked at having an eleven point deficit to Rosberg if Nico won and Lewis finished only fourth. The strategy was a no lose for Hamilton, he undercut Raikkonen to claw three points back on Rosberg, and if Ricciardo had not been held up by traffic and found a way past Rosberg for the lead, Hamilton's deficit would have only been a single point. But as the great Murray Walker once said: "If is F1 spelled backwards". With six races left, it is Rosberg who leads the championship by eight points. The championship momentum has swung once again but Lewis insists: "There's a long way to go. I'm still in the fight and I'm gonna give it everything I've got."