The Singapore Grand Prix – a break from the norm!
You know, I do love a good conspiracy theory. In fact I love a good mystery full stop. Whilst I don’t subscribe to the ‘fake moon landings’ school of thought and I’ve got severe doubts about that ‘lone gunman’ idea, I am more than prepared to believe that aliens have crashed landed somewhere on this planet, that Elvis is still walking around humming ‘Hound Dog’ and that Jesus had children and somewhere his descendants live on today.
So to my delight over the course of the Singapore Grand Prix weekend we had, not one, but two unexplained mysteries to try and get to the bottom of.
Firstly, how to explain the sudden lack of pace from Mercedes? Surely it was impossible that the Championship leaders had overnight gone from thoroughbred to trotting pony, whilst at Ferrari the horse wasn’t so much prancing as flying! Even if this was a race where the opposition had got close last season, surely there had to be some big reason as to why Mercedes were only third best this weekend.
I don’t know who came up with the answer but it went something like this. To slow the team down and make the Championship more exciting, Pirelli, under orders from the top, had switched tyres so that Mercedes were running the Medium and Soft compounds but with red and yellow stripes to make it look like the proper race weekend compounds. A genius idea, nobody would ever find out and the team would be slowed down by about 1.5 seconds on a flying lap, roughly the pace deficit they had to Ferrari.
I can tell you; this theory gained some traction over the course of Saturday night into Sunday afternoon. So much so that I actually checked with somebody at the FIA to try and find out if it was possible. Sadly, it wasn’t. All the tyres that go to a race are chosen by Jo Bauer, the FIA’s Technical Delegate, who has a programme that randomly chooses barcodes from the thousands of tyres kept in storage to be used during the course of the season. The barcodes are chosen and the tyres they’re attached to are then shipped off to each race. There’s no chance of anybody switching tyres, as the barcodes wouldn’t then match the codes that Jo has chosen and he’d find out when he checked the tyres at the race track.
So, no conspiracy theory there then! But the answer to Mercedes problems this weekend does involve tyres, more in the way that they couldn’t find a solution to the problem of finding the right temperature to fit in with the very narrow window of operating temperature that the Super Soft compound works in. Find that window and the tyre gives you tremendous grip, get it even slightly wrong and that grip starts to disappear. To give you an idea, even if you’re just 2 degrees centigrade outside of that working window you can lose 1% of grip, and 1% loss of grip equals about 3 tenths of a second a lap. Big difference.
Anyway, enough of the science lesson, back to conspiracy theories.
Remember the first ever Singapore Grand Prix in 2008? Mark Webber had problems that forced him to retire after his gearbox tried to select two gears at once, believed to be related to an electrical surge that could have been caused by a subway train. We haven’t had any problems since but in Sunday’s race, not 1, not 2, but 3 drivers all had trouble when their gearbox went into neutral. Felipe Massa, Carlos Sainz and Fernando Alonso all frantically reported back that they’d gone straight into neutral for no apparent reason. And guess what? It was all at exactly the same place on the track, on Raffles Avenue, at Turns 16 and 17.
In fact, this is around 40 yards from the hotel where we’re staying this week, and it was outside our hotel that I was on the phone to Mrs C last night when I suddenly started to lose reception. Only for a second or two and then it came back, and this carried on for about 30 seconds before I went and stood somewhere else and the problem disappeared.
Once again I need to state that I’m no scientist here but I can read a map and it seems to me that the Singapore MRT (the underground train system) runs right underneath where the three drivers had their problems and I couldn’t hear Mrs C on the phone. Clear proof, if ever you ask me, that something is amiss and as I write something that even the teams themselves have yet to clarify. It’s an odd one and I did float the idea, half tongue in cheek, during the race itself. It may have nothing to do with trains passing underneath, but then again it could. We came to Singapore talking about haze and pollution affecting the race – could it be that the organisers might need to sort out a problem underground before it affects things in the future? Imagine if Sebastian Vettel had been slowed by a passing tube train on the last lap of the race and overtaken by Daniel Ricciardo as a result? We’d all want answers then.
We head to Japan today and when we’re there I’ll try and get some answers on this. Although, as with all the best conspiracy theories, proof may be a long way away.
In the meantime, as I look across the Marina Bay, I see the haze has returned. By and large it disappeared over the Grand Prix weekend after the early part of the week resembled this exact same scene I see now. A coincidence I’m sure, or am I?!!!!!!!