Vettel sets the pace in Singapore

Red Bull once again slammed everyone — everyone — in free practice ahead of qualifying for Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix, but it was the team’s impact off the track that was being felt most deeply. It’s been said elsewhere that in signing Daniel Ricciardo to drive what must now almost certainly be the number 2 car on the grid next year, Christian Horner was gambling not only on his and the team’s skill to incubate a talent to take over when Sebastian Vettel moves in to his testimonial years, but also on massively destabilising the opposition.

Well if it was the latter he’s achieved everything, and more possibly, than he could have hoped to. Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen have all wanted that drive at some point in the last 18 months, and all because they could find no hope their teams could build a car as fast as Red Bull can. Hamilton jumped from his mothership to gamble on a Mercedes and, based on the performance of McLaren this year, he made the right call. But his defection has clearly shaken McLaren as they now openly admit it will take a miracle for them to land as much as a single podium this year. This weekend’s rumours that the team is looking to make up with Alonso are testament to that. And if there is any truth in it, the fact that proud Samurai Alonso would even contemplate a return indicates just how destabilised he feels at Ferrari.

Raikkonen of course, brutally made it clear why he’s leaving Lotus with his very public revelation that the team has not paid him this year. I believe Kimi has surprised even himself with just how quick he is and wants another world championship. Only that way will he be regarded in the same group as Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel. Kimi wanted a Red Bull, and he would have won in a Red Bull, but he would have hugely upset the team’s MO and Horner and Newey are too smart to want to do that. If it ain’t broke etc…

So by signing Ricciardo they must be pretty certain the team’s competitive position will remain static, yet Ferrari and McLaren find themselves at sixes and sevens, desperately chasing driver talent in lieu of the management and engineering talent that might take them back to the front. And they’re having to do so publicly, which does them no good commercially.

The only joker Horner and Newey can’t have reckoned on is Mercedes and Hamilton. In Singapore thus far the Mercs have looked second best — still better than the best of the rest — Hamilton and Rosberg ending Friday third and fourth behind Vettel, while a pumped up Webber and his performance suggesting he’s not quite as demotivated as he says he is. That or he’s getting in some Le Mans practice.

Alonso and Ferrari, despite a serious upgrade package, were again off the pace and Massa looked like he didn’t care, carelessly hitting the wall more than once. He says he wants to stay in F1, but he might do himself a favour by giving up on that one as the teams might do in giving up on thinking they will beat Vettel. Time to regroup Woking, Maranello. Take a deep breath, all this public wobbling is exactly what Red Bull wants.

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