By John O’Brien
For a Singapore Grand Prix that began with confusion over self-censorship and concluded with Lewis Hamilton leading the standings, the race weekend can be summed up by using the ‘Three Rs’ — Radios, Rosberg and Reliability.
The teams arrived in Singapore unsure of what engineers could or could not tell drivers over the radio after Formula One had rushed through a ban on race assistance following the last grand prix in Monza without going into a great deal of detail.
After a series of meetings to thrash out the finer points, the Bernie Ecclestone-instigated clampdown was relaxed shortly before Friday practice and the paddock breathed a sigh of relief after voicing concerns over a lack of preparation time.
For Nico Rosberg, it was a weekend to forgot after he saw his 22-point lead at the top of the standings transformed into a three-point deficit to Mercedes team mate Hamilton when the Briton stormed to victory on Sunday as the German looked on from the garage.
Rosberg had told reporters of his hatred for the demanding two-hour trawl around the floodlit streets of Singapore, yet he would not have been that relieved to have completed his night’s work after just 14 of the scheduled 61-lap race.
Starting from second on the grid behind Hamilton, Rosberg appeared frozen to the spot as the other 20 cars filed past him on the formation lap, the German unable to coax any sort of life out of his listless Mercedes.
His steering wheel was faulty and he started the race from the back of field in the pitlane but only managed to reach quarter distance before calling it a day when a lengthy pitstop failed to resolve his mechanical woes.
“It was a horrible feeling really, to see everybody go. Because then I knew it was over,” Rosberg said of his retirement.
“Then the whole steering wheel just wasn’t working so I didn’t have any hybrid power and the shifting… I would shift two gears at once all the time and I had no DRS.
“The car just wasn’t working at all and then there was no point to continue. It was a tough day really.”
Despite a tactics-changing safety car period midway through the race, Hamilton staved off the challenge of Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo to reclaim a championship lead he last held in May with five races remaining.
Hamilton had mixed feelings over moving into position to secure a second world title after his 2008 triumph, the Briton’s joy tempered by fears over reliability issues for Mercedes, who suffered their fifth retirement of the season.
“These next five races I just pray that we continue,” Hamilton said.
“With the issues that I’ve had (three retirements), of course it haunts me every weekend. You never know when it’s going to pop up but you just have to try and remain positive and constantly believing that everything is going to be alright.
“And it’s also the support that I get from my fans that really just keeps me going.”
The once-dominant Red Bull have been hamstrung by their own reliability problems and a Renault power unit that remains inferior to the Mercedes, but a marked improvement over recent races points to a stronger title challenge next season.
“If you look at our pre-season where we completed less than 2,000km compared to Mercedes, who did more than a season’s worth of mileage, it demonstrates the quality of the team we have to turn that situation around,” team principal Christian Horner said.
“To have won three races this season and managed second and third here… We could never have dreamt running for 30 minutes earlier in the season let alone two hours.
“It’s a great achievement by the whole team to turn it around but of course, it’s never enough. It is the performance gap that’s missing that we aim to close down.
“But it levels itself out over the year.”
The championship resumes in Japan on Oct. 5 with Hamilton on 241 points (with 150 available), Rosberg on 238, Ricciardo in third place on 181, Ferarri’s Fernando Alonso on 133 and Vettel on 124.