In what was expected to be Sebastian Vettel’s opportunity to cut his Ferrari’s points deficit to Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton from 30 to 23, it was instead a sizzling Hamilton who won the Singapore Grand Prix from the pole to earn his 69th career Formula One victory, his series-leading seventh this season and his second in a row. Hamilton beat Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by 8.961 seconds to take his fourth victory at Marina Bay, equaling the record of Singapore Grand Prix wins held by Scuderia Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel who was forced to nurse his tyres to the end of the race, salvaging a third-place finish.
Hamilton’s win, combined with Vettel’s points, allows Hamilton to extend his lead in the championship standings to 40 points over Vettel.
With six races to go and Hamilton looking to continue his hot streak, Vettel will have to win every remaining Grands Prix to have any hope of taking back the World Driving Championship crown. Ferrari will need to analyse why their pace disappeared before Vettel’s recover quest begins in two weeks with the Russian Grand Prix Sept. 30 at Sochi Autodrom.
In the past two of the last three Grand Prix seasons, Ferrari had the faster car in Singapore. So too in the run-up this season, with Ferrari having not only the quickest and but the more adaptable car for much of this season. Although Sebastian Vettel has won just once since Spa compared to Lewis Hamilton’s three, the expectation remained that the Scuderia’s SF71’s natural affinity for the Marina Bay Circuit would allow them to take pole position and reclaim crucial points lost in Germany and Italy.
Indeed, through Friday and Saturday, everything suggested Ferrari and Red Bull would be the two cars fighting for pole position, but Hamilton produced a shocking “once in a career” qualifying gem to take pole from Max Verstappen and a crestfallen Sebastian Vettel. Hamilton then used his unchallenged first turn lead at the start to control the race and forced Ferrari to alter their strategy to reclaim the lead from the Brit.
But there, as with their race pace, Ferrari saw their plans come up short. After pulling ahead of Verstappen at the start, Vettel appeared ready to take the fight to Hamilton, but the German lost out to the Dutchman during their pit stops. Ferrari brought Vettel in first on Lap 13 for ultra soft tyres, but their wear forced him to halt his attack to finish. Hamilton pitted a lap later, and Mercedes upended Ferrari’s strategy by changing the race leader to softs — the safer and more stable tyre. Suitably shod, Hamilton then controlled the long stint to the chequered flag.
At the start, Hamilton’s took the lead with a clear shot at the first turn allowing Vettel to follow him through to move ahead of Verstappen for second place.
When both Hamilton and Vettel pitted for tyres, on Laps 13-14, Verstappen took the lead despite his engine suffering from intermittent power surges. The Dutchman was able to put in a lap fast enough to pass Vettel for second place before the German emerged from the pits. Vettel meanwhile became stymied behind Sergio Perez, who had yet to pit, and that allowed Verstappen to make his stop on lap 17, take on softs and emerge from the pits ahead of the Ferrari.
In control at the front, Hamilton’s only threat occurred on Lap 38 as he came up to lap Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin as he was holding off Romain Grosjean. Hamilton’s pace slowed by over five seconds as waited for the two drivers to react to the stewards’ blue passing signals. Within moments, Verstappen had closed up to within a car length, looking to pass. Hamilton received a last-second reprieve when Grosjean finally forced his way past Sirotkin, which opened a hole for the Brit. While Verstappen followed him through, the Dutchman thought better of trying a bold move lest he chanced to lose a certain second place.
From then on, Hamilton inched away from Verstappen, with a finishing margin of more than 8-seconds at the flag. A subdued Valtteri Bottas held off an equally quiet Kimi Raikkonen for fourth place, who in turn kept the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo bottled up in sixth.
Further down the order, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso in seventh was the only midfielder to finish on the lead lap followed by Renault’s Carlos Sainz in eighth place and ahead of Leclerc. The final point went Hulkenberg, the only midfielder to start on the hypersoft tyre and take a points finish. Farther down the order, a late hypersoft change for Haas’ Kevin Magnussen gave the Dane the first fastest lap award of his career.
Fernando Alonso, in the suffering McLaren, finished best of the rest in seventh place, up four spots from 11th on the grid and was the only driver outside Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull not to be lapped.
The Force India pairing of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon battled with each other more often than their opponents during the 2017 season with so much damage that the team forbid any contact. All seemed well until Lap 1 in Singapore when Perez broke the team’s golden rule by shoving Ocon into the Turn 3 wall and out of the race. Force India now has to build a brand-new car for Ocon and has once again thrown down the edict of no contact.
Max Verstappen’s Red Bull suffered considerable engine surges during qualifying but still started on the front row. The engine was no better during the race, but he finished second. Imagine his Singapore race with a cleaning running engine and no fear of taking the battle to Hamilton. “Hammer Time” indeed.
Sebastian Vettel has given up nearly 60 points this season as a result of mistakes in Germany, Italy, France, Baku, France, and now Singapore, and his time is running out. If he’s to win his fifth Driver’s Title before the Brit, he needs to shake himself out of the fog and put in the best performances of his career to defeat a now very motivated Lewis Hamilton.