Lewis Hamilton wins Singapore Grand Prix after Sebastian Vettel crashes out

• Vettel’s first-lap exit allows Hamilton to extend drivers’ championship lead
• Daniel Ricciardo second, Valtteri Bottas third in race hit by crashes and rain

Six races remain in the 2017 Formula One season and on the evidence of the Singapore Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton has every right to believe that going into them he has the racing deities firmly onside. The British driver had said he required “a miracle” to win at the Marina Bay street circuit and, within seconds of the lights going out in what may well be this season’s defining moment of high drama, he had it. With his championship rival Sebastian Vettel eliminated from the race, the chance of a win and a commanding lead in the title race was in his hands.

He grasped it energetically and with considered, controlled and consummate skill in difficult conditions. The victory he completed extends his lead over Vettel from three points to 28. It represents a huge swing in his favour and an absolute body blow to the German and Ferrari, who were left to consider how a race that they were expecting to win could end so disastrously.

The three-times world champion, who is now squarely in the driving seat for the title, acknowledged his good fortune. Asked if it was an answer to a prayer, he said: “I think it definitely was.”

He was also absolutely aware of how important a result it had been. “I came here with the idea of damage limitation,” he added. “Thinking I would come out again behind in the championship. Now I am much further ahead, so I count my blessings.”

Hamilton had been outpaced by both the Ferraris and the Red Bulls in qualifying, the Mercedes struggling on the 23 predominantly slow corners that define the high-downforce challenge of Singapore. He had started from fifth with Vettel on pole and minimising the points he expected to drop had been the aim as he sat on the grid.

That goal had changed radically by the exit of the first corner. In the rain, inaugurating a wet race for the first time under the lights of Marina Bay, Vettel’s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen had a lightning start from fourth. He came up the inside but with Vettel shifting his line to the left to go defensive into turn one, the two Ferraris sandwiched the Red Bull of Max Verstappen. Raikkonen hit the Dutch driver, who had nowhere to go, and the Finn was buffeted into his team-mate. Both Verstappen and Raikkonen were eliminated and Vettel took damage to his left sidepod, subsequently spun heading to turn three and lost his front wing when hitting the wall, ending his race.

Amid the carnage Hamilton had swooped round the outside, avoiding any contact, and had the lead moments after Vettel’s spin. He still had much to do but in a race interrupted repeatedly by the safety car he maintained absolute control. The team called his tyre strategy with aplomb and the chasing Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo could not come close enough to challenge. The Australian finished in second ahead of the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas. The full distance could not be run, with the racing ending on the two-hour limit after 58 laps. Hamilton had battled hard for every minute of them.

His reward was as unexpected going into the weekend as it was doubtless welcome. He has led the championship only once this season, after his victory at the last round in Monza, and Ferrari were strong favourites here. It is a track where Mercedes have traditionally struggled and is accepted as their most challenging race of the season. To leave without dropping points and also having increased his advantage, with the majority of the six remaining races likely to favour his car, was more than he or Mercedes could have hoped for.

The team’s executive director, Toto Wolff, acknowledged as much. “This morning we woke up with a bad feeling, talking about damage limitation,” he said. “Here we are with a P1 and a P3 and a massive step forward in the championship.”

Ferrari, in contrast, were left to pick up the pieces of an ignominious failure and begin a debrief that will be very difficult. It is the first time in 67 years of racing that the Scuderia has had both its cars eliminated on the opening lap. The team principal, Maurizio Arrivabene, described it as “an unfortunate day for Ferrari”. That is an understatement at best and he made no further comment before leaving the track. Vettel called it “not ideal”, he likewise understating what may well prove a cataclysmic blow to his title challenge.

The crash was investigated after the race by the stewards and adjudged to be a racing incident, with no further action to be taken, but earlier the team had tweeted their belief that Verstappen was to blame: “VER took #Kimi7 out and then he went to #Seb5.” However, with hindsight Vettel must consider that moving across the track to defend against a charging Verstappen was too aggressive a move with a world championship at stake.

Verstappen was unequivocal in his belief that Vettel had made the wrong move. “I think Sebastian started squeezing me,” he said. “Maybe he did not see Kimi on the left but that is not an excuse. He shouldn’t take those risks. I don’t think it was a racing incident. Three cars were taken out and I was in the middle not doing anything wrong.”

Vettel won four titles with Red Bull but the team principal, Christian Horner, had no sympathy for his former driver. “Max held a straight line, he can’t disappear,” he said. “He is focused on Sebastian. You see Seb moving over to the left, squeezing. He probably couldn’t see Kimi was the other side of Max but he has been aggressive with Max. Anybody that tries to apportion any blame on Max Verstappen for that needs their eyes testing.”

Both Ferrari drivers subsequently left the circuit without making any further comment, with Ferrari battening down the hatches to investigate just how their weekend could have ended so badly. They now trail Mercedes by 102 points in the constructors’ championship, although the real blow is to Vettel, behind whom the Scuderia had put all their weight for the drivers’ title.

The season is far from over but Ferrari and Vettel must consider that their efforts may have been undone in that single defining moment under the unyielding glare of the floodlights at Marina Bay, and Hamilton, who has now won three races in a row and four of the last five, knows it. “I love the energy that has come from today,” he said. “I felt great in the car. This is our weakest circuit and to come away with a win here, I couldn’t be happier.”

Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain leaps off his car as he celebrates after winning the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix on the Marina Bay City Circuit Singapore, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Yong Teck Lim)
Photograph: Yong Teck Lim/AP


Giles Richards

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Sebastian Vettel wins Brazilian Grand Prix after Lewis Hamilton fightback
Sebastian Vettel won the Brazilian Grand Prix for Ferrari, putting in a commanding performance to beat the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas into second place, with Kimi Raikkonen taking third, and Lewis Hamilton coming fourth from a pit-lane start

Giles Richards

12, Nov, 2017 @6:04 PM

Article image
Sebastian Vettel wins Monaco F1 GP to extend lead over Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton is now 25 points behind in the F1 world title race, after finishing seventh from 13th on the grid, while Sebastian Vettel won the Monaco Grand Prix for Ferrari

Giles Richards in Monte Carlo

28, May, 2017 @2:00 PM

Article image
Sebastian Vettel triumphs in Bahrain with Lewis Hamilton second
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel leads the championship after winning the Bahrain GP ahead of the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton, who was hit by a five-second-penalty, and Valtteri Bottas

Giles Richards

16, Apr, 2017 @5:08 PM

Article image
Lewis Hamilton feels Sebastian Vettel reaction shows psychological weakness
Lewis Hamilton believes Sebastian Vettel’s angry reaction in deliberately driving into him at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix is evidence the German driver is not as mentally strong as previously thought

Giles Richards

26, Jun, 2017 @12:38 PM

Article image
Lewis Hamilton is ‘loving his fight’ with Sebastian Vettel after Chinese GP win
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton says the Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel ‘is at his best and is phenomenally quick’ which makes beating him ‘so much more satisfying’

Giles Richards in Shanghai

09, Apr, 2017 @2:43 PM

Article image
Lewis Hamilton challenges Sebastian Vettel to sort it ‘face to face’ after Baku 'disgrace'
Lewis Hamilton labelled Sebastian Vettel ‘a disgrace’ after the Ferrari driver rammed into his Mercedes on lap 20 of the Azerbaijan GP

Giles Richards

26, Jun, 2017 @8:20 AM

Article image
Lewis Hamilton wins Belgian Grand Prix to narrow gap in F1 title race
Lewis Hamilton began the second half of the Formula One season by winning the Belgian Grand Prix, with Sebastian Vettel second and Daniel Ricciardo third

Giles Richards at Spa-Francorchamps

27, Aug, 2017 @2:21 PM

Article image
Lewis Hamilton wins Italian Grand Prix to take lead in F1 title race
Lewis Hamilton has overtaken Sebastian Vettel at the top of the Formula One drivers’ standings after winning the Italian Grand Prix at Monza

Giles Richards at Monza

03, Sep, 2017 @1:58 PM

Article image
Lewis Hamilton: 2017 rules made battle with Sebastian Vettel ‘harder than ever’
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton said he fears rule changes could make overtaking harder after he finished second to Sebastian Vettel at the Australian Grand Prix

Giles Richards at Albert Park

26, Mar, 2017 @12:17 PM

Article image
Lewis Hamilton says Sebastian Vettel rivalry has pushed him to new heights
Lewis Hamilton believes he is driving the best of his career and acknowledged his rivalry with Sebastian Vettel has spurred him on

Giles Richards

23, Oct, 2017 @1:48 PM