Lewis Hamilton opened up what could be a decisive lead over Sebastian Vettel in the drivers’ championship as he controlled a fractious wet race in Singapore whilst his rival span out on lap one.
With the heavens opening just before the race began, there was a bit of trepidation about driving in the wet under floodlights for the first time. There was a split of tyres, with most of the front runners going for intermediate tyres, but McLaren and Renault went for full wets.
Ferrari make worst possible start
A disastrous start for Ferrari ended their hopes before the first corner. As Vettel moved across to cover Max Verstappen, he was unaware of the excellent start his teammate Kimi Raikkonen had made. This caused a pincer movement on the Dutchman, destroying his and Kimi’s car. Verstappen might have been able to continue if he wasn’t taken out for a second and final time as Raikkonen rolled back on track and straight into the side of Max. In the cruellest bit of bad luck, Fernando Alonso had made a perfect start on the full wets and was potentially looking at third until the aftermath of the accident also sent him flying off. He managed to continue on until after the safety car had passed (as they were sent down the pit lane whilst the mess on track was cleared, he couldn’t box the car!), however it was a usual finish for the former champion, limping out running in last, though no fault can be attributed to the engine or car this week.
Whilst Vettel did manage to get away from turn one, it wasn’t in one piece. Whilst he just kept ahead of Hamilton through the first corner, he lost control soon after, with a fluid leak from the first incident costing him grip. A nose first crash into the wall left him rolling backwards down the straight and out of the race.
Hamilton takes control
All this was an absolute gift for Hamilton, now finding himself with a clear track ahead, though with the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo close behind. Following them was Nico Hulkenberg, bringing his Renault up to third, giving him dreams of finally claiming a podium. Sergio Perez’s Force India was in fourth, with the second Mercedes and Renaults following suit.
The restart was clean enough, with Jolyon Palmer passing Valtteri Bottas for fifth, before Stoffel Vandoorne put pressure on the Finn as he struggled. Hamilton and Ricciardo were starting to streak away on the intermediate in front, Ricciardo stating early on the radio that they were the better choice of tyres.
Safety cars and tyres combine for strategic shuffles
However as the debate started to go to tyre choice, whether to run the full wet down until it’s time for slicks or change to intermediates, Daniil Kvyat threw a spanner in the works, or more accurately, a Toro Rosso into the barriers. Realising too late he’d locked up, he missed out on an easy run off zone and wrote the car off. It was lax driving, but it gave everyone a great chance to change their tyres to fresh intermediates. Everyone bar Hamilton, who stayed out, and the Renaults, who inexplicably stayed out an extra lap before changing tyres, sacrificing three places each per driver. This left Bottas, who so far had had a pretty poor race, up in third, with Carlos Sainz behind him unable to put pressure on him at the restart.
With the track drying very slowly, Hamilton was able to open up a gap over the Red Bull. The main action was coming outside the points, with a great three-way battle between Felipe Massa (still on the wet tyre), Esteban Ocon and Kevin Magnussen, with the latter’s Haas taking the spoils after a frantic few corners.
It was Magnussen who blinked first, moving to slick tyres on lap 25, with Massa following. Within a few laps it was clear it was the right choice as the Dane was putting in fastest laps. By the end of lap 30 everyone had changed over, with Hulkenberg claiming forth from Sainz when everything had settled. Perez was also hunting down the future Renault driver, but was struggling to find the right place to make the move. It was intense concentration from all drivers, as the track was still wet just off the racing line, and many a mechanic was told to keep quiet and leave the drivers alone.
Late drama as time runs out
It didn’t help Marcus Ericsson though, who spun his Sauber on the bridge to bring out the third safety car of the day, much to the frustration of Hamilton. However, it was Hulkenberg who was the big loser in the incident, with coolant issues causing an extra long pitstop, leaving him down in tenth in the queue.
Hamilton was clearly frustrated, with the gap he’d worked up eroded in a heartbeat, and he was reasonably asking whether a virtual safety car could not have been deployed. However, once again everyone got away clean, and Hamilton quickly re-asserted his dominance of Ricciardo. The Aussie was having to watch out for a suddenly resurgent Bottas, who had somehow meandered up onto the podium places despite being very much below par all weekend. The field found itself nicely spaced as the clock ticked down (61 laps being far beyond possible), but beyond a couple of late retirements for Hulkenberg and Magnussen, the drama was all used up for the weekend, as Hamilton brought the Mercedes home for his 60th career victory.
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