Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel dominated the Singapore Grand Prix that was punctuated by safety cars, including one for a rogue fan on the track, and included the first retirement of the season for championship leader Lewis Hamilton.
Vettel was in a league of his own out front, dealing with two Safety Cars without any dramas, and scoring his third victory as a Ferrari driver ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen.
Nico Rosberg finished fourth to close the gap to Mercedes teammate Hamilton at the top of the standings by 12 points.
Story of the race
Poleman Vettel led Ricciardo into Turn 1 from Raikkonen, Daniil Kvyat and Hamilton, with Rosberg just holding sixth from a feisty Valtteri Bottas, having lost the position off the start-line yet retaking it around the outside of Turn 2.
Kvyat and Hamilton came perilously close to contact through the first corner, forcing Hamilton across the kerbs.
Sergio Perez almost crashed with Nico Hulkenberg on the opening lap, but just avoided an embarrassing Force India collision on the opening lap over ninth and 10th.
Vettel led by over three seconds at the end of the opening tour, and continued to set a scorching pace in the opening going. Ricciardo began to claw back the deficit towards the end of the opening stint, however.
Fourth-placed Kvyat pitted on lap 13 to attempt to undercut Raikkonen, staying on supersofts.
After his pitstop, which was slow on the right front, Massa collided with Hulkenberg, punting him into the air and the tyrewall, which caused a Virtual Safety Car. Hulkenberg was blamed for the collision and given a three-place grid penalty for the Japanese GP – much to his bewilderment.
Vettel, Ricciardo and Raikkonen all pitted under the VSC. Mercedes switched Hamilton and Rosberg to the soft tyre, rather than the supersoft used by the majority.
Kvyat was the big loser, his pre-VSC stop putting him behind both Mercedes cars.
The VSC then became a proper Safety Car to allow the marshals to sweep away debris from the apex of Turn 3.
The race restarted on lap 19, with Vettel again extending his lead, but without the pace advantage he showed at the start. There was also consternation on his pitwall when his engineer’s TV briefly failed.
Hamilton complained he’d “lost power” on lap 26, and Rosberg passed him into Turn 1 a lap later, with Kvyat and Bottas following suit. His engineer reported that his engine was functioning properly and that it was likely a throttle issue, but Hamilton wasn’t able to reset the system.
Because he wasn’t getting full power, Hamilton wasn’t able to charge his energy recovery systems and his brakes cooled, which further hampered his pace and he dropped out of the points. After struggling for a handful of laps, he was forced to retire on lap 34.
After a relatively sedate opening sequence of laps on this stint, Vettel began to charge from lap 28 and extended his lead to four seconds.
Fan walks on to track
But a second Safety Car was required for the misguided ‘fan’ walking down the track at the Esplanade Bridge, forcing the second round of pit-stops - which affected Rosberg’s strategy, the German having planned on running a long stint.
Kvyat had a slow second stop due to a problem on the right-rear tyre, and the Safety Car once again caused him to lose a position, this time to Bottas.
Vettel jumped well clear of Ricciardo at the restart on lap 41, while debutant Alexander Rossi, having lost radio communications, inadvertently delayed third-placed Raikkonen at the restart, albeit the Finn stayed ahead of Rosberg and Bottas.
In the pack, McLaren’s Jenson Button then clashed with Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado, Jenson losing his front wing at Turn 15 as the Lotus chopped across the front of him. “I should have known, really, as he’s mental,” said Button.
Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso stalled at the start, and he rejoined the race a lap late. He got his lap back under the safety car, and then produced another sparkling drive.
Verstappen passed Maldonado successfully in front of the Marina Bay grandstand, with teammate Sainz following suit in spectacular style.
Sainz had lost a whole heap of places at the restart from the Safety Car when his car refused to select a gear before the restart.
The Toro Rossos then caught Grosjean, who had been passed for seventh by Perez on lap 36. Verstappen passed him on lap 47, with Sainz nailing him with a robust move at Turn 1 a lap later.
But while the positions further back were changing, the outcome at the front was assured. Vettel won by 1.4s from Ricciardo and Raikkonen.
Following an early scare on his installation laps over software shutting his engine down, Rosberg’s fourth place took a 12-point chunk out of Hamilton’s points lead, reducing it to 41.
Bottas finished fifth ahead a frustrated Kvyat, while Perez held off the charging Verstappen for seventh.
Verstappen was then instructed to let Sainz ahead on the the final lap, but did not do so, which meant Sainz and Sauber's Felipe Nasr rounded out the points scorers, after Grosjean locked up and ran wide right at the end of the event.
Gearbox woes hit many
Felipe Massa was a retirement at half distance, as his Williams encountered a gearbox issue. Alonso retired soon after from a potentially points-scoring position, also with a gearbox failure.
Button retired in the closing stages, also with a gearbox problem. Grosjean also didn't see the checkered flag.
|2||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing||+1.478|
|6||Daniil Kvyat||Red Bull Racing||+35.508|
|7||Sergio Perez||Force India||+50.836|
|8||Max Verstappen||Toro Rosso||+51.450|
|9||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Toro Rosso||+52.860|
|12||Pastor Maldonado||Team Lotus||+1:37.718|
|13||Romain Grosjean||Team Lotus||+2 laps|
|14||Alexander Rossi||Manor||+2 laps|
|15||Will Stevens||Manor||+2 laps|
|R||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||Power Unit|
|R||Felipe Massa||Williams||Power Unit|
|R||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India||Collision|