Lewis Hamilton recovered from his last-lap crash at Monza two weeks ago with a faultless driver under the lights in the Singapore Grand Prix that secured his and McLaren’s second win of the season. It was also his 11th race victory.
Jenson Button moved a few steps closer to realising his world title ambitions, overcoming a disastrous qualifying session to beat his Brawn GP team-mate (and title rival) Rubens Barrichello to fifth place and thereby extending his championship lead by one point.
Hamilton led for almost the entire 61-lap race distance, and his path to victory was eased by pit lane indiscretions by Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel that earned each a drive-through penalty.
Timo Glock impressively took full advantage of others’ misfortunes to move up to second place and claim Toyota’s first podium since the Bahrain Grand Prix in April, equalling his career-best Formula 1 result in the process.
And following a hugely turbulent fortnight in which its whole Formula 1 future was on the line and the race-fixing scandal led to the departure of two the team’s senior figures, Renault finally made news for the right reasons as Fernando Alonso harried the R29 to the podium for the first time this season.
Vettel salvaged fourth to keep his personal title ambitions mathematically alive, but it was another race weekend where he threw costly points away and this has well and truly scuppered his title ambitions for this year.
Button’s fifth placing creates a near insurmountable 25-point gap to the Briton with just 30 left up for grabs.
Barrichello, who also lost time during a slightly slow second stop that allows Button to leapfrog him, had to settle for sixth, while Kovalainen increased his points-scoring streak to six races in seventh.
Hamilton made a perfect start from pole, but fellow front-row starter Vettel was slower away on the dustier side of the grid, which allowed to snatch second place into the first complex of corners.
Fernando Alonso also beat Mark Webber off the line and tried to go the long way around Vettel, but succeeded only in losing momentum onto the back straight.
Webber and Glock both pounced, but Webber would later be ordered to cede both positions for taking to the Tarmac apron on the outside of turn seven to pass Alonso, relegating the Australian to sixth as he would have to let Glock (who had also passed Alonso) past as well.
Leader Hamilton quickly established a small cushion before Rosberg began to stabilise the gap at around the two-second mark. Vettel had a similar margin behind in third and Glock and Alonso losing touch in fourth and fifth respectively.
Hamilton had a minor scare when the team radioed him to say that his KERS was malfunctioning, but the tecchies in the McLaren garage fiddled with a few settings and soon cured the issue.
The first major development at the front came at the first round of pit stops, when Rosberg was a little too eager on the pit lane exit and out-braked himself, hopping over the kerbs and onto the circuit before the white ‘blend-line’ had finished.
He tried to make amends by ducking back inside the line, but the stewards applied the letter of the law and promptly issued a drive-through penalty, putting an end to a great showing for the German where a podium finish (at least) had looked highly likely.
Before Rosberg could service his penalty, however, the safety car was deployed following a collision between Adrian Sutil and Nick Heidfeld.
Sutil had spent several laps fruitlessly looking for a way past an oversteering Jaime Alguersuari’s Toro Rosso before finally losing patience and making a half-hearted lunge into turn five.
He bailed out of it and threw the Force India into a spin to avoid hitting Alguersuari, but then lit up the rear tyres to spin the car through 360 degrees – and collected an unsuspecting Heidfeld on the apex of the corner. Heidfeld’s rear suspension was broken on the spot, ending the German’s record run of 42 consecutive race finishes after a troubled race where he was forced to start from the pitlane for being underweight during qualifying.
It was a clumsy driving error from Sutil, who was fined US $20,000 and reprimanded by the stewards after the race.
Hamilton, Alonso and Barrichello all scrambled into the pits before the field queued up behind the safety car, but the full-course yellow was an unwelcome interruption for Button, who had been hoping to use a long first stint to leapfrog some of the cars in front of him but now he had to pit in sequence with the leaders.
It was even worse news for Rosberg, who would fall to the back of the field as the cars backed up behind the pace car.
At the restart on lap 25 Hamilton led from Rosberg, Vettel, Glock, Alonso and Barrichello, with Button running eighth behind Heikki Kovalainen.
Rosberg served his drive-through penalty two laps later and plummeted to 14th, giving Vettel a clear shot at Hamilton.
The Red Bull had taken on less fuel than the McLaren and Vettel seized his chance to latch onto Hamilton’s tail, harrying him all the way until his second pit stop on lap 39.
Then, in his haste to lose as little ground as possible, Vettel – like Rosberg earlier – made a costly blunder, exceeding the pit lane speed limit and incurring a drive-through penalty.
He added to his woes by crawling over a high kerb and damaging his car’s diffuser, robbing it of vital downforce and giving him a handful in the cockpit for the remainder of the race.
As Hamilton continued his serene progress to victory, Vettel’s penalty promoted Glock and Alonso to second and third respectively.
Alonso enjoyed a brief spell in the lead courtesy of a long middle stint, but the extra low-fuel laps were not enough to overhaul Glock and Timo comfortably kept the Renault at bay to take second on a weekend that had initially looked inauspicious for Toyota.
The main excitement in the closing stages of what had been a quite processional race involved the Brawn team-mates and championship rivals.
The turning point came when a brake failure sent Mark Webber spinning into the barriers at turn one with 15 laps remaining.
Expecting another safety car interruption to clear the wrecked Red Bull Renault, most of those yet to make their second stops dived into the pits – including Barrichello and Heikki Kovalainen, who had been lying fifth and sixth ahead of seventh-placed Button.
The marshals quickly cleared Webber’s car from the scene, however, so the safety car was not required.
Button had held his nerve and now had five low-fuel laps with which to make time up on Barrichello and Kovalainen.
Having struggled for pace for most of the weekend, Button hit a purple patch just at the right moment and reeled off a succession of quick laps – faster, in fact, than anyone else on the circuit at that stage.
As a result he emerged from his final stop in fifth place, comfortably in front of Barrichello and hard on the heels of Vettel, who hadn’t suffered as badly as Rosberg from his penalty since there had been no safety car to compress the field.
Button briefly entertained thoughts of challenging Vettel, but soon had to back off to nurse drastically fading brakes, an affliction that had already claimed not only Webber but also Alguersuari’s Toro Rosso.
Barrichello began to close on his team-mate but he too was in trouble with brake wear and ran out of laps to mount a challenge.
Kovalainen finished an anonymous seventh in a race that his team-mate had won so convincingly, although that did extend his points-scoring streak to six races.
Robert Kubica lost ground as the safety car phase clashed with his planned first stop, but nevertheless took the final point following a positive debut weekend for BMW’s heavily upgraded F1.09.