Sebastian Vettel has held his nerve in an incident-filled Singapore Grand Prix to claim his fourth win in five years at the Marina Bay street circuit to break Ayrton Senna’s 41-win tally.
It was the German’s and the Ferrari team’s third win of the season, with the four-time World Champion leading every lap from pole position to finish 1.4 seconds ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo and the sister Ferrari of Kimi Räikkönen.
By contrast, it was a troubled weekend for the reigning champions, Mercedes, who failed to claim pole position – let alone get either car on the front row – for the first time this season. Sunday night’s race turned into a disaster for championship leader Lewis Hamilton, who retired from the race with a throttle sensor failure.
The end result was that Vettel moves to within 49 points of Hamilton’s championship lead, while the Englishman’s teammate Nico Rosberg – who finished a rather lacklustre fourth – trimmed his points’ deficit to 41.
It was a rather bizarre race that led to a number of unpredictable outcomes. Hamilton’s retirement aside, the race also saw two Safety Car interruptions, with the second coming as a result of a fan wandering onto the track.
What was perhaps never in doubt was Vettel’s dominance of the 61-lap race, leading from start to finish to earn his third win as a Ferrari driver. While his previous two wins for the team at Malaysia and Hungary came down to specific circumstances – better tyre life at the former, and errors for his rivals at the latter – this win came off the back of the SF15-T simply being the class of the field.
He made a flawless getaway from pole position and stoked into a three-second lead by the end of the first lap, which stretched to five seconds by the end of Lap 3, before easing off to maintain a comfortable cushion over the chasing Ricciardo and Räikkönen.
Daniil Kvyat ran fourth in the sister Red Bull ahead of the two Mercedes’ of Hamilton and Rosberg, neither of whom was able to make any in-roads after starting on the third row.
The first round of pit stops for the frontrunners was triggered earlier than many had planned thanks to the race’s first Safety Car, which was triggered by a collision between Williams’ Felipe Massa and Force India’s Nico Hülkenberg at Turn 3 on Lap 13.
Hülkenberg had pitted the lap before and was hoping a quick out-lap would help undercut the Brazilian, but the pair found themselves competing for the same bit of track as the Brazilian rejoined the circuit after his first pit stop. Hülkenberg drew alongside and darted for the apex, only to have Massa on the inside; the pair locked wheels and that sent the German slithering into the barriers with broken rear suspension.
Massa continued, but pitted under the Safety Car after a slow puncture was detected, retiring 18 laps later with electrical gremlins. Hülkenberg was rightly issued a three-place grid penalty by the FIA Stewards for his role in the contact.
The Safety Car allowed the frontrunners to pit and rejoin in largely the same order, although Kvyat would lose track position to the two Mercedes’ in the reshuffle and ultimately never regain the ground he had lost.
After the restart, it looked as though Ricciardo had Vettel’s edge, remaining locked in the middle of a tight Ferrari sandwich over the following laps.
But his hopes of challenging Vettel would prove unfounded; Vettel was simply holding station to preserve his tyre life before subsequently putting his foot down to once again extend his lead, pulling out a 2.7-second margin in just one lap. The gap was up to four seconds within the next three laps, effectively putting the race beyond doubt.
The race looked to be done and dusted, but not for Hamilton, who suddenly slowed amid reports of a loss of power which the Mercedes team diagnosed as a terminal throttle problem. After trundling around for a few laps, they called the Englishman in to notch up his first retirement of the season.
With teammate and chief championship rival Nico Rosberg unable to threaten the top-three, the outcome was rather one of damage limitation for the reigning champion, whose 53-point advantage was cut to 41 in the final wash-up.
The race looked set to run a fairly tame course until the Safety Car was called for the second and final time, courtesy of a spectator breaching the track’s inner perimeter and getting onto the circuit on Lap 37.
By that stage, Fernando Alonso had retired his McLaren with a terminal gearbox failure, a disastrous result for the team at perhaps its last realistic shot of scoring points this season.
Vettel was again able to ease away from the field as the race restarted, but the compression in the midfield would guarantee a tight and entertaining squabble for the lower points’ positions.
The first bit of drama came almost immediately for the sister McLaren of Jenson Button, which saw the Englishman forced into the pits for a new front wing after he hit the rear of Pastor Maldonado’s Lotus as the Venezuelan made an overly defensive move to block the 2009 World Champion.
“I should have known, really, that he’s mental,” Button said over the pit-to-car radio, resigning himself to another point-less weekend. He would later retire with his own gearbox failure with 10 laps of the race to run.
Valtteri Bottas finished in fifth place in the sole Williams ahead of Kvyat, who was frustrated to twice lose out in the pit stop cycles with poorly timed stops – both occurring just before the race’s two Safety Cars.
Sergio Pérez managed to avoid a near-collision with Force India teammate Nico Hülkenberg on the opening lap to put in another strong showing to finish in seventh place, fending off the attentions of the Toro Rossos of Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz.
Verstappen had put in a masterful performance during the race, charging to an eighth-placed finish after stalling at the start and being pulled back into the pits. He rejoined the race a lap down and unlapped himself during the second Safety Car interruption, going on to pull off a customary series of brave passing moves as he climbed through the field.
It was a well-deserved outcome, only to be soured on the final lap by calls from the Toro Rosso pit wall that he swap places with Sainz. Verstappen’s response was a curt “No!” and he refused to let his Spanish teammate ahead by the time the chequered flag fell. No doubt there will be more to come on this…
Tenth place went to Sauber’s Felipe Nasr, who climbed up into the points at the mid-race thanks to a canny decision to pit early. He slipped out of the points as he was overcome by faster rivals, but managed to close up on the Lotus of Romain Grosjean in the final laps, forcing a mistake from the Frenchman with three laps to go to snatch the final spot.
His teammate Marcus Ericsson finished eleventh ahead of Maldonado – who pitted in the closing laps after overcooking his final tyre set – and the two Manor Marussias, who were two laps adrift and the last of the finishers.
Impressive among the pair was debutant Alexander Rossi, who had the measure of the more-experienced Will Stevens over the entire race to finish in fourteenth place.
|2015 Formula 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix – Final Classification (61 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps|
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF15-T||61||2:01:22.118|
|2.||Daniel Ricciardo||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB11||61||+ 1.478|
|3.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF15-T||61||+ 17.154|
|4.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W06 Hybrid||61||+ 24.720|
|5.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW37||61||+ 34.204|
|6.||Daniil Kvyat||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB11||61||+ 35.508|
|7.||Sergio Pérez||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM08B||61||+ 50.836|
|8.||Max Verstappen||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR10||61||+ 51.450|
|9.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR10||61||+ 52.860|
|10.||Felipe Nasr||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C34||61||+ 1:30.045|
|11.||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C34||61||+ 1:37.507|
|12.||Pastor Maldonado||Lotus F1 Team Mercedes E23 Hybrid||61||+ 1:37.718|
|13.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Team Mercedes E23 Hybrid||59||Puncture|
|14.||Alexander Rossi||Manor Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03B||59||2 laps behind|
|15.||Will Stevens||Manor Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03B||59||2 laps behind|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Jenson Button||McLaren Honda MP4-30||52||Gearbox|
|DNF.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren Honda MP4-30||33||Gearbox|
|DNF.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W06 Hybrid||32||Throttle|
|DNF.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW37||30||Electrical|
|DNF.||Nico Hülkenberg||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM08B||12||Collision|
Image via Sutton Motorsport Images