Lewis Hamilton drove a masterful race to win the Singapore Grand Prix and take a stranglehold on the title as rival Sebastian Vettel crashed out yesterday.
Hamilton, who started fifth after struggling in qualifying, was leading within four corners after Vettel collided with Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen at the start.
It could be a defining moment in the championship. Vettel was expected to re-take the lead at a track on which Ferrari had an advantage over Mercedes. Instead, Hamilton heads into the final six races of the season with a 28-point advantage.
Hamilton did so after one of his most impressive drives. Mercedes went into the race thinking about damage limitation, with team boss Toto Wolff talking about the best possible result being to limit the loss of points to Vettel.
But the Briton managed to avoid the chaos on the run to the first corner and slotted into the lead ahead of Daniel Ricciardo.
The Australian would have been expected to challenge Hamilton, Red Bull having had a clear pace advantage over Mercedes all weekend.
But Hamilton began reeling off fastest laps, and he remained serene through a madcap race that started wet, was dry for almost half its distance, featured three safety cars as a result of a series of incidents and ran to only 58 of its scheduled 61 laps because of the two-hour time limit.
The first safety car came almost immediately. Despite heavy rain falling and a wet track, the race started competitively rather than behind a safety car.
Verstappen, starting second, made a better start than Vettel did from pole, but both were out-done by Raikkonen, who moved to the inside and was soon edging ahead of the Red Bull.
Not knowing his teammate was there, Vettel veered aggressively across the track to defend from Verstappen, leaving the Dutchman nowhere to go.
Verstappen tried to edge left to avoid Vettel, but he and Raikkonen touched, the Finn spun and collected his team-mate.
Raikkonen slid sideways down the track and hit Verstappen broadside at the first corner, the two careering into Fernando Alonso’s McLaren, which was briefly up to third place behind Vettel and Hamilton and ahead of Ricciardo as he took his usual outside line at the first corner.
Alonso’s car was launched, and spun in mid-air, damaging his floor and side-pod and leading to his retirement after a few slow laps.
Vettel, who was in scintillating form in taking pole on Saturday, tried to continue, but his car was badly damaged, its front wing missing and fluid leaking from the rear.
This caught him out as he accelerated out of Turn Three, and he spun into the wall after losing grip on his car’s own fluids at Turn Four. He was told to retire before getting halfway around the first lap.
Afterwards, Verstappen blamed Vettel for the first-lap crash.
Verstappen said: “Mainly Sebastian started squeezing me. Maybe he did not see Kimi on the left but that is not an excuse. He shouldn’t take those risks.”
Verstappen, talking during the race, said: “Lewis is leading the race and the three of us are out. I don’t think it was a racing incident. Three cars were taken out and I was in the middle not doing anything wrong.”
Ferrari blamed Verstappen, saying on the team’s Twitter account: “Verstappen took Kimi out and then he went into Seb.”
After widespread criticism of the statement, Ferrari added: “What we tweeted was a factual description of events. No need to speculate on this.”
The stewards investigated the incident but decided to take no further action, ruling that: “No driver was wholly or predominantly to blame.”