Sebastian Vettel shows mettle at his old battleground
Ferrari's German driver gets his first win in over a year and his fifth at Marina Bay Street Circuit
Sebastian Vettel ended a 22-race winless streak and reasserted himself at Ferrari when he won the Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix, ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc to hand the team a 1-2 victory at the Marina Bay Street Circuit last night.
Starting third on the grid, the four-time world champion trailed pole-sitter Leclerc and Mercedes championship leader Lewis Hamilton for 20 laps, struggling to make any headway in the race.
Vettel's race engineers then decided to bring him in early for a tyre change and then Leclerc. The move gave him the race lead and, aided by three safety-car periods on laps 35, 45 and 49, he hung on to it.
Red Bull's Max Verstappen finished third and Hamilton fourth.
Leclerc, gunning for a third victory on the trot after wins in Belgium and Italy, was furious and demanded that Ferrari ask Vettel to return the lead to him when the safety car was deployed for a second time.
With a 1-2 finish in sight, as Hamilton struggled to get past a stubborn Verstappen, Ferrari engineers were anxious for both cars to finish without incident and shot back: "I'll tell you now, Charles, there's absolutely no way that's happening."
Vettel's fifth victory in Singapore makes him the driver with the most wins at Marina Bay. He won with Red Bull from 2011-2013, and Ferrari in 2015.
In ending his 12-month winless drought, the 32-year-old German said: "I am happy. I knew it would be tricky... when I get the call to box (to change tyres), I could then do something of the race.
"So the overriding emotion is that I am happy with how the race went."
Leclerc said he was not aware the team were going to pit both drivers early and, while it gave Ferrari a huge victory, he was seeking answers to understand what was behind the strategy to avoid future disappointments.
"In the car, it was frustrating because you see your own situation," said 21-year-old Monegasque.
"But after I thought about it a bit more, maybe I see things a bit differently, even though I still need some explanation to fully understand as to why the decision to pit early was taken."
Vettel said what mattered in the end was that Ferrari went away from the race as the biggest winners of the night.
Reflecting on his struggles during the year and when he was asked to assist Leclerc, especially to win in Belgium, he added: "It is misleading for anyone to think they are bigger than the team, no individual is."
Ferrari's three wins on the trot, especially in the tight Marina Bay Street Circuit that they were not expected to do well, is ominous for Mercedes.
While Hamilton is on course for a sixth title, it is a warning that the Prancing Horse has found their winning ways and with both Vettel and Leclerc being a force again.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff admitted as much.
But Wolff also paid tribute to Vettel, saying: "Obviously, I'd like to win. But if I had to choose somebody else to win, it would be Sebastian... He's been under so much pressure."
Red Bull were heavily tipped to dominate in Singapore, but Verstappen said they were nowhere near there.
"We came here to win, but failed," added the Dutchman.
"We tried to catch the Ferraris, but they were too fast... It is a wake-up call for everyone."
SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX RESULTS (TOP 10)
1. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari): 1hr 58min 33.667sec
2. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari): +2.641s
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull): +3.821s
4. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes): +4.608s
5. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes): +6.119s
6. Alexander Albon (Red Bull): +11.663s
7. Lando Norris (McLaren): +14.769s
8. Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso): +15.547s
9. Nico Huelkenberg (Renault): +16.718s
10. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo): +17.855s
1. Lewis Hamilton: 296 points
2. Valtteri Bottas: 231
3. Charles Leclerc: 200
4. Max Verstappen: 200
5. Sebastian Vettel: 194
6. Pierre Gasly: 69
7. Carlos Sainz: 58
8. Alexander Albon: 42
9. Daniel Ricciardo: 34
10. Daniil Kvyat: 33
CONSTRUCTORS' STANDINGS (TOP 5)
1. Mercedes: 527 points
2. Ferrari: 394
3. Red Bull: 289
4. McLaren: 89
5. Renault: 67