Sebastian Vettel’s fairytale first season with Ferrari continued in earnest under the lights of Marina Bay on Sunday as he went lights-to-flag to win the Singapore Grand Prix.
Vettel controlled the race from the front of the pack, surviving two safety car periods and even a track invader to clinch his fourth victory in Singapore and his third of the 2015 season.
Just as they did in qualifying, Ferrari and Red Bull dominated proceedings in the race on Sunday, but were given a scare by Mercedes as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg threatened to come into contention for the win with an alternative strategy.
However, a power unit issue forced Hamilton to retire, allowing Rosberg to cut into his teammate’s lead at the top of the drivers’ championship despite failing to finish on the podium, as Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen followed Vettel home.
Off the line, Vettel made a clean getaway to hold onto his lead through the first complex of corners. He quickly put his foot down and began to pull clear of the field, creating a gap of over three seconds on the first lap alone. The running order remained largely the same further back as Rosberg fended off Valtteri Bottas for sixth, but Max Verstappen quickly dropped one lap down when he stalled on the grid.
Vettel kicked on throughout the first stint of the race, creating a healthy buffer of five seconds to Ricciardo to protect himself from a possible undercut by Red Bull. Although the Australian was able to cut into Vettel’s lead, his hopes of getting the jump were dashed when a collision between Nico Hulkenberg and Felipe Massa sparked the first round of pit stops for the leaders.
As Massa exited the pits, Hulkenberg did not appear to see the Williams driver in his mirrors, causing him to make contact with the Brazilian. Hulkenberg’s car was sent into the wall at turn three, prompting the stewards to deploy the Virtual Safety Car.
All of the front-runners dived into the pits, allowing Vettel to defend his lead from Ricciardo on the super-soft tire. Hamilton and Rosberg managed to jump Daniil Kvyat for P4 and P5 after the Russian pitted early, and bucked the trend of their rivals by running on the soft compound tire.
The VSC was upgraded to a full safety car to allow the debris from Hulkenberg’s car to be recovered, bunching the field up for the restart on lap 19. However, Vettel could not scamper away as he did at the beginning of the race, running just one second clear of Ricciardo at the front of the field.
Just behind the leading trio, Hamilton began to bring himself into contention for the race win by producing some quick laps on the soft tire. Vettel was being forced to control his pace to make sure that he could make a two-stop strategy work, allowing the Mercedes driver to stay on a par with the leaders.
However, Hamilton’s hopes of a comeback victory in Singapore were left in tatters when he reported a loss of power on his Mercedes car. The Briton began to drop through the field, losing ten seconds per lap as Mercedes frantically tried to find the cause of the issue. It was futile, though, as Hamilton was eventually forced to retire on lap 33.
Up front, Vettel’s tire saving stint came to an end, allowing him to open up the gap to Ricciardo once again ahead of the second round of pit stops. This was sparked early by a second safety car period, caused when a fan was found walking along the side of the live track during the grand prix.
All of the leading drivers pitted and moved onto the prime tire, negating the advantage Mercedes had hoped for in the final stint of the race. Vettel resumed the race on lap 41 still leading from Ricciardo and Raikkonen, while Bottas found himself running fifth after jumping Kvyat in the pit stops.
Vettel managed to open up a healthy gap at the beginning of the stint before controlling the gap and managing his tires through the closing stages of the race, leaving Ricciardo to keep an eye on his mirrors as Raikkonen began to find pace in P3.
Having survived two safety car periods, a scare from Mercedes and even a track invader, Vettel crossed the line after 61 laps to record his third grand prix victory of the year and his fourth under the lights in Singapore.
The German driver was followed across the line by Ricciardo some 1.4 seconds later, whilst Kimi Raikkonen capped off a strong weekend for Ferrari by finishing in a comfortable third, marking his second podium finish of the season.
Rosberg failed to stay with the leading cars towards the end of the race, leaving him to settle for fourth at the flag. The result does see him cut the gap to Hamilton down to 41 points, although he is now just eight clear of Vettel in third place.
Valtteri Bottas managed to keep Kvyat back in the final stint to score his very first points in Singapore, ending the day in fifth. Kvyat finished sixth ahead of Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen, with the latter’s fightback from being a lap down after just two laps speaking volumes about his ability.
Following Verstappen’s lead in the sister Toro Rosso car, Carlos Sainz Jr. finished ninth just 1.4 seconds further back, whilst Felipe Nasr rounded out the points for Sauber in P10 after making a late pass on Romain Grosjean, who in turn had to retire on the last lap. Their teammates ended the day in P11 and P12, with Marcus Ericsson finishing ahead of Pastor Maldonado.
Alexander Rossi’s grand prix debut was an impressive one as he beat full-time teammate Will Stevens with relative ease in P14, ultimately finishing 14 seconds clear of the Briton despite having 13 less grands prix under his belt and having no radio in the second half of the race.
McLaren’s misery continued in Singapore as both Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso were forced to retire from the race, ending hopes of points on what had been a promising weekend for the British team. Hamilton, Massa and Hulkenberg were the only other retirees.