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Hamilton dodges first lap carnage to win Singapore GP, F1’s first wet night race

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Lewis Hamilton took a huge step towards winning a fourth Formula 1 world championship by taking a dramatic victory in the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday, dodging first-lap carnage that eliminated title rival Sebastian Vettel.

Growing rain in the lead-up to lights out in Singapore left teams split on choosing intermediate or full wet tires for the start, but regardless of their picks, it would be the first wet night race in F1 history.

Good getaways from Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen saw them move to the inside of pole-sitter Vettel, only for the trio to crash together in a dramatic incident.

Raikkonen and Verstappen were eliminated on the spot, while Vettel suffered damage that caused him to spin into the wall as he tried to get back to the pits, also leaving him out of the race.

To make matters worse for Vettel, championship rival Hamilton had dodged the drama to move into the lead ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, while Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez were also able to rise up the order under the safety car.

Hamilton led the field away when the race returned to green with Ricciardo in tow, and was quickly able to open up a five-second lead through the spray, only for it to be wiped away a few laps later when a crash for Daniil Kvyat sparked a second safety car period.

Red Bull reacted immediately and pitted Ricciardo, costing him just one position that was regained when Renault swapped Hulkenberg from wet to intermediate tires one lap later, the German dropping down to fifth behind Valtteri Bottas and Carlos Sainz Jr.

Hamilton stayed out on his starting set of intermediates, but now had Ricciardo for close company on fresher rubber, concerning the Mercedes driver at the restart.

Hamilton was able to eke out a gap over Ricciardo once again when the race returned to green, with the track starting to dry after the rain stopped, leaving those on intermediates wondering when they could make the switch to slicks.

The first man to roll the dice was Kevin Magnussen, who came in at the end of Lap 24 to take on a set of ultra-soft tires, with Williams’ Felipe Massa following suit soon after. With the rest of the field still lapping on intermediates, they would be watching the pace of the dry-runners closely.

Red Bull opted to make the switch first, bringing Ricciardo in at the end of Lap 28 for ultra-softs, only for a slow stop to cost the Australian an additional couple of seconds and give Mercedes some more room to breathe.

The German marque reacted one lap later, pitting Hamilton and getting him back out still comfortably leading by around eight seconds to Ricciardo, with teammate Bottas sitting third.

With the track getting dryer and dryer, lap times continued to tumble with Hamilton and Ricciardo trading purple sectors back and forth. Despite the Red Bull looking stronger in the dry on Friday over the long runs, Hamilton seemed to be in control at the front.

Another twist threatened to spoil Hamilton’s day when the safety car was called for a third time after Marcus Ericsson spun his Sauber and stopped on the tight bridge at Turn 9, causing the field to bunch again.

With the race already set to be run to time instead of its full 61-lap distance, the clock continued to tick down as the marshals took their time to recover the stricken Sauber, with the green flag returning with 27 minutes to go.

Hamilton and Ricciardo ran nose-to-tail across the line to resume the race, only for the Mercedes driver to once again put the hammer down and open up a healthy gap in little time at all, dropping his rival into the clutches of Bottas.

Hamilton was told over team radio to keep the field bunched for fear of another safety car period, prompting him to ease off slightly and allow Ricciardo to close once again. Uncomfortable with the tactic, Hamilton asked to push again, with Mercedes giving him the go-ahead to stabilize the gap.

With the gap gradually growing as the timer neared two hours, Hamilton took the checkered flag 4.5 seconds clear of Ricciardo to take his third straight victory, crucially extending his points lead over Vettel to 28 with six races remaining.

Ricciardo was left to settle for second for the third year in a row in Singapore, while Valtteri Bottas completed the podium for Mercedes, giving it a big boost in the constructors’ championship.

Just 48 hours after clinching his move to Renault for 2018, Carlos Sainz Jr. secured his best finish yet in F1 by taking fourth for Toro Rosso, while Sergio Perez wound up P5 for Force India.

Jolyon Palmer was another driver to celebrate his best grand prix result in P6 for Renault, with teammate Hulkenberg eventually retiring after an issue on his car despite early promise, becoming the record-holder for the most F1 starts without a podium in the process.

Stoffel Vandoorne took his second F1 points finish in P7 for McLaren ahead of Lance Stroll and Roamin Grosjean, while Esteban Ocon completed the top 10 for Force India. Felipe Massa and Pascal Wehrlein were the last classfied finishers in P11 and P12.

More to follow…

Fernando Alonso will decide this summer whether to pursue F1 again

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Fernando Alonso said he will determine by this summer if he would consider a return to Formula One next season.

After announcing Tuesday that he will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May with Arrow McLaren Racing SP, Alonso said “right now the Indy 500 will take all of my concentration” but left the door open for F1 in 2021.

“In my case, probably during the summer period, I’ll make a decision on 2021 if Formula One is still appealing to me,” Alonso told IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview (watch the video above). “The 2021 rules (in F1) are definitely a step forward, and hopefully things can be more mixed and not only three teams capable of winning races. So all this factors into play. I may consider that possibility.”

Alonso won consecutive Formula One championships in 2005-06 with Renault. He has 32 victories in an F1 career that started in 2001 and also includes stints at Ferrari and McLaren.

His last victory on the circuit was May 12, 2013 in Barcelona. He is winless in his most recent 110 starts, including the past 77 races with McLaren in 2015-18.

The Guardian recently reported that McLaren CEO Zak Brown said Alonso wouldn’t be returning to F1 with the team.

Alonso also told Diffey that returning to F1 from a two-season absence wouldn’t necessarily be linked to McLaren’s performance.

“I think they did well last year, and hopefully they make another step forward and close to the top three because they deserve it and are a fantastic team,” he said.

Though he is optimistic about more parity, Alonso said six-time champion Lewis Hamilton should be a favorite for the 2020 title based on preseason testing in which Mercedes turned heads with a new steering system.

“It seemed Mercedes is still quite competitive,” Alonso said. “They show enormous potential on the development side and on the progress from one year to next. Formula One is impossible to predict because many things happen in season.

“At the starting point, (Mercedes) are the favorites. When you have Lewis in the car and Mercedes with the potential they have, they have to be No. 1 probably.”