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…