Vettel ends barren run as Singapore proves a home from home again
German driver pips team-mate Charles Leclerc after taking advantage of pitstop strategy
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel celebrates after winning the Singapore Grand Prix. Photograph: Wallace Woon/EPA
Sebastian Vettel won the Singapore Grand Prix with a controlled if largely uneventful drive from third on the gird. He did so not without controversy however as his Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc was clearly angry he had lost his lead to the German through the team’s pitstop strategy.
With overtaking hard at Marina Bay the race was dictated by strategy and tyre wear as a series of safety cars interrupted the running and from which Vettel ultimately emerged on top. Ferrari were the quickest on track this weekend and having track position advantage, first with Leclerc and then with Vettel, did not relinquish it.
For the German the key moment came when he was pitted before Leclerc, who was leading, and with the undercut on fresh rubber, took his place. Leclerc was not happy but Vettel closed out the win well under pressure without giving his team-mate a chance to come at him.
Mercedes, looking for an alternative strategy for Hamilton, took a gamble by leaving their driver out long through the stops but it failed and he fell from second on track to fourth, from which he could not fight back.
This is Vettel’s 53rd career win and a salutary reminder that when he has the car beneath him to his liking and can really feel it, he can turn in impressive performances under pressure. It will come as a great relief to the German, who has not won a race since the Belgian Grand Prix over 12 months ago. He enjoys the challenge on the streets of Singapore and now with five wins, one more than Hamilton, is the race’s most successful driver.
The victory also marks a potential turning point for Ferrari in proving their car can work successfully through the high-downforce circuits at which it has struggled all season.
Mercedes and Hamilton had come into the race expecting to be strong through the slow corners of Marina Bay. However, the upgrades Ferrari brought to the nose, front wing, floor, diffuser and rear wing of their car came together this weekend remarkably well. They found the grip they had been lacking all season and with it the balance that allowed their drivers to attack the corners. Allied with their straight-line speed advantage Ferrari had the superior package here.
Hamilton now leads Bottas by 65 points, with Verstappen and Leclerc tied on 31 points behind the Finn. Vettel is six points further back in fifth.
The leaders made it cleanly through turn one in grid order but Vettel harried Hamilton through the first lap. The British driver defended doggedly and held his second place as Leclerc immediately opened a gap in front.
Having held his place Hamilton moved up on Leclerc, with the three leaders within two seconds. By lap four Hamilton was within DRS range of Leclerc but there was no attack, with the pace painfully slow as drivers looked to minimise tyre wear on a heavy fuel load. Leclerc was controlling the pace and his rivals could only follow and wait.
Leclerc finally blinked on lap 15, stepping up the pace and opening a gap. Hamilton followed him as they prepared for their stops, which were decisive.
Hamilton was on his tail and as Leclerc pitted on lap 20 Mercedes opted to do the opposite to Ferrari. Hamilton stayed out while Leclerc emerged behind Vettel, who had pitted a lap earlier and undercut his team-mate. Leclerc was aggrieved that as leader the stops had not gone in his favour.
Hamilton remained on track and was leading, while Mercedes were looking to Leclerc and Vettel hitting midfield traffic and losing time. They did so on lap 25 but Mercedes’ gamble had failed. Hamilton’s tyres had gone, he pitted on lap 26 and came out behind Verstappen, effectively in fourth.
Vettel was in control at the halfway stage, carving his way back to the front through the longer-running midfield cars and enjoying a five-second lead on his team-mate. Three safety cars were subsequently called through incidents but Vettel maintained his cool and his lead after each one. He managed it to the flag as the order behind him remained, completing Ferrari’s first one-two since Hungary in 2017. – Guardian