Hamilton's Singapore Sling
Graham Read, Formula 1 Correspondent
Two weeks after racing around the Monza parkland in northern Italy amidst a cauldron of passionate Ferrari support the Formula 1 world moved on to the Far East for the Singapore Grand Prix, an event which has become a firm favourite with drivers, teams and fans alike.
Taking place at night around the floodlit downtown Marina Bay street circuit it was Lewis Hamilton who slung his Mercedes around the track with absolute precision to claim his fourth victory in Singapore and extend his championship lead over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
The Red Bull team had felt that their car would be much more suited to the characteristics of the tight Singapore track than many other circuits and this seemed to be confirmed in Friday’s opening free practice session as their drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen topped the timesheets ahead of the Ferraris of Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen, the latter newly announced as bound for Sauber in 2019 on a two year deal with young Charles Leclerc being promoted in the opposite direction to Ferrari.
Leclerc is a potential champion of the future, hence Ferrari’s confidence in him, breaking their normal rule of only employing two experienced drivers, but the likeable 20 year old Monegasque blotted his copybook by misjudging his exit from the Anderson Bridge, deranging the right front wheel of his Sauber.
Come second practice Räikkönen went fastest ahead of Hamilton and the pair of Red Bulls, with Vettel only ninth quickest. The German had at one stage looked set to disturb the top pair before making a mistake at Turn 21 and hitting the wall.
Saturday’s final practice period belonged to Vettel though as he was 0.3 seconds ahead of Räikkönen and over half a second faster than his main drivers’ championship rival Hamilton.
All was to change however come the qualifying hour, which got underway at 9pm local time, as in the top ten shoot out Hamilton surprised Ferrari by putting in a stunning first effort to take provisional pole position, a time no-one could subsequently beat. The young Dutch charger Verstappen was delighted to claim the other front row starting position for the following day’s race despite suffering from repeated problems with his Renault power unit and Vettel had to settle for third on the grid just ahead of the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas. Räikkönen and Ricciardo completed the top six starters.
It was typically hot and humid as the 20 cars lined up for the mid evening start of the Grand Prix and Hamilton made a perfect getaway as a feisty Vettel managed to get the better of Verstappen and claim an early second place.
The safety car was soon called into action though after Sergio Perez clashed with his Force India team-mate Esteban Ocon, forcing the latter into the barriers and out of the race. The stewards subsequently decided it was a racing incident, with no penalty due.
Racing resumed at the end of lap four as the safety car peeled back down the pit lane and Hamilton led from Vettel, Verstappen and Bottas. Vettel’s Ferrari was the first of the leading group to pit for fresh tyres, re-emerging on ultrasoft rubber, whereas Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen switched to the more durable soft specification alternative. Crucially, young Max delighted his fans by regaining second place after returning to the track just ahead of Sebastian, a moment which was to have a significant impact on the outcome of the Grand Prix.
Like Monaco, the Singapore circuit is a notoriously difficult place to overtake and mid-race Perez found himself in further trouble after struggling to pass the Williams pedalled by Sergey Sirotkin. In the end the frustrated Mexican did find a way past, but the Russian fought back before Perez drove into the side of him and received a drive through penalty for causing a collision.
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Hamilton’s victory extended his lead over Vettel in the drivers’ championship to 40 points, a significant advantage with six races remaining, and his Mercedes team increased their lead on the constructors’ front over Ferrari.
Next up as Formula 1 continues its journey around the world comes the Russian Grand Prix, held at Sochi on the Black Sea and different in so many ways to Singapore. Will Hamilton edge further ahead of Vettel in their personal battle to win a fifth title or will the German fight back? I hope you’ll join me in two weeks’ time to find out.
2018 Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix
1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1hr51m11.611s
2 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +8.961s
3 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +39.945s
4 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +51.940s
5 Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari) +53.001s
6 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) +53.982s
7 Fernando Alonso (McLaren) +1m43.011s
8 Carlos Sainz (Renault) Lapped
9 Charles Leclerc (Sauber) Lapped
10 Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) Lapped
11 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) Lapped
12 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) Lapped
13 Romain Grosjean (Haas) Lapped
14 Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) Lapped
15 Lance Stroll (Williams) Lapped
16 Sergio Perez (Force India) Lapped
17 Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso) Lapped
18 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) Lapped
19 Sergey Sirotkin (Williams) Lapped
20 Esteban Ocon (Force India) Retired
2018 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship (after 15 of 21 Grand Prix)
1 Lewis Hamilton 281
2 Sebastian Vettel 241
3 Kimi Räikkönen 174
2018 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship (after 15 of 21 Grand Prix)
1 Mercedes 452
2 Ferrari 415
3 Red Bull 274
Hamilton's Singapore Sling, 16th September 2018, 19:58 PM