Sebastian Vettel won his first F1 race in over a year for Ferrari after beating an unhappy Charles Leclerc at the Singapore GP, with Lewis Hamilton only fourth.
Vettel started third under the lights but jumped ahead of his team-mate and Hamilton after Ferrari pitted him first – a decision which Leclerc questioned as the pole-sitter was denied a third straight victory.
“I just don’t think it’s fair,” said Leclerc on team radio, before adding after the race: “It’s always difficult to lose a victory like that.”
Vettel then held Leclerc at bay and controlled a race which included three Safety Cars, and got to celebrate a first victory since August 2018’s Belgian GP.
It's been a while since we've seen this!ðŸ™Œ#Seb5 seals victory for the first time this season! pic.twitter.com/XGd8b2d0Yl
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) September 22, 2019
Ferrari, meanwhile, backed up their surprise qualifying performance with an impressive one-two to inflict another defeat on Mercedes – who are now on a three-race losing streak for only the second time in a hybrid engine era
“I’m very happy, great race,” said Vettel. “Big congratulations to the team, the start of the season was difficult for us but in the last weeks we’ve come alive.”
Like Leclerc, Hamilton also fell back because of pit-stop strategy.
The championship leader appeared primed to attack Leclerc in the early stages but Mercedes kept Hamilton out while his rivals pitted, and after a lengthy stint he emerged behind Max Verstappen and the Ferraris.
Hamilton couldn’t make up places around the narrow streets and finished fourth – but he was a place ahead of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas so extends his title lead to 65 points with six races remaining.
“I knew that we should have undercut,” Hamilton told Sky F1. “It feels like Ferrari are hungrier at the moment.”
Red Bull celebrated a podium through Verstappen although never looked to have the pace to challenge for the victory, while Alex Albon was sixth ahead of the impressive Lando Norris in the McLaren.
Singapore GP Result1) Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari2) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari3) Max Verstappen, Red Bull4) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes5) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes6) Alex Albon, Red Bull7) Lando Norris, McLaren8) Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso9) Nico Hulkenberg, Renault10) Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo
The story of the raceThe start of the Singapore GP always provides at least one incident – but while Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg made contact, the top six retained position with Leclerc streaking ahead and dictating the pace.
Although Hamilton remained within DRS range, the first part of the race as much about managing tyres for Leclerc as it was holding the Mercedes at bay.
Vettel and Verstappen were the first of the leading six to pit on Lap 20 – just as Hamilton closed right up to Leclerc to put the pressure on. A lap later, Ferrari reacted with Leclerc, but Vettel’s quick first lap meant the Monegasque was now behind his team-mate, much to his displeasure.
Hamilton, despite telling his team to “undercut him”, was told to do the opposite to Leclerc and eventually stayed out another six laps, with Mercedes perhaps hoping the traffic – Antonio Giovinazzi, Pierre Gasly, Daniel Ricciardo and Lance Stroll were ahead of the Ferraris and hadn’t pitted – would give them an advantage.
But by the time Hamilton exited the pits he was well off the pace in fourth, some five seconds behind Verstappen.
Hamilton didn’t point the finger at Mercedes – but this was an opportunity missed.
Three Safety Cars were to follow: The first on Lap 36 following Romain Grosjean and George Russell’s clumsy collision, the second when Sergio Perez broke down in his Racing Point, and finally when Daniil Kvyat and Kimi Raikkonen crashed into Turn 1 with just 11 laps remaining.
A bunched-up field led to plenty of overtaking and action in the midfield but the leading cars just couldn’t make a move stick – with the Safety Cars allowing Ferrari to conserve their tyres. In Hamilton’s case, fresher rubber was his only real chance of making Mercedes’ strategy work.
Vettel rounded off a superb evening by extending his lead over Leclerc, and while the win was somewhat fortunate, the four-time world champion certainly enjoyed a boost in form in Singapore after a difficult F1 2019.
“There are going to be some interesting conversations after the race as Charles obviously feels that win was snatched away from him,” said Sky F1’s Martin Brundle.
“But for the decisions and strategy they took, and especially through the traffic when it mattered, Vettel did a good job.”
Ferrari are ‘back in business’Vettel’s win is a much overdue personal achievement but the Singapore GP was also a breakthrough weekend for Ferrari, who have three straight victories for the first time in over a decade.
While catching Mercedes in this season’s championship is a long shot – the Silver Arrows have a 133-point advantage – Ferrari finally seem to be solving their downforce issues with their car.
Coupled with a dominant engine, that makes Ferrari a worthy opponent for the rest of F1 2019.
“What’s significant here for Ferrari is that they’ve won three races in a row on three totally different race tracks,” said Brundle.
“They are really back in business.”