Lewis Hamilton left Singapore with his 60th Grand Prix victory, a points lead of 28 and only six races remaining, on an evening of disaster for Ferrari who saw polesitter Sebastian Vettel and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen eliminated at the start after a clash with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
After heavy rain in the morning, the forecast for rain just before the start proved accurate, and the precipitation arrived as the grid was forming. Thankfully, however, the safety car’s lights remained off, which meant that drivers could have a conventional grid start and go racing properly.
How bright lights, a slippery wet track and inconveniently hard concrete walls would mix remained to be seen as the night race experienced rain for the first time in its illustrious 10-year history.
Way down in fifth place on the grid, standing alongside Lewis Hamilton’s car, Mercedes’ non-executive chairman Niki Lauda’s face beamed brighter than the thousands of arc lights around the track. As lifelines go, this looked like a good one. And it was.
And, boy, was there drama at the start.
Vettel got away well from pole position, but as Verstappen lagged slightly Raikkonen got a great run and eased alongside him on the left, by the pit wall. As Vettel eased over to take his line for the first corner, the Red Bull was the meat in a Ferrari sandwich, and the result was chaos.
Raikkonen hit Verstappen and then Vettel, pushing the number five Ferrari wide. But as Vettel just clung to the lead and Hamilton came up round the outside on the right-hand side to a very grateful second, Raikkonen and Verstappen’s out-of-control cars collided again on the outside of Turn 1, also spinning the unfortunate Fernando Alonso’s McLaren.
The stunning crash worked in Hamilton’s favour (Getty)
If Hamilton was thanking his lucky stars, he was even more grateful further round the lap, as Vettel side sideways in front of him before his Ferrari snapped right into the wall, removing its nose. He limped round in 17th place as the safety car was immediately deployed to lead the cars through the pitlane as the debris was cleared away, but stopped partway round the second lap, his race – and possibly even his title hopes – over.
“I had an average start and then went to the left trying to fend off Max and the next thing I get a bump on the side and see Kimi’s car,” Vettel said. “That’s how this business is, and we’ll move on. It doesn’t change much.”
The race went live again by…