Sebastian Vettel ended his 13-month win drought with a controversial victory in the Singapore Grand Prix.
But the strategy also dropped him behind Verstappen’s Red Bull, and his tyre advantage – only a handful of laps – was not enough to enable him to try to pass cars on a track where a car is said to need a 2.4-second pace advantage to overtake.
Hamilton even needed help from team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who pitted earlier and was told to back off to slow Red Bull’s Alexander Albon, whom Hamilton would otherwise have come out behind.
But his championship lead over Bottas, who finished behind him in fifth, was extended to 65 points, and it remains only a matter of time before he wins a sixth world title.
Behind Bottas, Albon drove a strong race in the Red Bull, albeit his real pace was not that clear because of the tyre-management aspect of the race.
And Lando Norris drove well to take seventh and best of the rest for McLaren, ahead of Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, Hulkenberg and the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi at the end of a race that was soporific at the front but contained some harum-scarum racing in the midfield from time to time.
The incidents that brought out the safety car were a crash between Haas’ Romain Grosjean and Williams’ George Russell on the exit of Turn Eight on lap 35; a retirement that stranded Sergio Perez’s Racing Point on track on lap 39; and a collision between Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso and Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo when the Russian dived for a pass at Turn One on lap 50.
What they said
Vettel: “First of all, big congratulations to the team – the start of the season has been difficult for us then we started to come alive and I’m really proud of everyone’s work back home. I really want to thank the fans over the last couple of weeks. We haven’t been the best and it’s happy to get so many letters and nice messages, and it gives me lots of strength and belief and I put it all into the car today.”
Leclerc: “Obviously it is always difficult to lose a win like that but at the end it’s a one-two for the team so I’m happy for that, our first of the season. I’m disappointed for me but I will come back stronger. It looks a lot more positive than expected, they’ve [the mechanics] done an amazing job.”
Verstappen: “The whole race went well. At the beginning it was really slow and everyone was close together then I started to struggle with the tyres and we boxed and it was a good call. We undercut Lewis and from there it was about managing the tyres.”