x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Sebastian Vettel clinches Singapore Grand Prix in style

German Red Bull driver dominates in Singapore to stretch lead in championship.

Sebastian Vettel is in line for a fourth successive title. Tim Chong / Reuters
Sebastian Vettel is in line for a fourth successive title. Tim Chong / Reuters

SINGAPORE // Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel cruised to a third straight Singapore Grand Prix victory on Sunday and moved 60 points clear of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso after a dominant drive under the floodlights at the Marina Bay Street Circuit.

The German was only headed briefly at the start as he was passed by Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes-GP car going into the first corner.

But Rosberg over-braked, ran wide, and Vettel cut inside his compatriot and he was never headed again. Vettel was almost two seconds quicker than his rivals to finish 32.6 seconds clear of Alonso and take another big step towards a fourth successive title with six races remaining.

Kimi Raikkonen shrugged off back pain to climb from 13th on the grid to third for Lotus in a challenging race that was held up by one decisive safety-car period when Daniel Ricciardo crashed his Toro Rosso into the barriers on lap 26.

“Yes, yes, that’s what I call in control,” Vettel shouted over the team radio after chalking up his seventh win of the season and 33rd of his career in the heat of the Singapore night.

“The car felt absolutely fantastic. This is absolutely a team effort.”

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said Vettel, who was again booed on the podium from some in the crowd below, following similar behaviour at the Italian Grand Prix earlier this month, had been in a league of his own after “one of his best-ever drives”.

It was also one of his most dominant, even if the possibility of a safety-car intervention was an ever-present concern.

“This is a long race, so there are a lot of things that can go wrong, so you can’t afford to lean back,” Vettel said.

“At the end, I was just controlling the gap. It was hard work out there, but we like it because it is one of the most challenging tracks.”

Of his tussle with Rosberg at the first corner, which had seen the two cars come close to making contact, Vettel said: “The start was quite hairy. Nico had a better start than me, but thankfully, he went a bit too deep and I was able to recover, which was very important.

“The car was incredible and it was a pleasure to drive it round this crazy track.”

Alonso again used a charging start and brilliant strategy to climb from seventh on the grid and keep his title hopes alive.

He gambled on pitting for a change of tyres during the safety-car period and nursing his Ferrari all the way to the flag on medium tyres.

“We knew we didn’t have the pace today, so we had to invent something with a different strategy from the other teams,” said the Spaniard. “It paid off at the end. We are in a position in the championship where we have nothing to lose.”

Raikkonen, who will join Alonso at Ferrari next season, duplicated the Spaniard’s strategy and was able to hold on for third place from the fast-charging Mercedes duo of Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, who opted to stay out behind the safety car.

“I think I had OK speed and I could overtake people, so I just kept the pressure on and I managed to pull away and thankfully no one managed to catch me,” Raikkonen said.

Alonso’s Brazilian teammate Felipe Massa finished in sixth place with the McLaren-Mercedes cars of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez claiming the next two spots ahead of Nico Hulkenburg’s Sauber and Adrian Sutil in a Force India.

Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber briefly climbed up to fourth place in the closing stages but his Red Bull lost power on the last lap and he slipped out of the top 10 after his car died on the track.

There was also disappointment for Romain Grosjean, who started third on the grid, but retired on lap 33 after his Lotus suffered a pneumatic system failure and was called in by his team.

Free ride to cost Webber dear

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Red Bull’s Mark Webber were both punished by stewards after the Spaniard gave the stranded Australian a ride back to the pit lane on the side of his car at the close of the race. Webber had an engine failure on the final lap and rather than having a slow walk back to the pits, he dashed out on to the track, hailed Alonso’s Ferrari like it was a taxi and then clambered on to the sidepod for a ride back to the pits. Alonso had already finished the race.

Three cars on their slowdown laps had to take evasive action to avoid Webber and the Ferrari. For Webber, the reprimand was his third of the season, meaning he will receive a 10-place penalty on the grid at the next race in South Korea.