Vettel heads home Leclerc for Ferrari 1-2 after tactical Singapore GP

Sebastian Vettel finally got back to winning ways, leading home a Ferrari 1-2 from Max Verstappen at the Singapore Grand Prix as Lewis Hamilton lost out during the pit stop window.

The German had been running third until the crucial pit stop window but emerged ahead of a furious Leclerc after stopping a lap earlier than the Monegasque, Hamilton also dropping back to fourth after staying out on the soft compound rubber five laps longer before pitting.

With two late Safety Car situations allowing Ferrari further respite on their wearing tyres, it was Vettel who led home Leclerc for a record fifth win in Singapore as Verstappen held off a charging Hamilton at the chequered flag.

Valtteri Bottas was fifth in the second Mercedes ahead of Alexander Albon, Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly, with Nico Hulkenberg and Antonio Giovinazzi rounding off the top ten.

“Very, happy, great race,” said Vettel after taking his first win since Belgium in 2018. “First of all, a big congratulations to the team. Obviously, the start of the season has been difficult for us, but in recent weeks I think we’ve started to come alive, so really proud of everyone’s work back home.

“Secondly, I really want to thank the fans, obviously the last couple of weeks for me have been not the best but it’s incredible, to be honest, to get so much support, so many letters, so many nice messages and people telling their own stories when things might not go so well, so it gave me a lot of strength, belief and I tried to put it all into the track today and into the car. It’s nice when it pays off.”

It was Leclerc who made the best start from his hard-fought pole position, leading into Turn 1 from Hamilton and Vettel.

After the wheel-to-wheel drama of the last few races, the nature of the Marina Bay Circuit meant for a more tactical, processional affair, meaning that most of the place changes would be decided on the all-important pit stops.

Ferrari and Red Bull were the first to blink on lap 20, Vettel and Verstappen diving into the pits to swap their soft tyres for the harder compound. A lap later, it was Leclerc’s turn, but the Italian GP winner emerged behind his teammate, not at all what he, or his team, could have expected to happen.

“Obviously it’s always difficult to lose a win like that, but at the end it’s a 1-2 for the team, so I’m very happy for that,” said Leclerc afterward. “It’s the first 1-2 for the season, so all the guys deserved it. We arrived here hoping for maybe a podium and we come back home with a 1-2 so that is extremely happy. Of course, disappointing on my side, as anyone would be. But it’s like this sometimes and I’ll come back stronger. The strategy was fixed at the beginning of the race, so I stuck to the plan. In the end, it’s most important to finish 1-2.”

With Hamilton staying out for a further six laps before pitting for his hard compound tyre, the champion emerged just ahead of his teammate but behind Verstappen and with work to do.

A brave move from Vettel on Gasly into Turn 2 almost ended in disaster, but the procession continued, and after Giovinazzi finally relinquished his lead to the cars on fresher rubber, the Status Quo of Ferrari/Mercedes sandwich with a Verstappen filling was resumed.

And then, just what Mercedes wanted – a Safety Car after Grosjean sent Russell into the wall after catching his left rear tyre.

It was the moment for some teams to pit, but with track position more important than fresh rubber for the leading protagonists, both Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes stayed out on track but more bunched up than before and with Hamilton on the fresher tyre.

As the safety car pulled in on lap 41, the situation was clear, that being a straight race to the finish line on wearing hard compound tyres.

If there was a lack of overtaking action at the front of the field, it was hotting up in the midfield, Norris, Gasly, Hulkenberg and Magnussen all going wheel-to-wheel in the fight for points and Kvyat and Raikkonen collecting one another into Turn 1 to bring about a final Safety Car period.

Sadly, it robbed fans of the chance to witness a grandstand finish between the top five, all within striking distance of one another, with Vettel the man to benefit, coming home to win a record fifth Singapore Grand Prix.

After the highs of a competitive last few races, it was a disappointing race for Acronis partner team Racing Point, Lance Stroll gaining a puncture after dicing with Gasly and hitting the wall, the team’s misery compounded after Perez ground to a halt with a technical issue on lap 44.

Despite Hamilton not finishing on the podium, for once, he actually extends his lead at the top of the standings, leading by 65 points from teammate Bottas.

“We win and lose as a team but it’s painful for us today because it’s clearly one we could have won but it didn’t work out,” said Hamilton. “It feels like they (Ferrari) are hungrier at the moment so we have to step it up. We’ve got the ability and we’re still the best team but we’ve just got to stop dragging our feet and get on. We’ll debrief, re-huddle and come back fighting in the next race.”

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.