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Singapore Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton produces champion's race as first-lap carnage sinks Sebastian Vettel

The 2017 Singapore Grand Prix was supposed to be Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari’s key race to beat Mercedes and overtake Lewis Hamilton in the Drivers’ Championship. In fact, Vettel’s best-case scenario was to win and then hope to have the Red Bull Racing duo and his teammate Kimi Raikkonen between him and his title rival Hamilton — thereby extracting maximum points to retake the lead in the championship. The best-case scenario played out in qualifying on Saturday as Vettel clinched pole position (his 49th) and Hamilton managing only fifth and hoping for a miracle on Sunday to limit damage to his championship hopes.

However, come Sunday, the worst-case scenario played out — between the start-line and the first corner, Max Verstappen, who was caught in a Ferrari sandwich ended up tagging Raikkonen who further tagged Vettel. Result? Raikkonen skid off the circuit in his Ferrari and took along with him Verstappen’s Red Bull Racing car. The unluckiest driver on the grid, Fernando Alonso, was a victim of this clash as both the tangled cars knocked his McLaren and spun him a cool 360 degrees — half of the spin being done while he was airborne.

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But the result of the carnage wasn’t over yet. Vettel, who had parts of Raikkonen’s front wing lodged onto his car, had his left side-pod heavily damaged leading to a leakage from his car. A corner after the Verstappen-Raikkonen carnage, Vettel spun on the lubricants leaked by his car, slammed the wall and lost the front wing and nose assembly of his car. While the championship contender tried to drive his car back to the pits with the hope to repair it, he was advised by his team to park the car, register a DNF (Did Not Finish) and take home zero points.

Moments after the crash, fans and pundits took to social media to present their analysis of the crash. For a change, we agree with the FIA’s view that this was a racing incident and the blame couldn’t be apportioned to a single driver. Yes, Vettel did swerve aggressively to fend-off Verstappen (who had a better start than Vettel) into the first corner, but there’s almost no chance that Vettel knew that Verstappen had Raikkonen to his left and hence nowhere to go. Vettel’s action at the start was questionable but not unusual.

 Singapore Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton produces champions race as first-lap carnage sinks Sebastian Vettel

Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen, right, collides with teammate Sebastian Vettel at the start of the Singapore Grand Prix. AP

Funnily enough for Ferrari, their social media handle was quick to apportion the blame to Verstappen. In fact, few fans were quick to point out and wonder post-race as to why Verstappen couldn’t use his brakes and bail out of the Ferrari sandwich.

Firstly, it is easy for fans to speculate, especially after seeing multiple replays in slow motion — it is important to remember that he lived those moments in real-time and over 200kmph. Secondly, braking while under attack isn’t necessarily why Red Bull Racing thinks he’s worth $100 million. Ironically enough, when Verstappen may become available for 2019, Ferrari will be the first one to line up at his doorstep with a multi-million dollar contract. Such is life in Formula 1 and memory does tend to be short-lived.

With three out of the top four cars eliminated within corners of the start, Hamilton — who also made a fantastic start — found himself leading the race. The Englishman produced the drive of a champion in mixed conditions — he claimed that the rain made him believe that he could win — to register his 60th career win, ahead of a charging Daniel Ricciardo and teammate, Valtteri Bottas.

Ricciardo stayed out of trouble yet again to score his seventh podium of the season, while Bottas, who struggled for pace for majority of the weekend, would have been relieved to finish third. As things stand, Bottas in third is closer to Vettel in second place, than Vettel is to Hamilton!

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton celebrates winning the race on the podium with Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo and teammate Valtteri Bottas. Reuters

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton celebrates winning the race on the podium with Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo and teammate Valtteri Bottas. Reuters

For a majority of the race, Hamilton, Mercedes and the fans waited for Ricciardo’s Red Bull Racing car to unleash the pace it did in the practice sessions on Friday, but it didn’t. Irrespective of the weather or the tyre compounds, Hamilton had Ricciardo covered and beat the field to score 25 points and extend his championship lead over Vettel to an almost unassailable 28 points.

For Hamilton, who has won three races on the trot and has been unbeaten since the summer break, the question now could be about how soon can he win his fourth title rather than if he can. Out of the six races that remain, Singapore was supposed to be Mercedes’ Achilles' heel and a 1-3 finish will only bolster their confidence as the season nears the end. Unless something drastic happens, like it did in Singapore for Vettel, for Hamilton to lose his lead in the Drivers’ Championship would be difficult.

However, we don’t expect Ferrari-Vettel to give up, nor do we expect Hamilton-Mercedes to take things lightly. Also, it is too early to run championship predictions. If anything, Singapore showed us how it takes only one moment for the pendulum to swing away from you — and social media was quick to remind that Lewis Hamilton hasn’t registered a DNF yet.

However, for Ferrari, they have this weird relationship with Singapore. Each time they have had a driver fighting for the Drivers’ Championship, the result in Singapore has only made their challenge that much tougher. The last driver who suffered similar fate was Felipe Massa, back in 2008, when the Crashgate scandal took place. Massa lost the race from the lead and then lost the Drivers’ Championship to Hamilton at the last race of the season.

Apart from the front-runners, the Singapore Grand Prix was a fantastic race for many of the mid-field runners. Nico Hulkenberg, who beat Adrian Sutil’s record of maximum race starts (129) without scoring a podium, came tantalizingly close to scoring his first podium finish till a car issue saw him retire. Had Hulkenberg scored a podium, the record would have remained Sutil’s.

The other Renault driver, Jolyon Palmer, who learned of his sacking for next season via an online report, drove a solid race to finish a career-best sixth place. With most cockpits confirmed for next season, could Palmer find himself a spot at Williams in place of Massa? Or will Williams prefer to hire Robert Kubica, who is now being assisted in his comeback bid by reigning World Champion Nico Rosberg?

The Force India F1 team, who is contemplating a name change to Force Racing, scored double points — Sergio Perez came fifth and Esteban Ocon, 10th. The team also announced an extension to Perez’s contract for 2018; the Mexican is now equal on points (68 points) with Verstappen in the Drivers’ Championship.

Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr, who will take Palmer’s place at Renault next season, drove to his career-best and best-of-the-rest fourth-place finish. The other driver registering a career-best finish was Mclaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne — he finished seventh, ahead of Williams’ rookie racer, Lance Stroll. Williams, who faced elimination in Q1 of qualifying, saw Stroll start 18th and finish eighth, ahead of veteran teammate Massa. Embarrassingly for Massa, Stroll is only three points behind him in the Drivers’ Championship.

The 10th edition of the Singapore Grand Prix was an exciting one. The incident at the start, followed by the safety car periods, made for interesting racing all around and the circuit management and drivers coped well in what was the first ever wet race in the history of the sport. While only 12 drivers managed to finish the race, Ferrari and Sauber were the only two teams to not score points, and for a change, Hamilton winning was actually an unusual result.

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Updated Date: Sep 18, 2017 13:00:26 IST

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