MARINA BAY, Singapore -- Lewis Hamilton extended his lead in the championship to 40 points over Sebastian Vettel after converting pole position into victory at the Singapore Grand Prix.
The result represents a hammer blow for Vettel's title hopes as the Ferrari driver could only manage third place behind Red Bull's Max Verstappen in second. Vettel had gone into the Singapore weekend desperate for victory after winning just one of the last four races compared to Hamilton's three, but a poor qualifying performance on Saturday and a botched strategy on Sunday saw him lose another 10 points to his title rival.
Vettel had moved ahead of Verstappen for second place at the start of the race, but Ferrari dealt him a lousy hand by switching him to the ultra-soft compound tyre instead of the more resilient soft at his on and only pit stop on lap 13. Hamilton pitted a lap later and Mercedes opted to counter Ferrari's strategy by switching the race leader to softs -- the safer and more stable tyre to use for such a long stint to the chequered flag.
Meanwhile, Vettel got held up behind Sergio Perez, who had yet to pit, and that allowed Verstappen to make his stop on lap 17, take on softs and emerge from the pits ahead of the Ferrari. With tyres that were showing signs of fragility from the start of the stint, Vettel had to manage his pace to avoid making another pit stop and by the chequered flag had dropped to 28 seconds off Verstappen in second.
At the front, Hamilton led from the start and the only threat to his seventh victory of the season came on lap 38 when Verstappen tried to capitalise on the Mercedes getting stuck behind lapped traffic. Sergey Sirotkin was defending from Romain Grosjean as Hamilton came up behind the two drivers, and so immersed were the two in their battle that they cost Hamilton over five seconds as they fought for position ahead of him.
That allowed Verstappen to close right up on the gearbox of Hamilton and it was only when Grosjean finally forced his way past Sirotkin that Hamilton had a chance to pass the two backmarkers. Verstappen followed him through and considered a move into Turn 10, before thinking better of it and filtering back behind the Mercedes. From that point onwards Hamilton balanced the gap to the Red Bull with the life in his tyres, leaving him 8.9s clear of Verstappen at the end of the race.
Outside of the top three, Valtteri Bottas held off Kimi Raikkonen for fourth place, who in turn kept the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo in sixth. Ricciardo attempted an alternative strategy by going 30 laps on the hyper-soft compound before switching to ultra-soft, but despite being on the faster tyre towards the end of the race, it was not enough to craft an overtaking manoeuvre.
Fernando Alonso was best of the rest with a drive from 11th on the grid to seventh at the finish. He benefited from a free tyre choice at the start of the race, meaning he did not have to use the hyper-soft during the race. That allowed him to put together a solid 38-lap stint on the ultra-softs and emerge ahead of the rest of the midfield at his one and only pit stop. Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc benefitted from the same strategy to finish eighth and ninth ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, who started and finished tenth.
After qualifying seventh and ninth, the two Force Indias collided on the opening lap, pitching Esteban Ocon into the wall and out of the race. Perez then had a horror race, pitting early from the hyper-softs and getting stuck behind the Williams of Sergey Sirotkin who had moved to softs under the Safety Car to clear Ocon's wreck. When Perez finally passed him on lap 34, he cut across the Russian causing a collision between the two and earning himself a drive-through penalty. It put an end to any hope of Force India scoring points.
There are now two weeks to go for Ferrari to regroup before the next round in Russia. A thorough analysis of the weekend will take place back in Maranello, with the Italian team trying to understand how it lost a race on a circuit that should have suited its car and punished Mercedes.