Lewis Hamilton wins Singapore Grand Prix to extend lead in F1 title race
September 17 2018 , 12:54 am
In indomitable form, there is now a relentless, intimidating quality to Lewis Hamilton’s driving that seems to simply brook no dissent. His win at the Singapore Grand Prix was the culmination of a weekend when he put together moments of almost transcendent skill and a ruthless execution when it mattered that was untouchable.
Reminiscent of Tiger Woods at his peak, Hamilton’s performance for Mercedes under the lights of Marina Bay looked a class apart from his rivals. So much so that he now has one hand on the title.
Going into the meeting this was supposed to be Ferrari’s race. With his title rival Sebastian Vettel only able to finish in third behind the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, Hamilton leaves Singapore with a 40-point lead. Mercedes managed his race impeccably and Hamilton has now won four of the last five.
Only six races remain, Ferrari have a mountain to climb and Vettel’s self‑flagellation and dissatisfaction with their strategy this weekend suggests they are reeling and have no answers to Hamilton’s performances. The British driver had nailed an extraordinary lap to take pole. The team principal, Toto Wolff, called it he best he had seen and with track position on the narrow street circuit paramount it was crucial. After holding first place into turn one, he was able to lead from the front, dictate what was ultimately an unspectacular race and maintain serene control for his 69th career victory. Yet given Ferrari’s form in Singapore it was still a win against the odds.
“We knew that they would be spectacular here this weekend and so it was going to take something quite special for us to leapfrog them,” he said. “I know that not a single member of the hierarchy, like [strategist] James Vowles or Toto probably, really didn’t think that was possible – maybe more of them. So it was really quite a monumental moment for us as a team.”
Leaving with an even bigger advantage over Vettel had certainly not been what the team were anticipating. “Definitely didn’t expect to come to Singapore with 10 points more,” he said. “Definitely not. But I’m very grateful for those points and for all the hard work the team have put in.”
Mercedes had indeed done a sterling job to produce a car that was more competitive at a circuit where they have traditionally struggled, as acknowledged by the technical director James Allison. “There has been a slow improvement of our performance,” he said. “We have been chipping away at it for 12 months and it is a delight. Lewis got the job done but we gave him a car he could do that with.”
Vettel’s downcast demeanour in contrast reflected a Ferrari squad who were left wanting. They still have the quicker car yet are failing to exploit it and the German is becoming frustrated as the title looks to be slipping away. He was critical of their strategy in qualifying where he managed only third and then also of the race.
He had passed Verstappen for second place on the opening lap but the team’s early pitstop in an attempt to undercut Hamilton did not pay off. He emerged behind a Force India and had fitted the ultrasoft tyres. Once Verstappen, who drove superbly for second, passed him through his pitstop, Vettel was on the wrong rubber and his challenge was effectively over.
“With the way we raced today we didn’t have a chance.” Vettel said. “I said before the weekend we could only beat ourselves and I think today we didn’t get everything out of our package.
“It was clear we were not fast enough in the race, we need to understand why. It’s largely due to how we decided to race and which tyres for how many laps. What we tried to do was get to first position and get ahead, but Lewis was too quick.”
Vettel did insist that his team had done the right thing in going aggressive – they had been forced to by Hamilton’s qualifying lap – and insisted he would always “defend his team” but he will doubtless be requiring an extensive debrief in to just how the weekend got away from him.
Hamilton, however, was on a roll of both confidence and momentum and was understandably optimistic that he is in a position to close out the title. “I’m really happy with it. Still lots of points available but with this performance, and this focus that we have as a team, I truly believe that we can deliver impactful weekends like this for the rest of the season. So that’s the goal.”
Hamilton has signed a contract until the end of 2020 and last week suggested he was encouraged by the look of the proposed cars for 2021 to continue racing on after then. The victory has put him 22 behind Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 race wins. A fifth title already looks to be well within his grasp but after this weekend and on such form, even this once seemingly insurmountable target has begun to look achievable.