- Singapore Grand Prix
Dominant Vettel cruises to victoryLaurence Edmondson September 22, 2013
- Singapore Grand Prix
Sebastian Vettel took another small step towards his fourth world title at the Singapore Grand Prix after Red Bull proved they had made a giant leap over its rivals with an utterly dominant victory under the stars in Singapore.
Fernando Alonso salvaged second place with the help of a well-timed pit stop under the safety car while Kimi Raikkonen drove a heroic race from 13th to third despite back pains. Nevertheless, both lost ground to Vettel in the championship and with just six rounds left their title chances have been reduced yet further.
Vettel only once lost the lead of the race, and it was only for a matter of milliseconds, as Nico Rosberg lunged ahead of him at the start. But as the pack exited the purpose-built section of the track and headed for the streets of Singapore, the Red Bull was back ahead of the Mercedes and Vettel never looked back. A thrilling battle of strategy and overtaking kicked off behind him, but Vettel's victory was never in doubt.
Rosberg's fleeting lead at Turn 1 was undone as the nose of his Mercedes refused to follow his commands and understeered wide for Turn 2. Vettel, meanwhile, was thinking two corners ahead and casually reclaimed the lead before stretching his advantage to over four seconds at the end of the third lap.
From seventh on the grid, Fernando Alonso made a perfect start and took to the outside of Turn 1 before claiming the apex at Turn 2 in third place. It proved to be a crucial move and one that put him in prime position to take advantage of the safety car later in the race. Romain Grosjean dropped to fifth behind Mark Webber at the start but remained in the battle until a problem with the air-system on his Renault engine brought what could have been a podium-scoring performance to an early end.
Vettel's lead was up to 10.9s when his team-mate for next year, Daniel Ricciardo, misjudged the entrance to Turn 18 and buried the nose of his Toro Rosso in the barriers. It was a simple mistake but had a huge impact on the race as the safety car was deployed. For anybody attempting a two-stop the caution period came a little early, but drivers hedging their bets on a three-stop took the opportunity to pit in the knowledge they may be able to convert to a two stop.
Alonso was the lead driver among that group and emerged out of the pits in fifth place behind Vettel, Rosberg, Webber and Hamilton, who all elected to stay on track. For Vettel the timing of the safety car was not ideal, but it allowed Red Bull to let him off the leash and show the true race pace of the RB9. He was helped by Rosberg's pace plummeting at the same time, which was partly due to rubber getting stuck in the slot gaps of his front wing, and that backed up the rest of the field.
By the time Webber kicked off the second stops among the front four on lap 41, Vettel was 22.1s ahead of Rosberg. The Mercedes duo reacted to Webber's stop, but both missed their marks in their pit boxes and lost over a second to the slick pit work at Red Bull. As they emerged back onto the track, first Rosberg, and a lap later Hamilton, emerged behind Webber. The trio were down in seventh, eighth and ninth but on fresher tyres than the cars in front that were all still on the same rubber they changed onto under the safety car.
Vettel, meanwhile, had built up enough time over Alonso, now second, to pit and retain the lead. From that point onwards the race was decided and he could afford to turn down his engine, brake earlier for corners and cruise to the finish. Not so for team-mate Webber who started his charge for the podium by picking off the Saubers of Esteban Gutierrez and Nico Hulkenberg. Ahead of him Raikkonen took third place from Jenson Button as both McLarens started to struggle with tyre degradation and slip down the order.
By lap 58 the Webber-Rosberg-Hamilton train had made its way past the struggling McLarens for fourth, fifth and sixth, but was struggling to close on Raikkonen. Webber, it emerged, was suffering a gearbox problem - a hangover from his Monza issues - and his pace dropped dramatically. The two Mercedes passed him before a lick of flame came from the rear of his car and he was forced to retire one lap from the end. His only consolation was a lift back to the pits on the sidepod of Alonso's Ferrari.
It was a different story for team-mate Vettel, who went on to take his third victory in a row and his third consecutive victory in Singapore. His lead is now 60 points over Alonso in the standings, and with a fresh gearbox on the agenda for Korea, it now looks unassailable.
Laurence Edmondson is deputy editor of ESPNF1