Formula 1: Vettel Sneaks by Leclerc, Ends Year-Long Win Drought at Singapore Grand Prix

A strategy snafu put Sebastian Vettel ahead of his teammate and into the race lead, where safety cars kept him til the checkered flag.

Scuderia Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel benefited from strategic mistakes and multiple safety cars to win Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix, his first Formula 1 win in over a year.

Vettel started from third behind his teammate Charles Leclerc and Mercedes-AMG’s Lewis Hamilton, though an early-race pace advantage wasn’t enough to take second from the Brit. Behind, contact damaged the cars of Nico Hülkenberg, Carlos Sainz, and George Russell, all of whom had to make first-lap pit stops.

There was little more action until lap 10, when Daniel Ricciardo, who started last, took a wild swing at passing his former teammate Daniil Kvyat for 12th. He caught a nail-biting bout of oversteer before performing his signature braking plunge on the Russian, which succeeded and also opened the door for an opportunistic Lance Stroll to squeak through. A lap later, Stroll’s teammate Sergio Perez snaked by Kvyat in the same spot.

Midfielders began to take pit stops around lap 16, but frontrunners waited until lap 19, Vettel and Max Verstappen leading the way. Hamilton, sensing he might miss out if he didn’t stop soon, asked his race engineer to undercut Leclerc by stopping before him, but it was Leclerc who entered the pits first and exited behind Vettel, the beneficiary from an undercut of his own.

Now in the lead, Hamilton matched a Michael Schumacher-held record of 142 Grands Prix led. He in turn relinquished the lead after 26 laps to an unsuspecting Antonio Giovinazzi of Alfa Romeo, who became the first driver since 2015 to lead a race for a team other than Mercedes, Ferrari, or Red Bull, and the first Alfa driver to lead a race since Andrea de Cesaris in 1983. His fortune was short-lived; Vettel took the lead from him on lap 31, Leclerc and Verstappen pushed him off the podium shortly thereafter, and on lap 34, he made contact with Ricciardo, and both drivers came away with punctures.

For all his misfortune, Giovinazzi was still in the race after a pit stop, which couldn’t be said for George Russell after a tangle with Romain Grosjean on lap 36. Russell ran Grosjean out of room and made contact, but Grosjean steered into Russell to avoid being pressed into the wall. Russell hit the wall, breaking his suspension, while Grosjean escaped serious damage, but the effect on the race was the same: it was time for the signature Singapore Safety Car.

Racing resumed on lap 40 and though the frontrunners’ positions saw no changes, Stroll developed a puncture after making contact with Pierre Gasly. Racing Point’s situation worsened on lap 43 when problems were detected on Perez’s car, and the team called for him to stop the car ASAP. Perez couldn’t find a good spot, and parked his RP19 along a straight, forcing the race’s second safety car.

The safety car bowed out on lap 47 and despite ominous messages from Leclerc’s car about making moves at the race restart, no lead change occurred. Nothing much happened until lap 50, when Kvyat made a do-or-die move on Kimi Räikkönen into turn one…which the Finn didn’t see coming. He turned in on Kvyat, collided, and broke his own front suspension. Kvyat escaped serious damage, but Räikkönen’s race was over, and it was time for yet another safety car.

Racing resumed on lap 52, again without any change in position near the front. A brief fight for the race’s fastest lap was ended by Kevin Magnussen, who finished dead last, and thus received zero points for setting the race’s quickest lap, but he denied his opponents said point and will hold on to the Singapore lap record for at least another year.

Vettel and Leclerc crossed the line one-two, a first for any constructor in Singapore. Vettel’s win is his first since last year’s Belgian Grand Prix and Ferrari’s third in a row, a string of success the Scuderia hasn’t enjoyed since 2008. Both Ferrari drivers shared the podium with Verstappen, who is tied for third in the drivers’ championship with Leclerc. Vettel was voted Driver of the Day.