Showdown After Sunset
The Singapore Grand Prix dawned with new F1 ownership and a little uncertainty over the financial future of the sport, but few were bothering themselves with such thoughts at the sharp end of the grid. Hamilton led Rosberg by just 2 points and qualifying under the floodlights was always critical.
Red Bull and Ferrari led Q1, although Vettel sat last on the tables thanks to some sort of suspension problem that kept lifting the inside front wheels as Seb cornered. He gave up on the session, accepting 22nd on the grid. Renault took 17th and 19th, Nasr 18th, with the Manor pair 20th and 21st.
Ericsson was the first driver to give up on Q2, settling for 16th with more than 2 seconds between himself and Grosjean in 15th. The Haas ended up in the wall, while Button's McLaren ground to a halt shortly after, having just kissed the wall and gained a puncture. Alonso did sneak into Q3. Bottas, Massa, Button, and Gutierrez also fell in Q2. Perez was lucky to climb to 9th after the crash.
Rosberg took pole ahead of Ricciardo, Hamilton, Verstappen, Raikkonen, the Toro Rosso pair, Hulkenberg, Alonso and Perez.
Perez found himself dropped to 17th from 10th, promoting Bottas to the fifth row. Grosjean changed his gearbox due to the crash damage and dropped to 20th. The Haas driver ended up starting from the pit lane with further issues, this time with the brakes. Sadly he didn't make the start and got out of the car before the lights went out.
Hulkenberg was spat into the wall after contact with a Toro Rosso before the line, bringing the Safety Car out. Verstappen dropped a few places off the line, now 8th behind the Toro Rosso cars. Massa claimed 9th and Magnussen, amazingly, took 10th. Replays showed Verstappen lost ground first due to wheelspin, then having to lift out as Hulkenberg was skewed across the track by Sainz. Further back, Bottas had a puncture and Button had front wing damage. The Williams dropped to 19th, Button's McLaren to 20th. Williams released Bottas almost into the side of Vettel.
Two laps into the race, the track went green once more. Rosberg led from Ricciardo, Hamilton, Raikkonen and Alonso, but also worth noting for Manor that they were running up in 14th and 15th.
With a loose barge board, Sainz was called into the pits to have the car made safe. He pulled in at the end of lap 7.
Ocon was put under investigation for overtaking under the Safety Car, though it hadn't been seen on TV. Bottas' possible unsafe release was also investigated, although it was written off within seconds. Ocon, however, was given a 5 second penalty.
Comfortably leading, Rosberg was told his brake management was already critical in the first ten laps. Hamilton was told the same a lap later.
Verstappen pitted for a second set of super soft tyres on lap 13, the first stop by a potential frontrunner. Alonso was in a lap later for the same tyres.
Ricciardo and Hamilton pitted on lap 15, Ricciardo following his teammate's strategy while Hamilton took softs. Rosberg followed the same strategy as Hamilton, although his stop a lap later was a bit slower due to a slow right front change. Despite that Rosberg retained the net lead.
Raikkonen waited until lap 17 to stop, and the state of his tyres suggested that was too late.
Vettel took ultra soft tyres on lap 24, using them to undercut Perez and then later to scythe from 12th to 10th.
Verstappen pitted on lap 27 for super soft tyres. On lap 31 he found a way past Perez for 10th.
Ricciardo came in on lap 32, taking soft tyres.
Raikkonen was past Hamilton on lap 33, despite some robust defending from the Mercedes.
Rosberg stopped on lap 33, taking softs and leaving the pits as Raikkonen and Bottas pitted, the latter having seat belt problems of all things. Hamilton was in a lap later, dropping back to 4th from a temporary lead.
Bottas retired, his race suit showing the marks of a lot of movement in his seat. However, an overheating engine thanks to the long earlier stop was the root cause.
Vettel and Massa both took ultra soft tyres for their final stints. Verstappen, however, took soft tyres.
Button retired the McLaren, parking in the garage.
Hamilton took the super soft tyres for his final 16 laps, but a lap later Raikkonen pitted for ultra softs – coming out just behind the Mercedes.
Ricciardo switched to super soft tyres for the last 14 laps, trying to pressure Rosberg.
In the chaos of the last stops, Rosberg failed to pit and was forced to not make a third stop as the field behind closed. Ricciardo was closing by at least 2 seconds a lap, while Hamilton continued to hold off Raikkonen.
Rosberg won narrowly from Ricciardo, the Mercedes' late surge saving the ignominy of losing to a Red Bull on the final lap. Hamilton finished third, followed by Raikkonen, Vettel, Verstappen, Alonso, Perez, Kvyat and Magnussen. Gutierrez led the non-scorers from Massa, Nasr, Sainz, Palmer, Wehrlein, Ericsson and Ocon. Button, Bottas and Hulkenberg retired, with Grosjean failing to start.
Going into the Malaysian weekend, Hamilton trailed Rosberg by 8 points, while Vettel led Raikkonen by just 5. Perez' points put Force India a point up on Williams once again, while Renault added a point to their lead over Manor and Sauber.