By John O’Brien
Lewis Hamilton stormed to an emphatic victory at the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday to wrest the championship lead from Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg after the German retired with steering wheel problems.
The Briton overcame an extended safety car period midway through the race, as well as the twin Red Bull challenge of Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo, to move three points clear of Rosberg with five races remaining.
“I had a dream this would happen last night… I just want to say huge thanks to my team,” Hamilton said in a podium interview.
“I was so excited, I was looking for a clean weekend (without mechanical problems), and I had it. We always strive to get both cars one-two that was our goal, so things still to work on.”
Fernando Alonso ended a good weekend for Ferrari with a solid fourth place finish on a hazy Singapore night with Brazilian Felipe Massa rounding out the top five in his Williams.
For Hamilton, the race could not have gone any better after he arrived in Singapore trailing Rosberg by 22 points and in desperate need of a strong finish to ensure he maintained his bid for a second world title after his 2008 triumph.
He saved his best for last in qualifying on Saturday to claim pole position from his team mate and when Rosberg was unable to get his Mercedes moving at the start of the formation lap, the writing was on the wall for the German.
Rosberg was forced to start from the pitlane at the back of the field and when Hamilton stormed clear into the first corner, he always looked on course to record his seventh victory of the season, and 29th overall, in the fastest car on the track.
The German retired in the pits after 14 laps when he could not get the car going again despite another change of steering wheel.
“The whole steering wheel just wasn’t working so I didn’t have any hybrid power and the shiftingI would shift two gears at once all the time and I had no DRS,” he told Sky Sports television.
“The car just wasn’t working at all. And then there was no point to continue. It was a tough day really.”
Only the inevitable safety car period, for seven laps midway through the race following Adrian Sutil’s collision with Sergio Perez, added an element of doubt to the proceedings but Hamilton managed his tyres brilliantly to claim victory by 13.5 seconds.
“Coming to the last six races after I had a great race in Monza (where he won), we know we have a car to compete here,” Hamilton added.
“I got off cleanly and of course it would have been a hardcore race if Nico was in the race with me… but later on in the race, I was a bit unaware of what I needed to do.
“I was nervous that if a safety car came out it would cause big problems but fortunately we got where we needed to go.”
Vettel, Ricciardo and Alonso opted to go all the way to the finish once the safety car came in on the 37th of the 60-lap race, forcing Hamilton to build as big a lead as possible before pitting again to fit some soft ‘prime’ tyres.
When he emerged back on the track on the 52nd lap, Vettel was ahead and Ricciardo snapping at his heels but the Briton was able to make the most of his fresher tyres and performed a magnificent pass on the German through turn seven to reclaim the lead for good.
“It is a circuit I really enjoy,” said Vettel, who won the previous three Singapore races and qualified fourth on the grid.
“The atmosphere is great but it is tough. I had a good start, got past Daniel, then had a decent race, but the safety car came at the worst point for us with tyres borderline.”
Jean-Eric Vergne drove brilliantly in his Toro Rosso to claim sixth place, his best finish of the season, with Sergio Perez, Kimi Raikkonen, Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen completing the top 10.
Driver and constructor standings after the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix at Marina Bay Street Circuit on Sunday
1. Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes 241
2. Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes 238
3. Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Red Bull 181
4. Fernando Alonso (Spain) Ferrari 133
5. Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Red Bull 124
6. Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Williams 122
7. Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren 72
8. Nico Huelkenberg (Germany) Force India 72
9. Felipe Massa (Brazil) Williams 65
10. Sergio Perez (Mexico) Force India 45
11. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari 45
12. Kevin Magnussen (Denmark) McLaren 39
13. Jean-Eric Vergne (France) Toro Rosso 19
14. Romain Grosjean (France) Lotus 8
15. Daniil Kvyat (Russia) Toro Rosso 8
16. Jules Bianchi (France) Marussia 2
17. Adrian Sutil (Germany) Sauber 0
18. Marcus Ericsson (Sweden) Caterham 0
19. Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela) Lotus 0
20. Esteban Gutierrez (Mexico) Sauber 0
21. Max Chilton (Britain) Marussia 0
22. Kamui Kobayashi (Japan) Caterham 0
1. Mercedes 479
2. RedBull – Renault 305
3. Williams-Mercedes 187
4. Ferrari 178
5. Force India – Mercedes 117
6. McLaren 111
7. Toro Rosso – Renault 27
8. Lotus – Renault 8
9. Marussia – Ferrari 2
10. Sauber – Ferrari 0
11. Caterham – Renault 0