Singapore Airlines • Singapore Grand Prix 2014

Hamilton in driver's seat

Briton wins Singapore GP to overtake team-mate Rosberg in title standings

IT TOOK Nico Rosberg 13 races across seven months to painstakingly build a 22-point lead in the race for the Formula One drivers' championship.

That advantage evaporated in just 30 minutes on a humid and hectic Singapore night that could be the turning point of a season that has just five races to go.

While team-mate Lewis Hamilton celebrated his second Singapore Grand Prix win and a fresh three-point advantage in the standings yesterday, Rosberg aptly summed up the night as "all downhill for me".

Stunned silence echoed across the Mercedes garage when the German's trusty F1W05 car stalled ahead of the formation lap on the Marina Bay Street Circuit.

The complex electronics on his steering wheel had malfunctioned. In short, the screen was blank - and so was his face.

Adding to the Singapore Grand Prix's book of drama was Rosberg's latest chapter, joining the 2008 fiascos of Nelson Piquet Jr's "Crashgate" scandal and Felipe Massa driving off with the fuel hose still attached.

Last night, after last-minute intervention from team mechanics, Rosberg was forced to start the race from the pit lane.

Even the task of overtaking Marussia's Max Chilton in last spot proved difficult for the Mercedes star, whose car system was out of sync to the point that it was jumping two gears every time he upshifted.

Lapping nearly six seconds slower than pace-setter Hamilton, he was forced to pit on lap 14. And, when the frantic pressing of several buttons failed to reboot the steering wheel, he waved his hands to admit defeat, walking with his head bowed to share a quiet word with his wife Sina in the garage.

"There's no point in shouting, it's a reliability issue, and it's happened again," said the German, who also retired at the British GP in July due to gearbox failure.

"We've had a few this year and that's our weakness. We need to get to the bottom of it and make the car 100 per cent reliable."

When Rosberg retired, the message on Hamilton's radio from his engineers was clear: "Everything is under control Lewis, you have it well-managed."

That was not quite true.

He still had to fend off a late surge from quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel, needing every bit of pace and panache at Turn 7 to reclaim a lead he lost during a pitstop on lap 52.

"I was a bit unaware of what I needed to do in the last stint as my tyres were dropping off," said the 2008 world champion, who jigged to a backdrop of fireworks after the chequered flag as his emotional father Anthony looked on. "Credit to Sebastian, who was very fair when we duelled and I managed to get by."

With Vettel in second and Daniel Ricciardo third, Red Bull had both drivers on the podium for the first time since the Canadian GP in June. Vettel, who remains winless this year, said: "We knew Lewis was too quick for us but this is a good boost for morale and gives us something to fight for over the final few races."

The dreaded safety car made its annual Marina Bay appearance when Sergio Perez's front wing broke off after getting squeezed by Adrian Sutil on lap 31.

But it had little effect on the eventual outcome, as a Mercedes driver triumphed for the 11th time in 14 races. Hamilton said: "I had dreamt this would happen last night - it was a great feeling throughout the race."

nsanjay@sph.com.sg