SINGAPORE - Vindication arrived in the sweetest of fashions for Sebastian Vettel on Sunday night (Sept 22). After 22 races and 392 days of waiting, he was a Formula One race winner once again.
It could not have been a more perfect setting for the German, who became the first driver to capture the Singapore Grand Prix five times.
There were the red fireworks that greeted him as he claimed the chequered flag in his No. 5 car ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc, with Red Bull's Max Verstappen third; the bear hugs from his mechanics after he climbed out of his Ferrari SF90 "Lina" - Vettel names all his F1 cars - and the celebratory champagne he poured into his mouth on the podium.
This was his 53rd career victory but his first since last year's Belgium GP and, despite being a four-time world champion (2010-13), question marks have been raised over his form and temperament this season.
Such has been his fall from grace that many analysts see Leclerc, 21 and in only his second season in F1, as the Scuderia's No. 1 driver.
Vettel, 32, said: "It was sweet. The last couple of weeks for me have not been the best. It's been incredible to get the support from fans. I've gotten so many letters and nice messages. It gave me a lot of strength and belief and I tried to put it into (my performance on) the track today."
He started third on the grid, behind pole sitter Leclerc and reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton, who eventually finished fourth. It was not an ideal position for Vettel, given eight of the 11 winners at the Marina Bay Street Circuit all began from P1.
But it was Leclerc, seeking a third straight win after breakthrough victories in Belgium and Italy, who was left seething at a strategy call that played into Vettel's hands.
The Monegasque had lead until he pitted on the 21st lap. When he rejoined the race, he was behind Vettel, who had pitted a lap earlier to switch from soft to hard tyres.
Vettel said: "It was a very late call on the pit stop and I just gave it everything on the out lap. I was surprised to come out ahead and it was difficult to manage the tyres but we controlled it to the end."
Any hopes Leclerc had of putting pressure on Vettel and overtaking the German were scuppered by three safety cars being deployed after those pit stops which ate up valuable time in the 61-lap race.
"I won't do anything stupid, I want us to finish one-two (the first by a constructor at the night race)," Leclerc said over the radio when he was behind the second safety car. "I just don't think it's fair."
He was more diplomatic after the race and said: "I didn't expect Seb to overtake me and, if the decision has been taken, it's for the good of the team. It's frustrating but I've done everything. I stick to the plan.
"The only answer I need really is that there was no other way for us to be first and second before the pit stop. I don't know if I could have stopped earlier. I need the confirmation."
What has become obvious though is the resurgence of Ferrari. This was their third straight win - the last time they managed that was in 2008, when they won four on the trot - and while they remain far behind Mercedes in the constructors' standings (394 points to 527), there is renewed optimism.
They have shown their car can be successful on high-downforce circuits such as the Singapore track, and found the grip they had been lacking all season which allows their drivers to attack the corners.
These improvements, allied to their straight-line speed advantage over their rivals, will put them in a strong position heading into the final six races and next season.
Vettel said: "It was a great race and big congratulations to the team. The start of the season was difficult for us, then we started to come alive. I'm really proud of everyone's work back home."