Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix 2018

Formula One: Mercedes figure out winning moves

Mercedes' British championship leader Lewis Hamilton leading the pack ahead of German driver Sebastian Vettel (background) of Ferrari after the restart of the Singapore race.
Mercedes' British championship leader Lewis Hamilton leading the pack ahead of German driver Sebastian Vettel (background) of Ferrari after the restart of the Singapore race.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Team chief Wolff delighted with car as Hamilton wins for fourth time here and stretches lead to 40 points

Lewis Hamilton won the Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix last night but his team, Mercedes, left the Republic with something far more valuable - the final piece of their puzzle.

The Briton cruised to his fourth victory at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, leading from pole to chequered flag in 1hr 51min 11.611sec.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen was second, 8.961sec behind, while Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, Hamilton's main championship rival, was third, 39.945sec adrift.

But besides the comprehensive victory, team principal Toto Wolff told the media after the race: "It (the win) was significant not for the championship but because we have understood the car in Singapore.

"We have the right clues now (with the car). I think it was a chess game today. I'm not saying this lightly, it was the best lap I have ever seen in a Formula One car."

With a 40-point lead over Vettel and only six more races to go, and Wolff ominously claiming that Mercedes have the answers to their car now, it was no wonder Hamilton, on 281 points, was a picture of animation at the post-race press conference.

GREAT START, TOUGH RACE

I am spent, it was such a tough race. I had a great start. It felt like the longest race in my life... They (Ferrari) put up a good fight this weekend. I'm not sure where their pace disappeared to.

LEWIS HAMILTON , Mercedes driver, on giving his all to win the Singapore Grand Prix for the fourth time.

NOT CHECKMATE YET

Yes, it feels significant - not for the championship, but because we have understood the car in Singapore. We have the right clues now (with the car). I think it was a chess game today. I'm not saying this lightly, it was the best lap I have ever seen in a Formula 1 car.

TOTO WOLFF, Mercedes team boss, on making the car tick in Singapore.

Smiling and bouncing on his seat, the 33-year-old Briton threw his hands up in the air in mock exasperation as a question was thrown at Vettel at the post-race press conference and said: "You got a question for me?"

The Mercedes pilot had all the answers last night as he claimed another title in Singapore after wins in 2009, 2014 and last year.

He said: "It was long but it was still fun, just driving on this track was incredible, especially with this car. I had a great start and then after that I was just able to control the path, control the pace and look after the tyres, and push when I needed to push."

While the four-time world champion was largely untroubled during the 61-lap race, he had to fend off Verstappen midway through, after he was caught in traffic behind the slower cars.

"Max had the opportunity at Turn 10... and my hair was standing up for a second but after that it was back to business," he said.

The Dutchman - who shared the front row of the starting grid with Hamilton - had to fight off Vettel in the first two turns. He then dropped to third after Vettel overtook him in the opening lap, just before the safety car emerged following the collision of Force India pair Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez.

But the 20-year-old snatched back the second spot behind Hamilton, after emerging from his pit stop just inches in front of Vettel on the 18th lap.

The Red Bull driver said: "Once I was second again, I knew I should just try to follow Lewis to the end and bring it home."

Tyre strategy appeared to play a key role, with Hamilton, Verstappen and Vettel all starting the race on hypersofts, with the German the first one to pit. He opted for the ultrasoft compound when he went in on Lap 15.

Hamilton and Verstappen, as well as Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, pitted later and all opted for the soft compound, which was slower than the ultrasofts but lasted longer.

While Hamilton admitted that he was not expecting to extend his championship lead over Vettel by 10 points in Singapore, he stressed that both he and his team cannot afford to slacken.

He said: "We cannot get ahead of ourselves and we have to continue to remain humble. Right now it's job done and I am happy with the result and the performance.

"And I truly believe that we can deliver impactful performances for the rest of the season."

The next race is in Sochi, Russia on Sept 30.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2018, with the headline 'Mercedes figure out winning moves'. Print Edition | Subscribe