Hamilton's Singapore surprise puts F1 title within his grasp

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It was meant to be the day that Sebastian Vettel seized back control of the Formula One world championship title race, but within seconds of Sunday's start it became apparent the prize was slipping out of his reach.

The four-time world champion was the headline victim of the first-lap drama at the Singapore Grand Prix that saw both Ferraris forced out, along with Red Bull's Max Verstappen, while Fernando Alonso's McLaren managed a handful of laps before the Spaniard joined them in the pits.

Having started on the front of the grid, Vettel was widely expected to prevail at the Marina Bay Circuit and reclaim his spot at the summit of the standings.

But he and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen both made contact with Verstappen and the irreparable damage to their cars is probably mirrored by that which has been inflicted upon Vettel's title hopes.

Amid the madness, Lewis Hamilton made relatively serene progress to a third consecutive race win, moving him 28 points ahead.

The Briton steered his Mercedes clear of the pile-up, climbing from fifth on the grid to lead the pack on a wet track that saw eight retirements.

 

Never lose faith!!! ?????? #P1 #SingaporeGP #TeamLH @mercedesamg

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Hamilton had spoken beforehand of the need for "a miracle" and the first sign that he might get his wish arrived with the clouds, which brought the rain in which he thrives.

If that weather-based intervention had raised Hamilton's morale as he sat on the start line, what unfolded ahead of him before Turn One will have pushed it through the roof.

Once he safely navigated past the chaos and debris, Hamilton received a simple instruction on the team radio, telling him to bring the car home in one piece.

The frequent interruption of the safety car, which Hamilton has often complained moves too slowly for him to keep his tyres warm, hindered his attempts to secure 25 invaluable points.

And the persistence of Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo provided another level of difficulty, but the Australian retains his bridesmaid complex at the Asian circuit - four times on the podium, never on the top step.

There was another interaction between Hamilton and his team that spoke volumes of the 32-year-old's competitive edge.

He was instructed to lower his pace and force the field behind him to bunch up, while also limiting his exposure to risk.

His response: "I don't understand the strategy."

It was a facetious retort. Hamilton's mind is sharply attuned to the tactics of racing, but he sees no better, no more efficient way to win a race than to do one thing and do it well - drive as fast as you can.

And so he promptly laid down the fastest lap time and stretched his lead, ultimately finishing over 4.5 seconds clear of Ricciardo.

That determined mindset and that unwavering desire, combined with no small amount of good fortune, are factors that have elevated Hamilton - for so much of this season a man playing catch-up - into prime position for yet another world title.

It is hard to see him not winning it from this position.