Sebastian Vettel ended his 13-month wait for a win with victory in Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton could manage only fourth following a strategy blunder by his Mercedes team.
Here, the PA news agency looks at five talking points from Formula One’s spectacular night race.
1. Jury out on Vettel despite win
Sebastian Vettel will have breathed a sigh of relief after ending a losing streak which extended back to last August’s Belgian Grand Prix, but this was not the commanding win he needed to silence his doubters. Vettel drove well, executing a fine out-lap to leapfrog Charles Leclerc before scything his way through the traffic – showing signs of the killer instinct which helped him to win four world championships. But Vettel’s luck was in, too. On Saturday, he was three tenths slower than Leclerc – the ninth time in a row he has been out-qualified by his team-mate – and without the undercut in Sunday’s race, he would not have got ahead of both his Ferrari team-mate and Lewis Hamilton. Ferrari now appear to have the best package. Vettel must prove this victory is not a one-off.
2. Was Leclerc right to be so angry?
Quite understandably, Leclerc was annoyed to have lost the race. The young Monegasque danced his way to pole position – his third in as many races – with a special lap. He then controlled the race only to be leapfrogged by Vettel in the pits. Vettel stopped one lap earlier than Leclerc and took advantage of the speedy rubber to get the jump on his young team-mate. The suggestion was that Ferrari had strategically favoured Vettel in order to get their number one driver back on the top step, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Indeed, Ferrari merely reacted to a Max Verstappen pit-stop, pulling in Vettel to ensure the Red Bull driver did not leapfrog the German in their battle for third. It then prevailed that the early stop would allow Vettel to take the lead. Was this a conspiracy against Leclerc? Quite simply, no.
3. Have Mercedes taken their eye off the ball?
Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes team raced out of the blocks this year, winning the opening eight races. But since Hamilton’s crushing victory at the French Grand Prix in June, he has triumphed just twice in the following seven rounds. Valtteri Bottas is winless since April’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, and for only the second time in the last 27 races, a Mercedes driver did not feature on the podium on Sunday. Such is their commanding leads in both the drivers’ and constructors’ standings, Mercedes will not be pushing the panic button just yet. But their indifferent form, coupled with the strategy blunder which denied Hamilton a shot at victory, gives them food for thought ahead of the remaining six races.
4. Bottas proves he’s Hamilton’s number two
📻 "Valtteri, it's James…"
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 23, 2019
Bottas might be Hamilton’s closest challenger for the world championship this year, but the Finn did not put up much of a fight when he was ordered to slow down so Hamilton didn’t drop to a probable sixth following his pit stop. Mercedes’ chief strategist, James Vowles, came on the radio to tell Bottas to drive three seconds a lap slower to keep Red Bull’s Alex Albon behind. Bottas duly obliged. Can you imagine Nico Rosberg being so accommodating? No, but that’s why Bottas suits both Mercedes and Hamilton and why the Finn, despite a so-so campaign, has been retained for another year.
5. No needle among this F1 generation
As Vettel conducted a TV interview with Sky Sports, he was approached by Hamilton. The British driver tapped him on the back before offering his hand. “Congrats, man, great job,” said Hamilton. “I’m really happy for you.” The pair shared an embrace and Hamilton walked off. The exchange following Sunday’s race amplified the friendly relations shared, not just by Vettel and Hamilton, but by most of the grid, too. Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo giggled their way through the pre-race press conference, while George Russell gave friend Albon a pat on the back before the anthem ahead of Sunday’s race.