Lewis Hamilton was dancing in the rain on Sunday when he reeled off a third straight win to take a 28-point lead in the Drivers’ World Championship after Sebastian Vettel sensationally retired in a spectacular Singapore Grand Prix.
In treacherous conditions with most of the grid switching between intermediate and full-wet tyres, Hamilton, who started from fifth on the grid in his Mercedes, managed to avoid the carnage involving Vettel on the first lap and seize the initiative.
Once ahead, Hamilton stayed in control and set the pace in a contest punctuated by accidents and Safety Cars that was shaped entirely by Ferrari’s self-inflicted opening-lap wipeout.
Pole-sitting Vettel, who made a mediocre getaway, steered his Ferrari left and across Dutchman Max Verstappen’s Red Bull – and into a three-way collision that included his own teammate Kimi Raikkonen.
It triggered an extraordinary crash that also collected Fernando Alonso’s McLaren Honda, meaning that three world champions were eliminated at the first corner and Ferrari, two weeks after being humiliated in its home race at Monza, had endured, for the first time in World Championship history, a two-car first-lap wipeout.
Hamilton, who came to Singapore with a three-point lead, had said he had needed a miracle after seeing the speed of Ferrari in Saturday’s qualifying session and, in the form of heavy rain on race day, that is what happened.
It was his 60th victory, his seventh this season and his third in Singapore, where Vettel and Ferrari were favoured to shine, and with his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas finishing third behind Australian Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull, it was a near-perfect result.
“I want to congratulate my team, they did a fantastic job," said a delighted Hamilton, who danced around the podium.
“We struggled yesterday and we had no idea what would happen today. We were fortunate with what happened with the Ferraris at the beginning, but I could not be happier.
“God blessed me today, for sure. I capitalised on the incident. Who would know what would happen?
“Daniel put up a really good fight today. I hoped I would get to race Sebastian at the beginning, but, for me, of course it is better the way it is.
“I was focused on winning. I needed it to rain and as soon as it did I knew where I was going to finish. I knew I had the pace when it rains, just not in the dry.”
To the surprise of most observers, Ferrari heaped blame for the crash on the faultless Verstappen who was trapped in a ‘pincer’ when Raikkonen, to his left, and Vettel, on the right, tried to pass him into the opening corner.
Asked who be blamed, Verstappen said: “Sebastian. He started squeezing me. Maybe he didn’t see Kimi on the left, but that’s not an excuse.
“If you're fighting for the World Championship, you shouldn't take those risks to squeeze someone that much.
“What does he expect? When you’re fighting for a World Championship you shouldn’t do that. It was not very clever.
“I don’t think it was a racing incident.
“I was in the middle without doing anything wrong – I was just trying to have a clean start. I’m happy that not only I retired, but all three of us, so we all have a bit of pain.”
Vettel said he did not know what had happened.
“I don’t know, I didn’t see that much,” he said. “I had an average start and then went to the left trying to fend off Max and the next thing I get a bump on the side and see Kimi’s car.”
“That’s how this business is, and we’ll move on. It doesn’t change much.”
After the furore, and a mostly processional race that included three Safety Car deployments before ending being timed to two hours, instead of counted laps, the stewards spent an hour investigating the opening-lap smash-up.
Behind the battling leaders, Bottas drove consistently for third ahead of Renault-bound Spaniard Carlos Sainz of Toro Rosso, Mexican Sergio Perez of Force India and Briton Jolyon Palmer, the man being squeezed out of Renault to make room for Sainz.
Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne gave McLaren Honda some consolation for the loss of Alonso by finishing seventh ahead of Canadian rookie Lance Stroll of Williams, Frenchmen Romain Grosjean of Haas and Esteban Ocon in the second Force India.