Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel (right) celebrates on the podium after winning the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday. Agence France-Presse
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel ended his yearlong drought without a win at the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday, mastering a hazy circuit to claim a record fifth triumph in the city-state.
The German’s last victory came in Belgium in August of 2018. He had claimed six podium finishes this season before ending a long wait to take the chequered flag in Singapore.
“I got a lot of little notes and handwritten messages, so it’s always nice if people make an effort to do that so we took our time to go through them. It was really encouraging,” Vettel told reporters after registering a record fifth victory in Singapore and third in a row for a revitalised Ferrari.
“When you start out, it’s difficult to imagine that people follow you like this but in recent years, especially in Asia, I have a lot of fans that come over and over again,” he added.
“I seemed to get a lot of energy from these messages over the last few weeks.
“From people in the racing world, from people I know, especially fans. People sharing their own stories of when things are up or down. When you read through these notes, some of them very intimate and private, it gets to you.”
He was chased home by team-mate Charles Leclerc, who started on pole but lost the lead to the four-time world champion after making his pit stop, and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who finished third.
“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,” Vettel added.
Championship leader Lewis Hamilton finished fourth but extended his advantage over fellow Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas to 65 points, with six races remaining, after the Finn finished in fifth.
The race got off to a clean start with the top six retaining their grid positions despite Vettel putting immense pressure on second-placed Hamilton in the opening lap.
While a few drivers were shifting position further down the field, the frontrunners were maintaining a one-second gap between each other as Leclerc set a slow pace to make his soft tyres last as long as possible.
Ferrari and Red Bull were the first of the big teams to bring their cars in for pit stops as Vettel and Verstappen were fitted with the more durable hard tyres on lap 20, with Leclerc following suit on the next lap.
Leclerc, however, was dismayed to leave the pits behind Vettel.
Hamilton stayed out on track in the lead to set about forging a big enough gap to retain the lead when it was his turn to come in.
But Vettel, Leclerc and Verstappen were lapping much quicker than Hamilton and when the Briton finally stopped seven laps after his rivals, he emerged in a distant fourth place.
Hamilton’s only hope of victory was to capitalise on his rivals’ degraded tyres late in the race.
But three safety car periods -- when both George Russell and Sergio Perez stopped on the track, and when Daniil Kvyat collided with Kimi Raikkonen -- allowed the front three plenty of time to cool their rubber.
Ferrari will be delighted to have recorded a one-two finish at a circuit they were not expected to muster a podium finish.
But Leclerc was unhappy with the pit strategy that dashed his hopes of a hat-trick after wins in Belgium and Italy.
“I won’t do anything stupid, I want us to finish one-two,” Leclerc told Ferrari over the radio when he was behind the second safety car. “I just don’t think it’s fair.”
Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Alex Albon, Lando Norris of McLaren, Pierre Gasly of Toro Rosso, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi rounded out the top ten.
Smog from forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia has shrouded Singapore over the past week, and on Sunday air quality dipped to unhealthy levels ahead of the race.
Championship leader Lewis Hamilton has defended his victory in the British Grand Prix, saying the triumph was down to strategy rather than a favourable Safety Car intervention.
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