SINGAPORE, September 21- Lewis Hamilton regained the Formula One drivers’ world championship lead on Sunday when he claimed victory in the Singapore Grand Prix after his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg limped out with electronic problems.
The 29-year-old Briton led from pole position and dominated the 61-laps race before a lengthy Safety Car interruption reduced his lead and forced him to attack again in the closing stages when he passed Sebastian Vettel to win.
It was the 29th win of Hamilton’s career, his seventh this year and his second in Singapore, ending four-time champion Vettel’s run of three straight wins on the south-east Asian street circuit.
Hamilton came home 13.534 seconds ahead of Vettel, with Daniel Ricciardo third in the second Red Bull ahead of Fernando Alonso of Ferrari and Felipe Massa of Williams.
He moves up to 241 points, three clear of Rosberg, with five races remaining in one of the most tense and closely-fought championships of recent years.
“I had dream this would happen last night,” said Hamilton.
“Things have changed for me absolutely. I looked for a clean weekend and this was it. We always strive to get both cars 1-2 that was our goal, so things still to work on.”
Rosberg turned up for the Marina Bay street circuit night race 22 points clear of Hamilton.
But the German endured a wretched evening, his car failing to set off for the warm-up lap from second on the grid.
He eventually started from the pitlane, in an under-performing car with restricted electronic programmes available.
By lap five, he had climbed to 20th while Hamilton was controlling a lead of 2.3 seconds ahead of Vettel.
Hamilton pitted after 13 laps, but when Rosberg limped in one lap later, it was terminal for the German.
– suspense tangible –
Struggling without fourth gear, he was asked to stall the engine on the pit apron as the team changed his steering wheel and settings again – and Hamilton flew by to lap him.
The suspense was tangible as Rosberg struggled to re-start before waving his arms in surrender. “Ok park it, park it,” said a voice on team radio. “Stop.”
“It wasn’t so much a roller coaster ride because it was all downhill for me,” he added.
“It was very frustrating to drive behind a Caterham and sit on a grid and watch everyone else leave. But that is the way it is.”
After swallowing his disappointment Rosberg watched the finale of an incident packed race from the Mercedes pit wall with Hamilton winning to take a three point advantage to the Japanese Grand Prix on October 5.
As Hamilton controlled the race the safety car emerged on lap 31 after Mexican Sergio Perez lost the front wing on his Force India after colliding with German Adrian Sutil’s Sauber.
This interruption, to clear debris, saw Alonso dive in for another pit stop, gifting Vettel second ahead of Ricciardo with the Spaniard fourth.
After enjoying a comfortable lead, Hamilton faced a tense finale knowing he had to re-establish speed superiority to make up for the advantage handed to his rivals by running gently through six laps behind the Safety Car which pulled in after lap 37.
Hamilton responded with a measured charge.
He opened up a 3.3 seconds lead on lap 39, knowing he had to pit again for the standard ‘soft’ tyres and, at the same time, hold off his rivals running on the ‘super softs’.
By lap 45, he led by 16 seconds, but faced a need to increase that gap, pit and then pass cars in the final laps to win. For Mercedes, and Hamilton, it was a challenge that required a precision response.
Finally, the Briton pitted after 52 laps, re-joining second behind Vettel for a dramatic attack that saw him regain the lead with a bold move on lap 54 as Rosberg stood, watched the action from the pit wall.