SINGAPORE, Singapore, Sep 18 – Nico Rosberg won the Singapore Grand Prix from pole position on Sunday to seize the drivers’ world championship lead from Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who finished third.
The German held off Red Bull’s late-charging Daniel Ricciardo by just 0.4sec to win his third straight race and establish an eight-point lead over title-holder Hamilton in the standings.
It proved a tense finish as traffic prevented Rosberg pitting for new tyres near the end and Ricciardo, after his stop, closed the gap from more than 20 seconds to mere fractions over the final 14 laps.
“It’s been an awesome weekend,” said Rosberg, as he celebrated victory in what was his 200th race.
“Today, great start, I had a good car in the race. Of course, Daniel tried to pull one up on me with the pitstop at the end there, but it worked out.”
Ricciardo was still happy despite not quite being able to secure a first victory of the season.
“We’ve come very close this year on numerous occasions, but I’m not going to be disappointed,” said the Australian.
“I’m not going to stand here disappointed, we gave it a good shot and got within half-a-second.”
A disappointed Hamilton said: “A really tough weekend for me but huge congratulations to Nico. His win was fully deserved.”
– First-lap crash –
There was drama at the start as Nico Hulkenberg hit Carlos Sainz’s Toro Rosso and careered across the track before smashing into the pit lane wall and bringing out the safety car.
When the race restarted on lap three, Rosberg darted away into the lead only for there to be a heart-stopping moment.
A marshal was still on the track clearing debris, apparently unaware the race had restarted, and just managed to run out of the way as the field flashed past.
The start was bad luck for Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who was relegated from fourth on the grid to eighth as he took evasive action as Hulkenberg span past his front wing.
Hamilton had endured a frustrating weekend in practice and qualifying and was becoming increasingly irate at not being able to get past Ricciardo.
“Come on guys, I needed a strategy that would get me past,” complained Hamilton on team radio, unimpressed that his first stop saw him take on the slowest compound soft tyres.
Hamilton, struggling with overheating brakes, had dropped to 13 seconds behind Rosberg and was coming under attack for third place by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.
“We need to start coming out with some plan because this is all the pace I’ve got with the brakes,” demanded the championship leader on the radio.
But there was nothing he could do as Raikkonen took advantage when Hamilton locked up under braking on lap 33.
A lap later, a flurry of pit stops saw the top four all emerge on soft tyres with Hamilton now six seconds adrift of the top three.
He regained the position on the third and final stops. Ricciardo switched to supersofts whereas Mercedes elected to keep Rosberg out as he got held up by back markers.
Meanwhile Raikkonen’s team-mate Sebastian Vettel had started last after a suspension failure in qualifying but gave a driving masterclass to finish fifth, ahead even of Verstappen who had begun 18 grid places ahead of the German.