By Abhishek Takle
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Sebastian Vettel ended the torment of 13 months without a win by leading his complaining Ferrari team mate Charles Leclerc across the line in a one-two finish at the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday.
The German, whose last victory was at the Belgian Grand Prix in August 2018, started third but made the most of an early pitstop to leapfrog the unhappy Monegasque, who had led from pole position.
Vettel took the checkered flag 2.6 seconds ahead of Leclerc for Ferrari’s third race win in a row — the first such hat-trick for the Italian team since 2008 and their first one-two since 2017.
Dutch youngster Max Verstappen finished third for Red Bull ahead of Lewis Hamilton who was fourth but still extended his lead to 65 points over fifth-placed Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas.
Hamilton has 296 points to Bottas’s 231 with six races remaining while Mercedes have 527 to Ferrari’s 394 in the constructors’ championship.
The victory under the floodlights was the 53rd of Vettel’s career. Having gone into the weekend tied with Hamilton on four Singapore wins, the German is now the most successful driver outright in the city-state.
“I’m very happy, great race,” said the four-times world champion after the first one-two by any team on Singapore’s street circuit.
“Big congratulations to the team, the start of the season was difficult for us but in the last weeks we’ve come alive.”
The early stop gave the German a fresh tire boost that left Leclerc crestfallen when the Monegasque pitted from the lead and emerged just as Vettel swept past for a track advantage he never relinquished.
“What the hell…” exclaimed Leclerc over the team radio, who made no secret of his displeasure in further comments.
“My head is down and it will be down until the race (ends). I just want to let you know my feelings,” he said during one of the night’s three safety car periods.
“To be completely honest with you, I don’t understand at all the undercut,” complained Leclerc, winner in Belgium and Italy and now joint third with Verstappen in the overall standings.
Once ahead of his team mate, Vettel had little to worry about with Singapore’s barrier-lined streets notoriously difficult to overtake on.
Only the safety car periods and slower cars yet to pit threatened to disrupt his rhythm but the German, whose temperament and future at Ferrari have been the subject of much speculation, kept his head.
Leclerc radioed Ferrari asking for more power to mount an attack during the restarts but was not able to faze his team mate and agreed not to do anything stupid over the final laps.
Mercedes had been favorites going into the weekend but the champions, who started the year with five straight one-twos, were left licking their wounds.
Behind the top five, British-born Thai rookie Alexander Albon was sixth for Red Bull.
McLaren’s teenage rookie Lando Norris was seventh ahead of Toro Rosso’s French driver Pierre Gasly. Nico Hulkenberg took ninth for Renault ahead of Antonio Giovinazzi, who rounded out the top 10 for Alfa Romeo.
The Italian was one of the last to pit and he and his team enjoyed a rare moment in the spotlight by leading for several laps.
Danish driver Kevin Magnussen took the fastest lap for Haas for the second year in a row but without scoring an extra point — available only for those in the top 10 — because he finished 17th.
The safety car was first deployed after a tangle between Haas’s Romain Grosjean and Williams’ George Russell on lap 35 that left the Briton’s car in the wall.
It came out again when Racing Point’s Sergio Perez slowed and stopped while in 10th place and then finally after a collision between Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat and Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen.
(Editing by Alan Baldwin/Pritha Sarkar)