The biggest question ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix was whether runaway F1 2011 World Championship leader Sebastian Vettel could do enough to write himself into the sport's record books as only the ninth-ever back-to-back title-winner. The answer was no – but only just.
Courtesy of his ninth triumph from 14 races this year, Vettel now requires just a single point in next month's Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka to finish the job off – and for that, fans have Jenson Button to thank, for chasing the German down for all he was worth over the closing stages under the Singaporean spotlights...as McLaren-Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton once more found himself in the wars. Here's how it all unfolded...
A textbook getaway for pole-sitter Vettel when the starting lights went out was not matched by that of Red Bull Racing team-mate Mark Webber alongside, and as Lewis Hamilton attempted to take advantage of the Australian's tardy launch, the Briton dived to the inside only to find his nose brusquely chopped off. With the pair both consequently slowed, Button and Fernando Alonso were able to sweep around the outside into second and third respectively, with Webber fourth.
Behind them, a contretemps
between Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg into Turn One caused the German to skip across the run-off area as the pair tussled over fifth and sixth, followed by Michael Schumacher in seventh and the delayed Hamilton all the way down in eighth, ahead of Force India F1 pairing Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta.
As Vettel scampered seamlessly away – opening up a staggering 2.6-second advantage over his pursuers by the end of the opening lap alone – Daniel Ricciardo was by stark contrast touring back to the pits at a considerably lower speed with the front wing of his Hispania dragging underneath the car.
Hamilton, however, was the man on the move, making rather shorter work of his Monza nemesis Schumacher by finding a way past on lap four – and in evidence of how much time he was losing behind the Mercedes, he immediately set the fastest first sector of anyone. Next on the 2008 world champion's hit list was Rosberg in the sister 'Silver Arrow', and once that move was completed in similarly short measure, Hamilton set about chasing down the Alonso-Webber-Massa tussle over third position, some 20 seconds adrift of Vettel already and almost ten behind Button. By lap ten, the McLaren was right with them.
Webber and Hamilton – on the back of Alonso and Massa respectively – looked the raciest of the quintet, and the Red Bull man produced a supremely brave manoeuvre to relive the first of the two Ferraris of third place, going for the outside and then the inside as he got the switchback on the exit of the corner. His rear tyres used, Alonso pitted at the end of the lap.
Qualifying combatants Massa and Hamilton were in together next time around – rejoining in the same order – but then only moments later into Turn Seven, there was contact, as at the same corner as he had come together with Webber this time last year, the McLaren ace clumsily tagged the right-rear tyre of the Ferrari on the outside line, leaving one with a broken front wing and the other a puncture...and a long way to go to return to the pits for repairs.
Massa made it back to the pit-lane with his tyre completely shredded, but Hamilton inexplicably continued on for another full lap before stopping – holding Rosberg up along the way. To compound matters, the British star then earned himself a drive-through penalty for his troubles – leaving him all the way down in 16th position and on the harder-compound tyre, albeit still only four seconds behind Massa...