The expectation for an entertaining night race under the floodlights of the Marina Park Circuit set against the glittering city skyline of Singapore was given added spice by some of the line-ups on the grid: Lewis Hamilton on the front row alongside Pastor Maldonado, Mark Webber lining up next to most recent F1 'bad boy' Romain Grosjean, back after his suspension at Monza. There was just time for a poignant moment's silence on the grid in memory of the pioneering safety work of Professor Sid Watkins, before the drivers climbed into the cockpit and made themselves ready for action.
A solid start for Lewis Hamilton allowed him to take care of the threat from Pastor Maldonado starting on the front row alongside him, releasing the McLaren into the first corners and allowing Hamilton to start pulling away from the danger zone almost immediately.
That left Maldonado as Sebastian Vettel's problem, and while the world champion was careful not to invite disaster by pressing too hard too soon, he was right on the back of the Williams when a slightly flustered Maldonado consequently understeering out of turn 1 and giving Vettel the chance he needed to get past. Button also opportunistically sneaked past in the same move, and Maldonado found himself having to settle into fourth place just ahead of Fernando Alonso.
Things had been messier further back: a dive down the inside of the start/finish straight by Michael Schumacher ended up with the other Mercedes of Nico Rosberg being bumped off the outside of turn 1 by Mark Webber, who was having to avoid Romain Grosjean in a four-wide moment through the apex. Rosberg wasn't the only car to run off the track limits at the start - Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo were among a number of others to do the same - but the stewards were satisfied that no one had done so intentionally to gain an advantage and so no penalties were applied.
Otherwise the opening laps were remarkably free of actual collisions, with the exception of Vitaly Petrov who appeared to lose his front wing in contact with the back of his Caterham team mate Heikki Kovalainen, and Ferrari's Felipe Massa who sustained a puncture and joined Petrov in pit lane for running repairs.
Almost of the drivers at the front of the grid had started the race on supersoft tyres, but they were shortlived. While two-stop strategies were the aim of most of the teams it was by no means unanimous: Webber was clearly opting for a three-stop approach and was in at the end of lap 8, just 15 minutes into the two-hour race, and that dropped him down to 20th place by the time he came back out on track behind Marussia's Charles Pic.
Hamilton and Vettel had pulled away from Button at the front in the early laps but Vettel then mishandled the Singapore Sling chicane on lap 10 which allowed Button to close up on the Red Bull. Vettel was evidently unhappy with the way his car was handling, and he ended up following the lead of his team mate by pitting for new soft tyres relatively early at the end of that lap. He came back out immediately behind 11th-placed Sergio Perez, who Vettel quickly dispatched.
More drivers were deciding that their initial supersofts were degrading badly and needed changing: Alonso and Schumacher were in the next time around, and at the end of lap 12 it was the race leader Lewis Hamilton who was in for new tyres; Hamilton resumed in fourth place ahead of Vettel who was scrapping with Kimi Raikkonen. Next time around it was Maldonado and Raikkonen in to pit lane, which left Jenson Button and Romain Grosjean briefly leading the race but yet to stop. It was clear that those on fresh tyres were much faster than those trying to stay out, as an easy pass by Alonso on the yet-to-stop Sauber of Sergio Perez dramatically illustrated.
Button and Grosjean both came in for their own second set of tyres at the end of lap 14, but a slow stop for Button meant that he resumed in third place behind Hamilton and Vettel again once the initial round of pit stops had shaken out. Behind them, Maldonado retook fourth place from a yet-to-stop Nico Hulkenberg but not before hanging on to a wild sideways slide as he deployed his DRS. Alonso had a far calmer time of it when his own opportunity to pass the Force India came up minutes later, and after giving sixth place away to his team mate Paul di Resta, Hulkenberg finally came in at the end of lap 18 for his new tyres at the same time as the similarly struggling Perez.