The 2013 Singapore Grand Prix turned into one of those cases where, if you ignored the elephant in the room, there was a thrilling climax consisting of battles for podium positions and points finishes raging all over the place in the closing laps.
As the cars lined up under the dazzling floodlights in Marina Bay in Singapore, the big question was whether anyone would be able to do anything to fend off a seventh Sebastian Vettel victory of 2013. Vettel had gambled with an early run in Q3 and it had paid off with pole, and now not even Nico Rosberg starting alongside him from second place on the grid felt that it would be possible to thwart the world champion's winning streak this weekend.
Of course, Rosberg was determined to try his utmost. Both men on the front row got away cleanly, Rosberg angling his way across the track to try and head off Vettel's path into turn 1. He actually managed to get the nose of the Mercedes marginally ahead but the effort saw him run wide over the kerbs and in doing so he handed the momentum back to the polesitter - Vettel was back in charge and already checking out.
Behind them Romain Grosjean had dropped two positions from his third place start - and one of them went to a quite magnificent Fernando Alonso, whose Ferrari had flown off seventh place off the grid to slot into third just ahead of Mark Webber. Lewis Hamilton also found himself demoted two spots to seventh place as not only Alonso but also Felipe Massa managed to pass him in the initial run down to turn 1; his first attempt to get past Massa saw him stray off the track in the process and he was told by the Mercedes pit wall to hand the place back rather than risk a drive-thru from the race stewards.
Once the initial flurry of action was out of the way, the drivers were soon being warned to lok after their tyres and so the race settled down into a polite procession with Vettel's lead over Rosberg and Alonso stabilised at a little over seven seconds. That lull didn't last long before Kimi Raikkonen coming in for his first pit stop and the end of lap 11, having made his way up to tenth place in the opening stint despite racing with a painful back. Raikkonen filtered back out in 19th place and his initiative was followed next time around by Sauber's Esteban Gutierrez and Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Verge.
Massa was in next time around, with Adrian Sutil also reported for fresh tyres despite being the only man to have started on the longer-life mediums on the Force India; after that there was a steady flow of traffic through the pit lane, with Webber, Button and Hulkenberg in on lap 14 and most of the rest of the field in over the next couple of laps, but the man seemingly most unaffected by tyre worries was the race leader Sebastian Vettel who cruised on to lap 17 before deigning to come in for a service. Only Paul di Resta was able to last longer longer, climbing as high as third place as a result before finally paying a visit to pit lane on lap 20 which set him back down to 13th place after taking on a second set of supersofts and seemingly on course for a two-stop strategy. That was in stark contrast to Hamilton, who by lap 20 was already complaining that his latest set of tyres were terrible and not relishing the idea of having to spend an even longer stint on this set than he had the first.
Vettel's lead over Rosberg was now up to nine seconds, while Alonso had dropped a further eight seconds back after being held up waiting for di Resta to pit. Webber was still maintaining a watching brief on the Ferrari ahead, with Grosjean in fifth and Hamilton back up to sixth having leapfrogged Massa during the cycle of pit stops. Massa was flirting with allowing himself to come within DRS distance of Jenson Button in eighth, while Kimi Raikkonen had pushed on to ninth ahead of Sergio Perez but was complaining of a problem on the Lotus that the pit wall was unable to detect or diagnose by telemetry.
The calm routine of the pit wall reminding drivers to take on fluids came to an abrupt half on lap 25, when Daniel Ricciardo locked up heading into the turn 18 left hander underneath the grandstand and buried the nose of the Toro Rosso into the barrier, triggering an immediate safety car. That sent the teams into emergency response measures regarding how best to take advantage of the situation for the next round of pit stops. Teams double stacked at their pit stalls and cars ended up being held up after their own stops were completed as they were forced to wait for other cars to exit.