Sebastian Vettel’s fifth career victory at Formula 1’s Singapore Grand Prix might just have been his most important yet.

The German benefitted from an undercut strategy to leapfrog Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc and claim a long-awaited victory for the Scuderia in a race that left chief rivals Mercedes scratching its head.

Here are some of the major talking points from the Singapore Grand Prix…

Vettel bounces back, Leclerc fumes

Vettel responded from his nightmare in Monza - which prompted fresh questions over his ability and mental state - to deliver his first victory in over a year, ending a barren run stretching back to the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix.

The relief was clear from Vettel - who cut a visibly emotional figure on the top step of the podium as the Il Canto degli Italiani rang out - later revealing that overwhelming support from fans had provided him with a renewed self-belief that inspired his performance in Singapore, following a torrid run of form.

It was an important victory not only on a personal level for Vettel, but because it also halted the recent momentum Leclerc was beginning to gather after picking up Ferrari’s first two wins of the season at Spa and Monza. Could this be the spark to reignite the sort of form that took Vettel to his four world titles?

Ferrari may have recorded its first one-two finish of the season (and first since the 2017 Hungarian Grand Prix), but all was not rosy at the Scuderia as the post-race enquiry into its strategy began, with a furious Leclerc left disgruntled at how a race he looked set to win slipped away.

The Monegasque pitted a lap later than Vettel and ultimately returned to the circuit behind his teammate after the undercut strategy proved more powerful than teams had initially anticipated. Such a scenario was unforeseen, which only added to Leclerc’s confusion as to why he was not given what he felt to be the optimum strategy as the lead driver.

Leclerc, going in search of what would have been a third consecutive victory, was clearly irked by the scenario that had unfolded before him and asked for clarification over team radio on multiple occasions. He demanded an explanation from Ferrari for what he described as an “unfair” strategy as the intra-team tensions continue to bubble away…

Mercedes’ Singapore GP unravels

Mercedes arrived in Singapore tipped as favourites for victory around the high-downforce, slow speed Marina Bay Street Circuit, which, on paper at least, looked best-suited to the team’s W10 2019 challenger.

Many expected a weekend-long duel between Mercedes and Red Bull but as it turned out, Ferrari surprised everyone in the paddock when it unleashed electrifying pace in qualifying.

Leclerc stormed to his third straight pole position - and fifth of the season - while teammate Vettel took third on the grid, with the pair split by Hamilton as Bottas could only manage fifth behind Max Verstappen.

In the race, things went from bad to worse for Mercedes as a strategic gamble to extend Hamilton’s first stint failed to pay off, leaving the Briton exposed to the undercutting Ferraris and Red Bulls.

Hamilton dropped from one-time race-leader down to fourth, only after Mercedes instructed Bottas (who also stopped before Hamilton and looked likely to leapfrog his teammate) to slow down and hold up Alexander Albon to ensure Hamilton retained track position ahead of both.

For only the second time this season, a Mercedes driver failed to make it onto the podium, leaving the team flabbergasted.

Speaking after the race, Wolff concluded: “We are not losing sleep about it but we are all angry.

“I can tell you that we just had a little get-together with the engineers and the drivers and there's a general feeling of 'we got it wrong, we got it so wrong this weekend’.

“The mood that we all feel, and we all felt coming together, is just annoyance, that we just lost too many opportunities. There is nobody in the team that hasn't got that feeling.”

Hamilton said after the race that he felt Ferrari is currently “hungrier” than Mercedes after it took its third straight win since F1’s summer break, leaving Mercedes with work to do if it to get back to winning ways in the remaining six rounds of the campaign.

‘Wake-up call’ for Red Bull

Another team expecting more from its weekend in Asia was Red Bull, with the Milton Keynes squad labelled as the most likely challenger to Mercedes at a track that has proven to be one its strongest in recent years.

While it has not won in Singapore since 2013, the tight and twisty 5.063km street circuit has been one of Red Bull’s better venues throughout the current V6 hybrid era, having claimed five successive second place finishes.

But third place was the best the team could muster this time around, after Verstappen’s undercut strategy saw him jump Hamilton to complete the final step on the rostrum after fending off the Mercedes driver’s late attack.

In truth, Red Bull’s pace was not particularly impressive across the weekend, with the Dutchman frustrated to end only fourth on the grid and 0.5s off Leclerc’s benchmark effort - its largest deficit to pole at the circuit since 2016 and worst starting slot since the inaugural night race in 2008.

Given Ferrari’s recent resurgence, aided by a successful aerodynamic upgrade package in Singapore, Verstappen felt the weekend had acted as a “little wake-up call” for the team.

“It was not good enough,” Verstappen conceded. “We came here to win and we clearly didn’t.

“Yesterday [qualifying] I think was worse than today [the race]. I would say it’s a little wake-up call. From Austria onwards I would say it’s our worst race in terms of performance where we expected to be really good.

“I have a few ideas why it went wrong so we will analyse all of them and see if we can already be better at Sochi."

Midfield fight lights up Singapore

While the battle at the front was laboured for much of the race due to the slow pace conducted by the top six as the drivers attempted to conserve their tyres, much of the on-track excitement was left to the midfield runners in what turned out to be a competitive event.

Fights ensued up and down the order as McLaren pipped Renault to marginally enhance its points lead in the scrap to be crowned ‘best of the rest’ in 2019.

Lando Norris took seventh and put Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly in-between himself and Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg, with the Woking outfit outscoring its French counterparts by four points. They all count.

Antonio Giovinazzi continued his bid to retain his Alfa Romeo seat alongside Kimi Raikkonen for 2020 by turning in another impressive showing to record back-to-back points finishes as he rounded out the top 10.

The Italian even had a spell leading the race - due to running long into the first stint - becoming the first non-Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull driver to do so in the V6 hybrid era since Williams led the 2015 British Grand Prix.

There was double disappointment for Racing Point as the team was unable to register points, with an oil leak bringing Sergio Perez’s race to a premature end, while Lance Stroll had a promising race until a late puncture after a touch with the wall left him 13th.

Haas’ luck showed little sign of changing for the better as Kevin Magnussen dropped out of the points-paying positions when a plastic sandwich bag became lodged in his front wing, causing his pace to drop off at a dramatic rate.

The Dane looked on course for an eighth-place finish, but ultimately fell to 17th at the flag after a late pit stop, with Haas believing the problem cost him around four seconds of performance per lap. In the sister VF-19, Romain Grosjean’s race was hampered after he got caught up in a clumsy collision with George Russell’s Williams en route to coming home 11th.

 

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