Sebastian Vettel scored his first victory in more than a year on Sunday in Singapore as Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc was left frustrated by the team's strategy call, believing it had cost him the win.

Vettel scored his fifth win at the Marina Bay Street Circuit after getting the undercut in the pits on Leclerc and Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton to jump from third to first, paving the way for him to end his drought that dated back to the Belgian Grand Prix in August 2018.

Ferrari managed to score its first one-two finish for more than two years, but tensions at the team flared once again as Leclerc spent the second half of the race questioning how he had lost his on-track advantage to Vettel, acting as the latest point of contention between the duo.

Hamilton was able to extend his lead in the F1 drivers' championship, albeit by just two points after finishing down in fourth as Mercedes' strategy gamble backfired.

Leclerc had managed to retain his advantage off the line after making a perfect getaway from pole, leaving Hamilton to defend from Sebastian Vettel behind. Vettel wasn’t able to line up a move despite a couple of switchback opportunities, settling into third ahead of Max Verstappen.

With a one-stop strategy looking like the only workable option in Singapore, Leclerc soon set about managing his tyres and keeping the field at a gentle pace, with Hamilton sitting around one second behind. Hamilton reported early on that he “couldn’t go much slower” as the lower-order runners put in times upwards of one second per lap faster than the leaders.

Leclerc kept managing the pace until the first of the midfield runners had pitted and created a gap for the lead runners to drop into on-track to avoid hitting traffic, only for the strategy to ultimately be his undoing. Vettel and Verstappen were the first of the lead group to pit, coming in on Lap 19 from P3 and P4 respectively and making the switch to the Hard compound tyre.

Sensing the opportunity to get the undercut on Leclerc ahead, Hamilton began to push and close to within half a second before being told to make the opposite strategy call at the end of Lap 20. Leclerc dived into the pits, prompting Hamilton to continue.

But it was Vettel who turned out to be the biggest winner on strategy. Despite losing a few tenths of a second during his stop, a mighty outlap allowed Vettel to get the jump on Leclerc as the Monegasque snaked out of the pits, moving into the lead of the race.

“What the hell!” came Leclerc’s response over team radio, surprised at the flash of red ahead of him. He was quick to close up on Vettel, but was not able to angle for a move.

Seeing Vettel emerge as the new leader left Mercedes stuck with what to do with Hamilton. Knowing an immediate response would leave him third, Mercedes kept Hamilton out longer in the hope of a Safety Car, only for his times to continue to fade. By the time the Briton eventually came into the pits at the end of Lap 26, he could only come back out in a net-fourth position, narrowly ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas and behind Verstappen.

Leclerc was given fresh hope of catching Vettel as the duo began to hit traffic, with the likes of Antonio Giovinazzi, Pierre Gasly, Lance Stroll and Daniel Ricciardo all staying out long with alternate strategies. Vettel was quicker at scything through the cars ahead – despite a brush of contact with Gasly when passing for second place – and ultimately re-took the lead from Giovinazzi on Lap 31. By the time Leclerc had made up the same places, the deficit to Vettel had grown to over five seconds.

Vettel’s advantage was wiped away when the Safety Car made its first appearance on Lap 36 following a clash between Romain Grosjean and George Russell at Turn 8. Contact between the pair saw Russell’s car get tipped into the wall, marking his first retirement of the season. A frustrated Russell sighed: “Why shouldn’t I be surprised?” on his radio.

The Safety Car may have given Leclerc’s hopes of a third straight victory a boost, but he remained frustrated by the earlier strategy call upon being told to keep his head down and focus by the Ferrari pit wall. “To be completely honest with you, I don’t understand the undercut and what is going on,” he said. “But we will discuss after the race.”

Vettel led the field away for the restart with 21 laps to go, putting the power down early at the exit of Turn 21 in a bid to pull clear. Leclerc managed to keep his teammate within spitting distance, though, sitting within a second to benefit from DRS once it was reactivated, with Verstappen, Hamilton and Bottas struggling to keep pace with the Ferraris up front.

Leclerc was not given much time to try and close the gap, though, as the Safety Car made a second appearance after just three laps under green when Sergio Perez parked his car up at the side of the track on the back straight due to a technical issue.

Ferrari again moved to soothe Leclerc over team radio, only for him again cry foul. After Leclerc asked for “everything, even engine mode” to try and catch his teammate, his engineer replied: “Charles, we need to bring the car home.

“Yeah, I won’t do anything stupid,” said Leclerc. “I want us to finish one-two. I just think it’s unfair.”

Leclerc’s window to attempt anything – stupid or otherwise – was again narrow, the race being put behind the Safety Car for a third time just two laps after restarting when Daniil Kvyat hit Kimi Raikkonen while trying to pass at Turn 1, forcing the latter out of the race with his car stranded.

The final restart came on Lap 52, with Vettel making a clean getaway to quickly drop Leclerc out of his DRS range. A couple of quick laps allowed the German to open the gap to more than two seconds, putting an end to his teammate's win hopes.

Vettel took the chequered flag as the two-hour time limit expired to give Ferrari its third consecutive victory and end his long-running drought, becoming the fifth different driver to win a race this year.

Leclerc came home in second place, playing his part in Ferrari's first one-two since Hungary 2017. It was also the first one-two finish in the history of the Singapore Grand Prix.

Verstappen held on for third place in the Red Bull despite heavy pressure from Hamilton in the final few laps, leaving the championship leader to settle for P4 at the chequered flag.

Valtteri Bottas saw the gap to Hamilton at the top of the drivers' championship grow to 65 points as he crossed the line fifth, with Alexander Albon taking sixth for Red Bull.

Lando Norris finished as the leading midfield driver for McLaren in seventh, narrowly beating Gasly, who made a number of passes on fresh rubber in the closing stages to claw his way up to eighth. Nico Hulkenberg also made up some places to grab ninth, while Antonio Giovinazzi took the final point in P10 despite a run-in with Ricciardo that had left him with damage.

Romain Grosjean came home 11th for Haas ahead of Carlos Sainz, who recovered from being one lap down after a first-lap clash to finish 12th. Lance Stroll finished 13th ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, with Daniil Kvyat taking P15 for Toro Rosso. Robert Kubica wound up 16th as the sole finisher for Williams, with Kevin Magnussen in 17th as the last classified finisher.

 

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