2013 Singapore GP: Sebastian Vettel wins at a canter but Safety Car provides late spark
Alonso and Raikkonen gamble and make podium but McLaren lose out
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 23/09/13 9:10am
The German's seventh win of his increasingly imperious season and third in a row proved as dazzling as the lights that guide the tortuous Marina Bay circuit as a brief challenge by Nico Rosberg into the first corner and the annoyance of a mid-race Safety Car aside, Vettel left his rivals for dust to win by more than half a minute.
With a championship lead of 60 points - more than two race victories with just six rounds to go - the World Champion's defence of his drivers' crown is proving increasingly academic.
But while the arrival of a lap-25 Safety Car after Daniel Ricciardo had crashed into the wall may not have prevented the Singapore winner's trophy from going to Vettel for a third straight year, as the Red Bull flier raced away at over two seconds a lap, it did spectacularly open up the battle for the remaining podium positions as a number of cars gambled on earlier second pit stops.
The chief beneficiary of that tactic was the ever-canny Fernando Alonso, who came through to finish second to his perennial rival Vettel for the third successive event despite Ferrari having only arguably been the fourth-fastest car up until the race.
Incredibly, Alonso was joined on the podium by his 2014 team-mate Kimi Raikkonen who, despite suffering from back pains since Saturday, gritted his Finnish teeth and raced hard to come from 13th to third.
But there was, however, late heartache for McLaren, who having gambled on the same bold long-running strategy in a bid to gain an elusive 2013 podium, couldn't quite make their tyres last to the end and saw Jenson Button slide from third to seventh inside the final six laps.
Button wasn't the only one left to regret the closing minutes as Mark Webber, having lost track position when he didn't stop under the Safety Car, saw his charge back up to fourth halted when a water pressure fault developed on his Red Bull.
Still, the pace gap to his team-mate at the front had been something of a chasm and the rare mechanical retirement for Red Bull still didn't prevent them from further pulling clear in the Constructors' Championship.
For Mercedes it proved a case of what might have been as despite Nico Rosberg running second to Vettel for much of the race, the team ended the race with the German and team-mate Lewis Hamilton battling over fourth and fifth places respectively after the Brackley team chose not to pit under the safety car.
While they, along with Webber, scythed back through the field after their later stops on fresher tyres, and were lapping considerably quicker than both Alonso and Raikkonen at the end, the Mercedes pair rain out of time to make it back towards the podium.
Felipe Massa was sixth in the second Ferrari, ahead of McLaren pair Button and Sergio Perez. Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber) and Adrian Sutil (Force India) completed the points-paying positions after the latter's team-mate Paul Di Resta crashed out amid the late drama.
The race though belonged to just one man - Sebastian Vettel.
Rosberg may have been the German closest challenger for the majority of the day but the pair were effectively in separate races given the World Champion's supreme show of speed under the lights.
The Mercedes driver had threatened to make a race of it when he outdragged the pole position on his inside run to the first corner, but blew his chances when he ran wide under braking, allowing Vettel to cut back round the inside of him at Turns Two and Three.
And from there the World Champion was gone: within four laps Vettel had established a six-second lead and by the time of Ricciardo's untimely 25-lap accident, it was a thoroughly comfortable 11.3s.
But it was the German's speed on the lap-30 restart that truly underlined his supremacy, and current confidence, with the RB9. With Red Bull guarding against the prospect of Alonso's long-running plan coming to fruition, the pit wall gave what is a rare instruction in this day and age of F1 for Vettel to push flat out to really open up an impenetrable gap to the challengers behind.
That he managed it was hardly a surprise but it was the 26-year-old's speed that was truly mesmerizing as he pulled away from Rosberg by an astonishing rate of two seconds per lap to the point where he was 14 seconds ahead just six laps after the re-start.
"The car was incredible," lauded Vettel on the podium to Sky Sports F1's Martin Brundle as he soaked up his 33rd career win, which moves him one ahead of Alonso in sole possession of fourth place in the all-time list.
"It doesn't just happen like that by accident or by luck, there's hard work behind it which I appreciate and it's just a pleasure to drive it around this crazy track."
Alonso's F138 had appeared to be anything but a pleasure to take around the bumpy track and Alonso admitted that the state of the championship meant that they had no option but to gamble on a 30-plus-lap closing stint in a bid to limit the damage.
"It was a risky move but we have nothing to lose," the Spaniard acknowledged. "To finish second in the race or fifth, it doesn't matter too much to be honest. We pushed, we took cars of the tyres, the car was performing really well in the race."
"They [Red Bull] were too fast all weekend."
Alonso added that the runner-up finish "tastes like a victory for us" and given the unrelenting speed of the Vettel/Red Bull combination, it's hard to see the Spaniard - let alone anyone else - knocking Vettel off his familiar perch before he's surely crowned a quadruple title winner.