Six races remain in the 2017 Formula One season and on the evidence of the Singapore Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton has every right to believe that going into them he has the racing deities firmly onside. The British driver had said he required “a miracle” to win at the Marina Bay street circuit and, within seconds of the lights going out in what may well be this season’s defining moment of high drama, he had it. With his championship rival Sebastian Vettel eliminated from the race, the chance of a win and a commanding lead in the title race was in his hands.
He grasped it energetically and with considered, controlled and consummate skill in difficult conditions. The victory he completed extends his lead over Vettel from three points to 28. It represents a huge swing in his favour and an absolute body blow to the German and Ferrari, who were left to consider how a race that they were expecting to win could end so disastrously.
The three-times world champion, who is now squarely in the driving seat for the title, acknowledged his good fortune. Asked if it was an answer to a prayer, he said: “I think it definitely was.”
He was also absolutely aware of how important a result it had been. “I came here with the idea of damage limitation,” he added. “Thinking I would come out again behind in the championship. Now I am much further ahead, so I count my blessings.”
Hamilton had been outpaced by both the Ferraris and the Red Bulls in qualifying, the Mercedes struggling on the 23 predominantly slow corners that define the high-downforce challenge of Singapore. He had started from fifth with Vettel on pole and minimising the points he expected to drop had been the aim as he sat on the grid.
That goal had changed radically by the exit of the first corner. In the rain, inaugurating a wet race for the first time under the lights of Marina Bay, Vettel’s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen had a lightning start from fourth. He came up the inside but with Vettel shifting his line to the left to go defensive into turn one, the two Ferraris sandwiched the Red Bull of Max Verstappen. Raikkonen hit the Dutch driver, who had nowhere to go, and the Finn was buffeted into his team-mate. Both Verstappen and Raikkonen were eliminated and Vettel took damage to his left sidepod, subsequently spun heading to turn three and lost his front wing when hitting the wall, ending his race.
Amid the carnage Hamilton had swooped round the outside, avoiding any contact, and had the lead moments after Vettel’s spin. He still had much to do but in a race interrupted repeatedly by the safety car he maintained absolute control. The team called his tyre strategy with aplomb and the chasing Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo could not come close enough to challenge. The Australian finished in second ahead of the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas. The full distance could not be run, with the racing ending on the two-hour limit after 58 laps. Hamilton had battled hard for every minute of them.
His reward was as unexpected going into the weekend as it was doubtless welcome. He has led the championship only once this season, after his victory at the last round in Monza, and Ferrari were strong favourites here. It is a track where Mercedes have traditionally struggled and is accepted as their most challenging race of the season. To leave without dropping points and also having increased his advantage, with the majority of the six remaining races likely to favour his car, was more than he or Mercedes could have hoped for.