Lewis Hamilton wins the Singapore grand prix. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images
Even by Lewis Hamilton’s exacting standards it was the perfect job. His drive to victory in yesterday’s Singapore grand prix had the stamp of coolly controlled genius on it. Apart from being briefly headed during the flurry of routine pit stops that are part and parcel of the Formula One tapestry the reigning world champion, who is too far behind to retain his title, dominated the race from pole position to the chequered flag under the glittering floodlights, winning by 9.6sec from Timo Glock’s Toyota and the Renault of last year’s winner, Fernando Alonso.
Brawn’s championship rivals, Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, finished fifth and sixth, a few lengths apart, to round off a stressful weekend with Button now 15 points ahead of his Brazilian colleague with three races left, giving a maximum for any driver of 30 points to race for. But Hamilton reminded Button that he had been 17 points ahead with two races to go in 2007 and lost the title. “My advice to him is to continue pressing hard all the way to the finish,” he said.
This was the 11th career victory for Hamilton and his second of the 2009 season, clearly giving him huge satisfaction to have performed with such a blend of speed and precision on the challenging Marina Bay circuit, where even a slight slip can result in smart contact with the unyielding concrete walls, as several other drivers found out.
“I had to do all I could to look after my tyres today,” he said. “It was a very tough race, I think I can speak for all of us. But it was seriously straightforward for me, a nicely controlled race. I knew I was running five laps longer than Sebastian [Vettel] when he was running behind me.
“My only slight problem came when the team came on the radio saying there might have been a problem with the KERS [energy regeneration] system but I wasn’t seeing that. We made some adjustments, pressed some buttons and re-booted the system and it worked well.
“It’s corner after corner after corner on this track, so it is hugely demanding. I came here hoping to redeem myself after the last race [crashing on the last lap at Monza] and I think I did, we did. I looked after my tyres and it all went well.”
Alonso loyally dedicated his best finish of the season to Flavio Briatore, the former Renault team principal who was banned from the sport by the FIA after his involvement in the so-called ‘Crashgate’ scandal. “It was fantastic, obviously great to get our first podium finish of the year,” said the Spaniard.
“The team has been fantastic; the mechanics, engineers and everybody did a great effort. Now we have put the troubles behind us but I would like to dedicate this podium to Flavio because it has a lot to do with him as well. We made no mistakes, kept 100% concentration throughout and, although we didn’t have the pace, I felt we could get a podium if we kept out of trouble and we did the job.”
As for the championship leader Button, this was a damage-limitation exercise after qualifying a distant 12th, a performance that left him looking uncharacteristically dejected and downbeat.
The Brawn driver has generally displayed admirable resilience when it has come to dealing with the fluctuating fortunes he has experienced this year but now his head dropped. After a slightly baffling mid-season dip Button’s second place at Monza a fortnight ago convinced him that he had turned the corner and was firmly back on track with his championship challenge. Yet instead of reinventing himself for a sprint to the title crown, missing the top-10 cut in Singapore consigned him once more to jostling for scraps from the table, picking up a point here and a point there as he and Barrichello limp towards the season’s finishing line in Abu Dhabi on 1 November.
In contrast Hamilton drove superbly to plant his McLaren-Mercedes on pole position even though the car had to be rebuilt on Friday night around a new chassis after a complex failure was suspected deep within the car’s electrical wiring.
This was a fiddly and time-consuming job for the McLaren mechanics, who toiled through the long hours of darkness in the extreme humidity, having only the briefest of breaks for a shower and some food on Saturday morning before heading back to the circuit to prepare the car for qualifying.
At the start Hamilton repaid their dogged efforts superbly. Taking full advantage of the extra burst of power available from his car’s KERS system, he rocketed cleanly away from pole position to lead Nico Rosberg’s Williams by 10 lengths by the time they reached the first corner.
In the opening stages Rosberg did a great job following Hamilton but the German driver’s hopes of a strong result evaporated after he incurred a drive-through penalty for running over the white line at the end of the pits while returning to the race after his first refuelling stop, dropping him to the back of the field.
After Rosberg faded, Vettel took up the challenge, piling on the pressure with his Red Bull Renault, but Hamilton, secure in the knowledge of more fuel, sufficient to keep him out five laps further than hisGerman rival, refused to be ruffled and drove just as fast as was necessary to keep ahead without unduly straining his McLaren.
It was textbook stuff and Vettel, even before he took a penalty for speeding in the pit lane, had no answer.