Lewis Hamilton apologized to his team mid-race for one of two uncharacteristic errors that nullified his Singapore Grand Prix, itself a procession lit by the occasional spark.
In terms of title math, Max Verstappen, who finished seventh, stayed 104 points clear of his closest nominal pursuer Charles Leclerc, second on the night, with four races remaining, starting Sunday in Suzuka, Japan. Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez, the excellent race winner, is 106 behind.
So Max, the top performer of the season through head and shoulders, will win his second title if he triumphs over the weekend and sets the fastest lap no matter what the others can achieve in his wake.
Team Mercedes had to replace Lewis Hamilton’s front wing during the race
In fact, none of the most famous drivers in the world, neither Hamilton nor Verstappen, had a dream night in Marina Bay. The Brit started third, slid off the line to fourth, then strayed twice from the racing line to finish ninth.
On the first of those occasions, 33 laps into the allotted 61 laps before the two-hour guillotine ended proceedings a few miles early, he crashed into the wall after carrying too much speed as he pushed Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz for third place .
He broke the billboard, backed up, fell down one spot and hobbled into the pits for his crew to lick collective wounds. “I’m so sorry guys. I don’t give a shit,” said the seven-time world champion.
Hamilton (pictured) apologized to his team over his radio and admitted he screwed up.
A mea culpa is not uncommon from Lewis’ lips, but it defies the perceived usual direction of finger-pointing.
That mistake threw him back a place to fifth and then pitted for a new front wing after Sainz bored for an hour on a narrow stretch of road made slippery by previously fallen rain. It bounced ankle-high off the tarmac and the race was delayed by an hour and five minutes, slightly longer than the excitement warranted.
Hamilton’s second off-line outing came in the dying throes of the muggy night, with Verstappen, whose toil we’ll return to, was close behind. The Brit tried to pass Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel but missed the corner and let Verstappen through.
Hamilton was able to continue the race despite hitting a wall at turn seven
The British driver scolded his team, claiming they “have to listen to him” going forward.
In truth, it was a miserable day for Mercedes. The less said about George Russell the better. One sentence about his somber mood will suffice: he endured what was probably his worst weekend with the team in eleventh qualifying, when he started in the pit lane after the engine change, before passing Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas and Haas’ Mick Schumacher when he lost his usual Surefootedness Fought Complete the 14th and last of the night’s survivors. Just a little cheer for Russell, who set the fastest lap after completing the events.
As for Verstappen, who had to win and Leclerc and Perez had to falter badly to leave Singapore for a second year with the trophy, his misfortune was all but sealed on Saturday night when he was told to play his final qualifying round of the Cancel in sequence to meet the requirement to have one liter of fuel on board for scrutineering.
He flew at the time, Poles at his mercy. Disbelieving, he turned the air blue and left the track as quickly as possible. No debriefing. Too angry for that. Reflecting on his ‘really awful’ weekend: ‘It started with yesterday’s big crap. I didn’t make a statement by leaving the track when I did. That’s how I felt. I just wouldn’t have been of much use.’
Hamilton (pictured) is currently sixth in the Formula 1 drivers’ standings
Verstappen slipped from eighth to 12th after his stable of ants inexplicably entered the grid. After moving up to fifth on lap 40, when the field finally switched from intermediate tires to slicks on a slow-drying surface, he faced McLaren driver Lando Norris (who went on to finish fourth, one place behind Sainz) . Verstappen adventurously charged into Turn 7 and ended up in a gummy plume of white smoke off the road.
He said: “As soon as I hit the brakes, I hit the ground completely. I walked alongside Lando and it’s a bit bumpy off the line. I locked up both wheels massively and had a flat spot so I had to box again.
Perez showed a relentless performance from the moment he bested polesitter Leclerc at the first turn. He survived an inquest by the Stewards by falling more than 10 lengths behind the safety car twice. The five-second penalty, assessed at 1:45 local time, wasn’t enough to deny him a deserved triumph.
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