Vettel undercuts Leclerc to take first 2019 victory

Michelle Foster
Sebastian Vettel wins Singapore Grand Prix

Nico Rosberg believes Sebastian Vettel's out-lap in Singapore was one of the best laps he has done.

Sebastian Vettel clinched his first win of 2019 as Ferrari’s tactics played out in his favour in Singapore, leaving a disgruntled Charles Leclerc in P2.

Starting his third successive grand prix from pole position, Charles Leclerc was given a helping hand from Sebastian Vettel as the German attacked Lewis Hamilton for second. The Mercedes driver had to defend, which he did successfully, but it was enough to give Leclerc over a second of breathing room.

Further down the field, George Russell collided with Daniel Ricciardo, who moved up from 20 to 15 on the opening lap, into the first corner and had to pit for a new front wing. He wasn’t the only driver in trouble as Nico Hulkenberg, front left puncture, and Carlos Sainz, back right, also pitted after an incident at Turn 5.

10 laps into the 61-lap race, Leclerc still run roughly a second ahead of Hamilton, who was prepared biding his time waiting for the Ferrari’s tyres to go off, while Vettel was a further second back ahead of Max Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas and Alexander Albon. Lando Norris was running best of the rest.

Ricciardo continued his run towards the points, taking Daniil Kvyat at Turn 13. However, moments before, trying to switch back on the Toro Rosso driver, he was almost collected by Lance Stroll. “We’re not ****ing around, let’s go boys!” said Ricciardo.

Meanwhile a frustrated Hamilton ran second behind Leclerc, unable to close up to make a move even though he felt the Ferrari “an’t really go much slower.” But for Leclerc, leading the race in a Ferrari that eats tyres, it was the perfect pace. 15 laps in Leclerc was told to go back to “mode race”. The MonĂ©gasque driver went half a second faster on his next lap and half a second quicker on the next. It was time to push, and Hamilton went with him.

But while the top ten were as you were, behind them the midfield fought wheel-to-wheel as one by one they pitted and had to again work their way back up the order.

Vettel was the first of the top six to pit, lap 19, followed by Verstappen. They came out P10 and P12 with Nico Hulkenberg slotted in between but only for a lap. Leclerc, 0.8s up on Hamilton, was the next in followed by Albon and Norris. Leclerc came out behind Vettel!

Hamilton was told to do “opposite” to Leclerc and stayed out. Mercedes’ decision to leave him out was perplexing as the Brit put in 1:47s to Vettel’s 1:45s. And then Mercedes pitted Bottas first. A few laps later Bottas was told to slow down, 1:48s please, as Mercedes set the Finn up to protect Hamilton later in the race. Hamilton pitted on lap 27, coming out ahead of his team-mate.

Ferrari and Verstappen meanwhile found themselves in a queue of cars having to fight P1 Giovinazzi, P2 Gasly, P3 Ricciardo and P4 Stroll for position. None of them made it easy for the trio – except Giovinazzi for Vettel – who eventually ran 1, 2, 3 on lap 33. Hamilton was up to fourth ahead of Bottas, Albon and Giovinazzi.

However, the Italian’s incredible Sunday night was undone by contact with Ricciardo. The Alfa Romeo pushed off the track and falling down the order, Ricciardo suffered a puncture. Both pitted, Giovanizzi for his one stop of the night and Ricciardo for his second, ruining his recovery drive.

On lap 35 the mandatory, at least for Singapore, Safety Car came out as Russell tangled with Romain Grosjean and finished his race in the Turn 8 wall with front left damage. “What the **** was he doing?” said Russell. “I shouldn’t be surprised.” Nico Hulkenberg was the only driver inside the top ten to stop.

The Safety Car meant Vettel’s 4.5s lead was slashed to nothing, giving Leclerc the perfect opportunity to attack his team-mate for the lead. The Ferrari rookie, though, was still smarting over the earlier undercut handing Vettel P1. “My head is down and it will be done until the race [is done]. I just want to let you know my feelings,” he told the pit wall. “To be completely honest with you I don’t understand the undercut but we will discuss after the race.”

Race resumed on lap 41 with Vettel leading ahead of Leclerc, Verstappen and the two Mercedes. Further back Stroll tried to take on Gasly and came off second best. Corners later, and without Gasly’s input, he hit the Turn 17 and damaged his front wing, forced to pit for a new one. Racing Point’s day went from bad to worse as two laps later Sergio Perez retired his RP19 on the side of the track bringing out the Safety Car and once again negating Vettel’s lead, although this time it was just 0.9s over Leclerc.

With the restart imminent, Leclerc attempted to bargain with Ferrari for the power to attack Vettel for the lead. Asking for “everything”, he was told Ferrari wanted to “bring the car home”. He swore he would not do anything “stupid” but his request was denied.

The race resumed on lap 48 and Vettel again pulled away easily with Leclerc a buffer between the German and the rest of the field. As the top seven, Vettel to Norris, ran without issue, those behind again tussled for position with Ricciardo attacking as he looked to return to the top ten only to fall foul of those behind and drop to P16.

His troubles, though, weren’t as bad as Kimi Raikkonen’s as the Alfa Romeo driver tangled with Daniil Kyvat, turning in on the unsighted Toro Rosso and breaking his front suspension. He became the race’s third retirement and brought out the race’s third Safety Car.

Again the race resumed, this time on lap 52 and with 17 minutes remaining in the two-hour limit. As he had on the other restarts, Vettel stormed off, putting vital metres between himself, Leclerc and Verstappen. Hamilton and Bottas ran fourth and fifth, dropping Albon lap after lap.

Starting the penultimate lap Vettel was 2s up on Leclerc and looking as if he would claim his first win of 2019. His team-mate appeared to be comfortably in second as Verstappen, instead of attacking Leclerc, was having to defend with Hamilton all over the rear of his RB15. He asked the team to “more power” but is told by the team he has the best they can offer him.

Vettel raced to the win, his first since Spa last year, leading home a Ferrari 1-2 at the Singapore Grand Prix. Verstappen held onto third, leaving Mercedes off the podium, P4 and P5. Albon was sixth as he once again scored for Red Bull Racing.

Norris brought his McLaren home in seventh place ahead of Gasly, Hulkenberg and Giovinazzi.

1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
2 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 2.641s
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull 3.821s
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 4.608s
5 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 6.119s
6 Alex Albon Red Bull 11.663s
7 Lando Norris McLaren 14.769s
8 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 15.547s
9 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 16.718s
10 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 17.855s
11 Romain Grosjean Haas 35.436s
12 Carlos Sainz McLaren 35.974s
13 Lance Stroll Racing Point 36.419s
14 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 37.660s
15 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 38.178s
16 Robert Kubica Williams 47.024s
17 Kevin Magnussen Haas 84.853s

Did not finish
Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo crash
Sergio Perez Racing Point mechanical
George Russell Williams crash

Follow us on Twitter @Planet_F1 and like our Facebook page.