Lewis Hamilton took the World Championship lead for only the second time in a thrilling 2014 Formula One season with victory in the Singapore Grand Prix.
Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg falls three points behind Hamilton in the title race following an early retirement with electronic problems plaguing his W05.
The German failed to pull away off the line for the formation lap as a result of the issue, forcing him into a pit-lane start.
A gear selection problem on his way to the grid resulted in a change of steering wheel as Rosberg suffered in the early stages of the race with no hybrid power, even failing to find a way past Marcus Ericsson’s Caterham.
With the pendulum of reliability swinging once again between the two Mercedes, Hamilton looked to take advantage and inflict maximum damage as the title race took another dramatic twist at the Marina Bay Street Circuit.
The Brit pulled away from pole to lead into Turn 1, ahead of Fernando Alonso who jumped past the slow-starting Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel (who passed his Red Bull team-mate) before locking up and cutting the corner.
Alonso gave up his position to Vettel only a few corners later having taken a significant advantage from missing the chicane altogether.
After battling problems that were affecting his DRS, energy recovery systems and his gearbox, Rosberg eventually retired at his first pit stop on lap 14 – following another steering wheel change when the car failed to re-engage into first gear – A broken wiring loom the cause of his disastrous race.
For Hamilton, it was a case of maintaining his gap to Vettel after a quick first pit stop on the previous lap brought him out marginally ahead of his former McLaren team-mate Jenson Button, who was yet to make his first stop.
Hamilton’s dominating performance came under threat at the midway point of the race, when the safety car was deployed for debris caused by a front wing collapse on Sergio Perez’s Force India, following contact with the Sauber of Adrian Sutil.
Mercedes opted not to pit Hamilton, who still needed to make an obligatory stop in order to run the soft compound tyre – whilst Alonso dived into the pits and Red Bull had completed their second stops a few laps before the safety car period.
With racing resumed on lap 38, the 2008 World Champion set about hammering in fastest laps, in an attempt to open up a gap big enough to re-join from the pits with his lead still intact.
Mercedes had asked for a mammoth 26 second advantage over the chasing pack and the 29 year old duly obliged as he set a blistering pace in order to pull out more than 25 seconds on Vettel by the time he pitted with nine scheduled laps remaining.
Although it was not enough of a margin to keep ahead of Vettel, Hamilton just fended off Ricciardo’s advances as he rejoined in second place.
The much fresher tyres made the difference as Hamilton easily caught and passed Vettel within a lap to reclaim the lead, before pulling away to comfortably take his second consecutive victory by over 13 seconds when the race ended; having run past the allotted two-hour limit.
Despite taking the lead in the drivers’ championship for the first time in four months, Hamilton says that he is not thinking about the title following his seventh win of 2014:
“I’m not really thinking about it. I feel like I’m still hunting, still catching up,” he said.
“I’m not sitting here thinking I’m relieved because all year I’ve had that gap and I’ve had to be catching it up and then it’s gone again. I know what could happen.
“I just feel relaxed at the moment. I came here to do a job and we managed to get through the weekend without any issues on our side of the garage, which was a real blessing.”
Vettel took his best result of the season with a second place as Ricciardo held on to finish third ahead of Alonso, whose tyre gamble failed to pay off as he was forced to settle in fourth.
Felipe Massa’s Williams finished a lonely fifth, having spent the majority of the race there after jumping Kimi Raikkonen in the first round of pit stops.
Jean-Eric Vergne recorded a season’s best result in sixth, despite having twice received five second penalties for track limits. The Frenchman made his third stop after the safety car period and used his fresh tyres to his advantage as he passed a train of cars in the closing stages, including a bold move on Raikkonen into Turn 1.
Perez recovered from his skirmish with Sutil and subsequent wing breakage on a four stop strategy to finish seventh, becoming another benefiter of having a fresh set of tyres towards the end.
Raikkonen trailed home in eighth, whilst Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen completed the top 10 – with Valtteri Bottas coming home a pointless 11th after the tyres on his Williams (which had been running as high as sixth) gave up on him.
Button was another who looked set for a points finish on a strategy that saw him leap to seventh despite starting 11th. However the 2009 world champion’s McLaren broke down with an electrical fault cutting out the engine with just a handful of laps remaining.
McLaren’s lack of points at arguably the toughest race of the year has seen Force India overtake them into fifth in the Constructors on 117 points, six more than the Woking based outfit.
As F1 continues it’s Asian leg of the season at the next round in Japan on October 5th, Hamilton has his sights set on a first ever victory at Suzuka , where Rosberg will be determined to make up for lost ground as the title battle continues to develop with only five races left to run.