Sebastian Vettel dominated the Singapore Grand Prix as championship leader Lewis Hamilton retired with an engine issue.

Vettel qualified his Ferrari on pole ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and fellow Scuderia man Kimi Raikkonen. The four-time champion posted the fastest time relatively early in the final qualifying session, but stayed out and went half a second quicker than Ricciardo.

By contrast, the Mercedes’ were floundering. Hamilton could only manage fifth, with teammate Nico Rosberg lining up behind in sixth. The team were openly mystified about the lack of pace, apparently due to an inability to get the cars’ tyres up to the optimum temperature.

Vettel scampered away from the start and quickly built a five-second lead to Ricciardo in second, which he held until the first round of pit stops. Those stops were triggered ahead of schedule when Nico Hulkenberg turned into Felipe Massa, putting the race under safety car conditions. Hulkenberg will take a three-place grid penalty at the next race for the incident.

When the caution period ended, Vettel matched Ricciardo’s pace, apparently in an effort to allow Raikkonen to challenge for second. But, in several laps of formation running, that didn’t happen so Vettel put the hammer down and stretched his lead out again.

Ricciardo had no answer for Vettel and, in turn, Raikkonen had none for Ricciardo, which settled the podium order. Even a second safety car period late on, caused by a spectator walking along the track, couldn’t spring an upset, such was Vettel’s control of race. Vettel cruised to his third win of the season, his fourth in Singapore and the 42nd of his career, surpassing Ayrton Senna’s tally.

The frontrunners’ race may have been uneventful, but there was much drama behind, most of centered on Hamilton. He was running in the middle of the pack when he reported a loss of power and started dropping through the field, eventually ending up right at the back. He circulated for a number of laps trying various reset codes, but to no avail. With no prospect of scoring points, the Mercedes squad decided to retire the car in an effort to preserve the engine. It was determined after the race that a minor metal clamp had broken, causing a loss of turbo boost.

The McLaren’s, too, had yet more trouble, suffering another double retirement. Fernando Alonso was running ninth when he retired with gearbox issues, while Jenson Button lost his front wing in a clash with Lotus’s Pastor Maldonado before he, too, pulled out with gearbox trouble.

Nico Rosberg persevered with his inexplicably recalcitrant Mercedes to finish fourth, ahead of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat and Force India’s Sergio Perez.

There was controversy at Toro Rosso in the closing laps as Max Verstappen refused to act on an order to let teammate Carlos Sainz through. After the race, Sainz said he requested the switch as he thought he had the pace to challenge Perez; Verstappen thought otherwise. That the pair ultimately finished 1.4 seconds apart suggests he may have been right.

Felipe Nasr closed out the top ten in his Sauber.

Hamilton’s retirement means his lead in the championship is cut to 41 points, ahead of Rosberg. Perhaps more worrying, on the basis of this performance, is that Vettel is now only 49 points in arrears, with 150 still on offer.

Then again, the Marina Bay street circuit is a unique environment, so Mercedes’ poor performance could just be a blip. But it’s equally possible Ferrari has made a breakthrough with its car – this win was achieved on pure pace, not simply because the silver cars had a problem, as was the case in Malaysia and Hungary.

It will become clearer what’s going on at the next race, the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, this Sunday (27 September).

Singapore Grand Prix results after 61 laps

  1. Sebastian Vettel — Ferrari — 2:01:22.118
  2. Daniel Ricciardo — Red Bull-Renault — +1.478
  3. Kimi Raikkonen — Ferrari — +17.154
  4. Nico Rosberg — Mercedes — +24.720
  5. Valtteri Bottas — Williams-Mercedes — +34.204
  6. Daniil Kvyat — Red Bull-Renault — +35.508
  7. Sergio Perez — Force India-Mercedes — +50.836
  8. Max Verstappen — Toro Rosso-Mercedes — +51.450
  9. Carlos Sainz Jr. — Toro Rosso-Mercedes — +52.860
  10. Felipe Nasr — Sauber-Ferrari — +1:30.045
  11. Marcus Ericsson — Sauber-Ferrari — +1:37.507
  12. Pastor Maldonado — Lotus-Mercedes — +1:37.718
  13. Romain Grosjean — Lotus-Mercedes — DNF (gearbox)
  14. Alexander Rossi — Marussia-Ferrari — +2 laps
  15. Will Stevens — Marussia-Ferrari — +2 laps
  16. Jenson Button — McLaren-Honda — DNF (gearbox)
  17. Fernando Alonso — McLaren-Honda — DNF (gearbox)
  18. Lewis Hamilton — Mercedes — DNF (power unit)
  19. Felipe Massa — Williams-Mercedes — DNF (gearbox)
  20. Nico Hulkenberg — Force India-Mercedes — DNF (crash)

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By Only Motors