Sebastian Vettel recovered from a heart-stopping track invasion by an unidentified fan on Sunday as he convincingly won the Singapore Grand Prix and closed the gap on Mercedes.
Ferrari’s Vettel led wire-to-wire for his third win this year, ahead of Red Bull’s Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo, with championship leader Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes forced out with mechanical problems.
But Vettel had a major shock on lap 36 when he spotted a man walking on the track, a bizarre incident which brought the race to a temporary halt.
“There’s a man on the track!” he yelled over the team radio, as the safety car came out for the second time in the floodlit night race.
The disruption was the closest Vettel came to an upset and there were echoes of his quadruple world title romp with Red Bull as he calmly won by 1.4 seconds.
“Yes, you did it!” Vettel screamed to his team-mates over the radio as he crossed the line, with fireworks exploding over the grandstand and lighting up the night sky.
With his 42nd career victory, Vettel draws within eight points of second-placed Nico Rosberg of Mercedes on the drivers’ standings, with Hamilton’s lead reduced to 41.
Hamilton’s retirement just after halfway completed a miserable weekend for the Briton, who was in line to match Ayrton Senna’s tally of 41 wins in 161 races but left empty-handed.
Hamilton suddenly lost accelerating power and eventually retired on lap 32.
“It hasn’t been our weekend as a team, but sometimes it happens,” a dejected Hamilton said as he left the team garage.
At the front, Vettel dropped the hammer and set a fastest lap of 1min 50.520sec as he extended his lead to four seconds at the halfway stage. But the German got a shock when he spotted a fan walking along the circuit on a few laps later, bringing the safety car out yet again.
Police later said a 27-year-old man had been arrested and was helping with inquiries.
Jenson Button went into the back of Pastor Maldonado’s Lotus after the restart, showering shards of bodywork over cars behind and ultimately forcing the McLaren driver out.
Young Verstappen fought brilliantly up to eighth from the back of the grid and angrily refused when Toro Rosso ordered him to yield his spot to team-mate Carlos Sainz.
Out in front, Vettel was untroubled and he duly completed the win to send out a message to Mercedes that the title race may not be quite over yet.
Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany celebrates after winning the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix last night. Picture/AP
The fan who wandered onto the track during was later arrested by Singapore police.A statement issued by the FIA, Formula One’s governing body, said “a 27-year-old man has been arrested and is assisting police with investigations.”
Meanwhile a slow start and a broken radio were not enough to spoil the Formula One race debut of American driver Alex Rossi on Sunday, as he completed the full distance of the Singapore Grand Prix.
Rossi, who is the first American to race in F1 since 2007, was competing for the small-budget Manor team which was never going to win the race. He at least had the satisfaction of taking 14th place ahead of teammate Will Stevens.
“Today has been pretty special,” the 23-year-old Californian said.
“All the hard work to get here finally paid off and it was a fantastic feeling to be racing on the streets of Singapore.”
Rossi was slow off the line at the start, exposing his inexperience, but had managed to pass Stevens by turn five on the opening lap.
He held onto that advantage despite losing radio contact with the team — a major setback for a young driver needing advice on settings and strategy.
The radio silence meant he got no instruction from the team about when to unlap himself when the safety-car emerged for the second time, so he was not able to get clear of the field.
“Despite that, we managed everything well and I’m very appreciative of all the effort put in by the team,” Rossi said.
His performances earned the approval of team principal John Booth who said the American “delivered a solid and confident performance.”
Rossi is on a short-term contract that will see him race in five of the last seven races of the season, while juggling that with his commitments in the GP2 series where he is second in the standings.
He is hoping the exposure, and the possible attraction of sponsors to an American driver, will help him land a full-time drive next season — perhaps with Manor or the new team run by Gene Haas, which will enter the sport next season.-AP