Sport

Vettel pounces to win Singapore Grand Prix

Monday, September 24, 2012    

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SINGAPORE (AFP) — Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel pounced on the retirement of race leader Lewis Hamilton yesterday as he reignited his world title defence with victory in a thrilling Singapore Grand Prix.

Formula One's youngest double champion claimed only his second win of the year on an evening of drama and intrigue at the tropical street circuit, and even survived a stewards' inquiry into a near-miss with runner-up Jenson Button.

Ferrari's championship leader Fernando Alonso finished third as Vettel, who also won in Singapore last year and is chasing a world title hat-trick, moved up to second in the overall standings, 29 points adrift.

Force India's Paul di Resta took an impressive fourth and Mercedes' Nico Rosberg was fifth, ahead of Lotus's former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, after the gripping night race on Singapore's tough, skyscraper-skirting layout.

Romain Grosjean, Felipe Massa, Daniel Ricciardo and Sergio Perez — promoted one place after a time penalty for Mark Webber — rounded out the top 10.

But there was agony for Hamilton, who retired with gearbox problems while leading on lap 23, in a major dent to his title hopes. The Briton is now 52 points back in the standings with six races left.

German veteran Michael Schumacher was clobbered with a 10-place grid penalty at the next race in Japan for ploughing into the back of Jean-Eric Vergne, in a spectacular collision that left him partially airborne.

Stewards handed Red Bull's Webber his 20-second penalty for running off the track as he overtook Kamui Kobayashi, a punishment that pushed him down from 10th to 11th place and out of the points.

Vettel, his helmet decorated with flashing LED lights, punched the air and gave his trademark crooked finger salute after the hard-earned win, which dragged him back into this year's unpredictable championship race.

"This has been one of the toughest races of the year, to be honest," said the German. "There are so many bumps, there's no room for mistakes and it just seems to go on forever... I'm just incredibly happy."

A rueful Hamilton, who outpaced the field by a distance in qualifying, called his car's failure "heartbreaking". He said he would now need to win all six races left this year, starting with next month's Japanese Grand Prix.

Hamilton made a smooth start from pole accompanied by Williams driver Pastor Maldonado, but a misjudgment on the first corner cost the Venezuelan two places as Vettel and Button sailed through.

Ferrari's Massa was the big loser in the early jostling as he dropped to the back after pitting with a puncture. At the front Hamilton and Vettel, swapping fastest laps, were peeling away from Button.

Webber came in for soft tyres on lap nine, setting a trend that was followed by the leading drivers. His Red Bull team-mate Vettel overcame a scare at turn 10, the notorious "Singapore Sling".

Sauber's Perez also had a problem at the tough corner and Maldonado would have had his heart in his mouth as he pounded the brakes and narrowly averted a slide heading wide into a left-hander at the end of a long straight.

Hamilton pitted from the lead on lap 12 but was soon back in front, ahead of Vettel. But disaster struck when the gearbox failure put him out of the race, prompting gasps from the sell-out crowd.

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