Sergio Perez won the Singapore Grand Prix ahead of Charles Leclerc to delay Max Verstappen’s title coronation in an attritional wet-weather race that featured two safety cars, three virtual cautions and six retirements.
After waiting through an hour-long rain delay, Perez jumped poleman Leclerc off the line but had to absorb significant pressure for almost the entire race, which timed out after 59 of the 61 scheduled laps owing to the number of interruptions and the slow pace of the race in slippery conditions.
His mission was hampered by an engine drivability problem under braking and on power, but a lock-up by Leclerc broke the Monegasque’s charge and freed Perez to build some rhythm. In the final nine laps, he was able to grow his 1.5s advantage into 7.5s at the checkered flag.
However, he’s under investigation for leaving more than 10 car lengths to the safety car at the second restart, which will be investigated after the race — but for which the team hopes any penalty will be neutralized by his late dash.
Notwithstanding the penalty cloud, Perez described the race as one of his strongest.
“It was I think my best performance,” he said. “I controlled the race.
“The last three laps [building a gap] were so intense. I pushed. I gave everything for the win today.”
Leclerc said his race was lost at the start, which put him on the back foot around a circuit that makes passing tricky.
“I pushed all the way,” he said. “After that it was a very difficult race.”
Sainz came home a distant third, the Spaniard lamenting a lack of confidence in the wet conditions.
“It was very tough out there,” he said. “I never really got into a rhythm in the wet and the couldn’t challenge the top two guys.”
Championship leader Verstappen couldn’t convert his first opportunity to win the championship, finishing ninth in a difficult race that ended in a duel with old rival Lewis Hamilton.
Verstappen had a terrible start from eighth, falling to 12th after being shoved over the curbs at Turn 1 by a bullish Kevin Magnussen.
The Dutchman re-passed the Haas quickly and picked off Lance Stroll and Yuki Tsunoda to return to ninth when the safety car was deployed for a clumsy crash between Zhou Guanyu and Nicholas Latifi. Zhou was on Latifi’s left-hand side entering the right-handed Turn 5 when the Williams squeezed him against the wall, causing terminal damage to both.
Verstappen’s recovery continued unabated at the resumption, passing Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly with a pair of sweet moves to rise to seventh. Meanwhile the race ground on at a pedestrian pace, with the field trying to extend the life of their intermediate tires until it was safe enough to switch to slicks.
Neither Alpine driver would see that crossover point, with Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon retiring with engine failures on lap 21 and lap 28, but the race rolled on despite ensuing virtual safety cars.
Only George Russell was brave enough to try dry tires, but his pace was so slow on the medium tire that no-one dared follow him in. It took until lap 33 for the race to finally come alive. Hamilton had been chasing Sainz for a podium spot when he went too hot into Turn 7 and nosed the barrier, breaking his front wing.
As he returned to the pits, Russell’s tires were finally getting up to temperature, and the Briton posted the fastest lap of the race. Suddenly the entire field was preparing to pit for slicks — except for Verstappen, who stayed out with McLaren drivers Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo.
It paid massive dividends for all three when Yuki Tsunoda took too much speed into Turn 10 and crashed, forcing a safety car. The old tire-shod trio dived into the pits for a cheap stop, with Norris leading Verstappen and Ricciardo when they rejoined.
But just as he finally looked set to play a role in the podium battle, Verstappen radioed his team that he thought a visor tear-off was stuck in his rear-right brake duct. Sure enough a lunge on Norris at the resumption ended in a massive lock-up that forced him into another pit stop, dropping him down the order and into direct conflict with Hamilton after slicing quickly through slower midfield cars.
Huge lock up from Verstappen!
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 2, 2022
Hamilton defended astutely, but his efforts were undone when he came across the back of the slower Sebastian Vettel. A look down his inside at Turn 7 put him offline, allowing Verstappen to sweep around his outside and relieve him of position.
Three laps remained in the time-sensitive race, and on the final lap Verstappen muscled past Vettel, also at Turn 7, to rescue seventh place behind the high-scoring McLaren teammates and a sensationally sixth-placed Lance Stroll. Vettel, Hamilton and Pierre Gasly completed the top 10.
Verstappen’s equal worst finish of the season reduced his championship lead to 104 and 106 points over Leclerc and Perez respectively. He must lead by 112 points at the end of the Japanese Grand Prix to seal the title.
McLaren’s double points finish, just its fifth of the season, moves it back into fourth in the constructors standings with a four-point margin over Alpine, which suffered a season-low double retirement.
Aston Martin’s shock double-points finish moves the team to seventh in the standings ahead of Haas, AlphaTauri and Williams.