Race - perfect Vettel made to wait for title 25 Sep 2011
Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel crushed his opposition to score an easy victory in Singapore on Sunday, despite major late-race pressure from McLaren's Jenson Button, whom he had outrun early on. And it was Button's presence in second place that prevented Vettel from confirming his second consecutive world championship by a mere point.
To put the title beyond doubt he needed to be 125 points clear, but Button remains a tantalising 124 behind and takes the battle to Japan at the very least.
Mercedes' Michael Schumacher played a key role in the race, but for the wrong reasons. An accident involving him and Sauber's Sergio Perez brought out the safety car on the 29th lap, and that was the first bit of good news that McLaren's Lewis Hamilton had enjoyed all race.
Hamilton's race strategy was compromised from the start after he had lost a set of super-soft tyres to the puncture in the right rear he suffered during the second qualifying session. It meant he had to switch to the less grippy soft compound tyre sooner than his rivals who still had three sets of super-softs.
Vettel blasted into the lead from Button at the start, with Ferrari's Fernando Alonso snatching third, but Hamilton's day got worse when he got blocked by Red Bull's Mark Webber and lost places, dropping from fourth to eighth. He climbed quickly to sixth, passing the Mercedes of Schumacher and Nico Rosberg, but a brush with Ferrari's Felipe Massa on Lap 12 damaged his front wing just after they had both stopped for new tyres, and a lap later Hamilton pitted again for a new nose and dropped to 16th. He then received a drive-through penalty for causing a collision, dropping to 19th.
Up front, Vettel owned the race, lock, stock and double barrel, building a lead of 11.4s by the 16th lap after a flurry of fastest laps distanced him from Button, who in turn had dropped Alonso. After losing time behind third placed Force India's Paul di Resta, who moved up temporarily on his harder tyres as faster runners switched to replacements for their soft compounds, the Spaniard was back in third place by Lap 20, but further behind Button than Button was behind Vettel.
Webber was running three seconds further back, but soon began to challenge Alonso until their second pits stops. Then came the incident on lap 29 that changed the complexion of the race.
Rosberg had overtaken Sauber's Sergio Perez for seventh place on the 28th lap, but got on the marbles in the last corner and Perez pounced again. But Rosberg retaliated and they touched going into the first corner, pushing the Mexican wide. That gave Schumacher the chance to close in, but he then misjudged things and crashed into the back of the Sauber. As the Mercedes crashed head-on into a safety wall, thankfully without injury to Schumacher, Vettel's near-20s lead was neutralised as the safety car was deployed. Schumacher was subsequently reprimanded for the incident.
The safety car's presence triggered a rash of pits stops, and when they were done the order was now Vettel, Button, Alonso, Webber - then Di Resta, Rosberg, Force Indias Adrian Sutil, Perez and Hamilton, who had fought back to ninth and had now been thrown an unexpected lifeline.
When the race went green again on Lap 34 Vettel had lapped cars between him and Button and was still 8.9s ahead of the McLaren driver at the end of the lap, but in a key move Webber removed Alonso's championship hopes by passing the surprised Spaniard, as further back Hamilton moved past Perez for eighth. The McLaren driver then overhauled Sutil, Rosberg and Di Resta. So now it was Vettel, apparently cruising home, Button doing likewise in second, Webber and Alonso, and Hamilton finally stalemated in fifth.
The final stops only temporarily shuffled the order, leaving Hamilton behind Di Resta. He caught and passed him again on Lap 53 to regain fifth, leaving the Scot to take a career-best sixth after another superb drive. Hamilton and Button were flying in the closing stages, the latter slashing Vettel's advantage until he was frustrated by the duelling Williams drivers right at the end, but the spotlight was deservedly focused on Vettel.
In the closing laps there was also a huge fight for seventh, which Rosberg just won from Sutil, as Massa was right with them after snatching ninth from Perez on the last lap. Pastor Maldonado beat Williams team mate Rubens Barrichello, as Sebastien Buemi also slipped ahead of the Brazilian late in the race to take 12th. His Toro Rosso team mate Jaime Alguersuari had a tough race, clashing early on with Kamui Kobayashi, and crashing in the late stages.
Kobayashi was 14th following a drive-through penalty for ignoring blue flags, ahead of Bruno Senna who had an up and down race for Renault but caught and passed team mate Vitaly Petrov, who was 17th. Renault's day went from bad to worse after the race when they were fined 7,500 Euro for a communication error at the safety-car restart that had led to Senna colliding with Perez, the Brazilian thinking he was battling for position when in fact he was a lap down on the Mexican.
Between the black and gold cars, Heikki Kovalainen was 16th, his Lotus team picking up a 10,000 Euro fine for unsafely releasing him into Vettel's path during their final stops.
Behind Petrov, Jerome D'Ambrosio drove tidily for 18th for Virgin, with Daniel Ricciardo recovering for 19th for HRT after needing a new nose and front wing on the first lap, while team mate Tonio Liuzzi later ran into trouble and dropped back to 20th.
The other Lotus, Jarno Trulli's, joined Schumacher, Alguersuari and early spinner Timo Glock's Virgin on the retirement list, when its gearbox broke.
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