Kimi Raikkonen narrowly missed out on a podium for Ferrari, while team mate Sebastian Vettel - voted Driver of the Day by fans - followed him home a strong fifth after starting from the back of the grid. Max Verstappen was sixth for Red Bull, ahead of McLaren's Fernando Alonso, with Force India’s Sergio Perez, Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat and Renault’s Kevin Magnussen completing the top ten.
It was a race book-ended by drama.
As Rosberg headed Ricciardo, Hamilton and Raikkonen into the first corner, Max Verstappen made a very slow start. And as Carlos Sainz took his Toro Rosso to the right of the Red Bull, he came into contact with Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India which was spun across the Dutchman’s bows and hard into the pit wall.
The safety car was immediately deployed and caught some on their back foot when it went in after the second lap. Rosberg easily maintained an advantage over Ricciardo, to whom Hamilton could offer no challenge as he struggled throughout with brake temperatures. The leader had a similar problem, but was able to manage it more easily in his cleaner air.
Stalemate briefly set in until Raikkonen snuck past Hamilton on the 33rd lap; the Finn was running Pirelli’s supersoft tyres, the Englishman softs, but the latter admitted he had made mistake over the bumps.
Hamilton led only briefly on the 34th lap, as the three drivers ahead of him pitted, but then made his own stop. He was told he could use full power as he took another set of soft Pirelli tyres and began to move in on Raikkonen, who had taken the same rubber, but then Mercedes switched their second car to Plan B, which entailed a final stop for supersofts on the 45th lap. Ferrari covered that by bringing Raikkonen in for ultrasofts a lap later, but Hamilton crucially got the undercut to snatch back the final podium slot. Red Bull emulated their strategies and ignited the race as Ricciardo came in for supersofts on the 47th lap.
Rosberg held a 25.8s lead by the 48th lap and seemed to be home and dry, but when he ran into traffic Mercedes missed the chance to bring him in. By lap 49 Ricciardo had already hacked nearly four seconds off his advantage and suddenly a final stop for Rosberg would have dropped him to fourth.
Thus began a tense battle as Ricciardo sliced the gap down, sometimes by as much as three seconds a lap. Behind the two leaders, Raikkonen kept the pressure on Hamilton, who had come alive again before he found himself having to manage his brakes once more and losing pace. Soon, all eyes were on the lead battle, and the fight for third became secondary.
Ricciardo had the gap down to 11.8s by lap 53 and the maths was working for the Australian, who was as desperate to avenge his Monaco defeat as Rosberg was to celebrate his landmark 200th Grand Prix with a 21st victory.
Lap 56, and 5.2s; Lap 58, and 4.6s; Lap 60, and only 2.0s.
Rosberg, meanwhile, was also managing soft tyres that were nearly 28 laps old, and his brake temperatures. And he was coming up on Magnussen’s Renault which was on the back of a heady fight between Perez and Kvyat. All round that final lap, Ricciardo was closing, closing. But there was no dramatic last-corner denouement, as Rosberg held it together and crossed the line those four crucial tenths of a second ahead.
His eighth victory of the season makes him the first non-champion to win in Singapore and puts him on 273 points, to Hamilton’s 265. The reigning champion was 7.5s behind Ricciardo, but crucially 2.1s ahead of Raikkonen, whose ultrasofts were fading.
An excellent run (effectively a two-stopper) saw Sebastian Vettel climb from last to fifth and deservedly secure the Driver of the Day vote from fans, as Verstappen drove another typically feisty race, with plentiful overtaking, as he fought back from eighth place on the opening lap to take sixth.
Fernando Alonso brought his McLaren home seventh, having at one stage run as high as fifth, as Perez just held off Kvyat by four-tenths for eighth. The Mexican recovered well from his penalised 17th starting position, while the Russian had his most convincing performance since China, when he was still a Red Bull driver.
Magnussen took the final point for Renault, followed home by Haas’s Esteban Gutierrez, Williams’ Felipe Massa, Sauber’s Felipe Nasr, the delayed Sainz, Renault’s Jolyon Palmer, Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein, who fended off Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson by four-tenths of a second, and the German’s Manor team mate Esteban Ocon, who incurred a five-second time penalty for overtaking under the safety car early on.
With Romain Grosjean non-starting because of brake troubles on his Haas, McLaren’s Jenson Button and Williams’ Valtteri Bottas - who had picked up a rear puncture and front wing damage respectively in the Lap 1 melee - joined Hulkenberg on the retirements list, both pulling into the pits midrace with mechanical issues.