Lewis Hamilton extended his championship lead to 73 points as a Virtual Safety Car gifted the Mercedes driver victory, whilst Vettel refused team orders to spark further controversy in the Ferrari garage.
Whilst Charles Leclerc started on pole, Vettel down in third started brilliantly to then be leading come turn two, benefitting hugely in the slipstream.
However, memories were still fresh from Singapore.
After costing Leclerc victory in Marina Bay, Ferrari were determined to make it up to him and by doing so, had asked Vettel to let Leclerc by after just five laps despite the German’s terrific start.
But, the four-time world champion was much quicker than the Monegasque subsequently saying over team-radio that if they are to swap, then Leclerc must cut the gap.
However, Leclerc could do no such thing, but Ferrari kept asking Vettel to allow the swap, yet the German continued to refuse, which ultimately resulted in a very disappointed Charles Leclerc.
“You put me behind, I respect everything. We speak later” he said after Vettel had continuously rejected team-orders.
But, Vettel was the quicker driver, he continued to increase the gap to Leclerc and showed the team why he should be leading the race – it was like Vettel’s multi 21 controversy at Red Bull all over again.
Had the swap occurred that early on, then Vettel could easily have found himself with a certain Lewis Hamilton right behind him.
“We will do the stop later” then went Ferrari to Leclerc over team-radio with “later” being the pit-stop window, as the Scuderia ended up showing their authority.
Whilst the undercut benefitted Vettel in Singapore, this time around it was Leclerc pitting first, which proved to help the Monegasque.
Vettel then pitted four laps later to leave the pit lane behind his team-mate.
But, Vettel then could not attempt to take his lead back, as the German retired just a couple laps later due to an engine failure.
Thus prompting a virtual safety car to be deployed.
VSC gifting Hamilton victory
Due to Vettel’s retirement, a Virtual Safety Car was signalled which gifted Mercedes a ‘free-stop’ for both drivers.
The Silver Arrows started on the medium tyres whilst Ferrari on the softs, therefore Hamilton and Bottas both went much further in the race without pitting.
And as the VSC occurred, Mercedes pitted both drivers for their first stop of the race and ultimately gained ten seconds through the pit-stop window.
Usually, a driver loses around 25 seconds through a pit-stop but due to other cars driving slowly in a VSC, then that lost time reduces which resulted in both Mercedes drivers leaving the pit-lane ahead of Leclerc.
However, this is perhaps another talking point for Formula One and if cars should be allowed to pit during a VSC – the VSC is supposed to ‘neutralise’ a race.
Therefore, Hamilton was in the lead following this window and that would not change for the remainder of the race as he claimed his ninth win of the season and 82nd of his career – just ten more victories and he will hold the outright record for most career wins.
The one-two also extended Mercedes’ advantage in the constructor’s championship and could win the title next time out in Japan, should all results go their way.
What the drivers said
Race winner, Lewis Hamilton: “Firstly just an incredible job for all the guys here. They’ve been pushing forwards and always trying to be innovative and just never giving up.
“It makes me feel inspired and it’s incredible to have this result today.
“Keeping up with (Ferrari) was a hard task. We haven’t given up we kept pushing and the car was fantastic” he said.
Second placed, Valtteri Bottas: “I think to start fourth and finish second is not bad – for me, but for the team especially.
“It’s not a win, but still pretty good. I had a good race. The second stint was really good.
“We knew we should have good race pace and believed we could do it. We now really need to raise our games in qualifying, but race pace is ok” he said.
Third placed, Charles Leclerc: “It was an ok-ish race. Mercedes are still very quick but not compared to qualifying, so we need to work on (our race pace) in the coming races.
“I will always trust the team but yeah the tactic was me giving the slipstream to be one-two at the end of the straight which happened, but I don’t know…I need to speak with the team to know better the information” he said.
By Edward Hardy