Rosberg holds on to take title lead after Singapore thriller

© XPB 

Nico Rosberg took the championship lead by holding off Daniel Ricciardo in a thrilling finale to the Singapore Grand Prix.

Having led from the start, Rosberg looked set for a measured victory when a late strategic change from the three cars behind - ironically triggered by team-mate Lewis Hamilton - threw the result into uncertainty.

The race came alive with 17 laps remaining as Hamilton pit for a set of supersoft tyres to go to the end, having previously been following the three cars ahead on soft tyres. The move from Mercedes was an attempt to regain third place for Hamilton from Kimi Raikkonen, but resulted in Ferrari immediately reacting to fit ultrasofts on Raikkonen’s car.

The move lost Raikkonen third place to Hamilton, but triggered a stop for Ricciardo - who took on new supersofts - as Red Bull covered the threat from the two behind. Rosberg was then told to push but Mercedes opted to leave the leader out on old soft tyres in an attempt to get to the end, favouring track position.

Ricciardo was almost 25 seconds adrift when he emerged with 15 laps remaining but duly took 3.7s out of Rosberg on one lap to set up a tense finish as the Red Bull hunted down the Mercedes.

Hamilton and Raikkonen could not match the pace of Ricciardo and were left in their own fight for third, but Ricciardo kept the pressure up to the flag as Rosberg attempted to manage his tyres. The German has had not been made to work hard for many wins but he was under pressure as the gap closed, eventually holding off Ricciardo by just 0.4s at the chequered flag.

Hamilton came home eight seconds adrift in third place, beating Raikkonen by two seconds. It was a solid result after a tricky weekend for Hamilton, which results in Rosberg retaking the championship lead by an eight-point advantage with six races remaining.

The fight for victory distracted from an excellent recovery drive for Sebastian Vettel, who started from last on the grid but finished fifth, 17 seconds behind the Hamilton and Raikkonen battle. Vettel did not profit hugely from the one safety car period either, with a first lap crash for Nico Hulkenberg resulting in two laps behind the safety car before racing resumed.

Max Verstappen was sixth after a poor start - which involved avoiding the spinning Hulkenberg - with Fernando Alonso a strong seventh for McLaren ahead of Sergio Perez, Daniil Kvyat and Kevin Magnussen.

While Romian Grosjean failed to start due to a brake problem, Rosberg led at the start of the race but the safety car was required before the field reached turn one. Verstappen's poor start saw Carlos Sainz move to the right to pass the Red Bull, with the fast-starting Hulkenberg trying to squeeze between Sainz and Toro Rosso team-mate Kvyat. Contact was inevitable as the gap closed and Hulkenberg's left rear suspension broke against the front right wheel of Sainz, pitching the Force India into the pit wall - right in front of Verstappen - and out of the race.

Valtteri Bottas received a puncture from the debris while Jenson Button damaged his front wing, with both drivers pitting under the safety car at the end of the lap. With the debris on track, the field was led through the pit lane and Bottas was released alongside Vettel, filtering in behind the Ferrari to avoid contact with a Force India mechanic. The incident was investigated but no action taken, with both Bottas and Button later retiring in the pits.

The race restarted after two laps - despite a marshal still clearing debris at Turn 1 and having to quickly run to safety - and Rosberg led away from Ricciardo, Hamilton, Raikkonen and Alonso. Verstappen was eighth behind the two Toro Rossos and couldn't find a way past, but Sainz had to pit to get some flailing bodywork removed after being given a black and orange flag.

With the top four settling down, the Mercedes drivers were told to manage their brakes to ensure they avoided problems later in the race. It meant Rosberg's lead was not commanding despite the Red Bulls - on supersoft tyres - failing to run longer than those on ultrasofts around them.

As the status quo was retained at the front after the first stop, Vettel was climbing through the field after starting on soft tyres. He was also following Perez who had swapped ultrasofts for softs under the safety car, but had the pace to move ahead of the Force India. Having switched to another set of softs on lap 24, Vettel passed Sainz and Esteban Gutierrez within a matter of corners to move into the top ten three laps later.

A strong stint on softs as others pit around him moved Vettel into the top six and  he put on ultrasofts which proved much quicker than the leaders who were all on soft tyres.

Hamilton had been struggling with his brakes and warned Mercedes he would struggle to hold off Raikkonen if he remained on his planned strategy. The Briton then ran wide at Turn 9 on lap 33 when on soft tyres, with Raikkonen - on supersofts - taking advantage to overtake on the inside of Turn 10. After the next round of pit stops which saw the top four all fit softs, Hamilton was told he was switching to plan B and pushed to close on Raikkonen before pitting to trigger the exciting finish.

Vettel's pace was strong as Verstappen needed to stop again for soft tyres, promoting the German to fifth ahead of the Red Bull, with Alonso completing 27 laps on a set of softs at the end of the race to take seventh.

Rosberg's 28-lap final stint on softs was the second longest of the race - behind only Perez who completed 36 laps to help Force India move back ahead of Williams by one point in the constructors' championship - and resulted in his 22nd victory on his 200th grand prix start.

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