Lewis Hamilton believes a vision from Ayrton Senna helped inspire him to victory at a rain-hit Singapore Grand Prix.
Hamilton benefited from Sebastian Vettel’s sensational crash to march to his third successive win and extend his championship lead to a mighty 28 points.
The British driver claimed he required a miracle here to win after starting only fifth.
A dose of wild weather just 15 minutes before the start, and Vettel’s 120mph three-way collision with Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on the short run down to turn one, paved the way for him to complete his unexpected victory.
Hamilton’s idol Senna crashed out from the lead of the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix. So furious was the emotional Brazilian that he abandoned his McLaren at the scene of the accident and headed straight for his apartment without speaking to a single member of his team. It was not a scenario Hamilton wished to emulate.
“Every now and then Senna pops into my mind,” said Hamilton, who finished ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas in the sister Mercedes. “It was the Monaco Grand Prix where he was in the lead and he hit the wall.
“That always comes back to me, and it reminds me not to do that. I have had experiences like that of course, but it is almost like he talks to me and says ‘stay focused and keep it together’.”
The race under the floodlights of the Marina Bay circuit had been billed as a must-win for Vettel given that this twisty, slow-speed track suited his Ferrari car. But less than 24 hours after securing a brilliant pole position, he was involved in what could prove the defining moment of this year’s championship battle.
Vettel moved to his left to cover Verstappen and Raikkonen off the start-line. Raikkonen surged ahead of the Red Bull, but pressed against the concrete pit wall, his right-rear tyre made contact with Verstappen’s front-left. The Finn was sent out of control and incredibly thudded into the side of his Ferrari team-mate.
As Raikkonen and Verstappen came to a dramatic stop at turn one – colliding with the seemingly ever-unfortunate Fernando Alonso – Vettel momentarily kept his Ferrari on the straight and narrow. But after sustaining significant damage to his car he lasted just three corners before losing control and crashing into the wall. He retired from the race.
Out of nowhere Hamilton led, and despite three safety cars, a damp track, and Ricciardo keeping the Englishman honest, that is how it would remain.
Had Vettel won here and Hamilton finished where he started – a scenario which seemed probable given Mercedes’ shortage of pace in qualifying – the German would have led the title race by 12 points. A 40-point swing in the opposite direction now leaves Hamilton as the overwhelming favourite to claim his fourth title.
Carlos Sainz finished fourth for Toro Rosso ahead of the Mexican driver Sergio Perez, while Brit Jolyon Palmer, who this week discovered that he will not be retained by Renault, recorded his best-ever result after crossing the line in sixth.
Afterwards, Verstappen said Vettel must take blame for their sensational crash. Stewards investigated the incident but chose to take no further action.
“It was not the smartest move and you cannot make excuses for it when you are fighting for the world championship,” Verstappen, 19, said.
“My start was a little bit better than Seb and he saw that so he tried to move to the left to squeeze me out of the line a bit. He did not know Kimi was on my other side.
“Kimi had a great start and was alongside me very quickly. He then started to squeeze me also, at which point there wasn’t a lot I could do.
“We all lost out in the end.”