SINGAPORE — Lewis Hamilton profited from the chaos to win the Singapore Grand Prix and extend his championship lead to 28 points on Sunday as title rival Sebastian Vettel lost huge ground after crashing out on the first lap.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo prevented a Mercedes 1-2 by finishing ahead of Valtteri Bottas, who placed third.
Vettel can have little complaint as he seemed to cause the first-turn mayhem, despite starting from pole position. The crash caused a domino effect, taking out Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.
Having started from fifth, on one of the toughest tracks in Formula One for overtaking, Hamilton could not believe his luck. The field opened up perfectly for the British driver to seal his third straight win, seventh of the season and 60th overall.
"I capitalized on the incident," Hamilton said. "Who could have known that would happen?"
He now has a commanding lead over Vettel with just six races remaining.
"It couldn’t be a more perfect scenario," Hamilton said. "I definitely went in today thinking it was about damage limitation. To come out of it in the other direction is a shock."
For the highly consistent Ricciardo, it was a seventh podium in the past 10 races. But after dominating Friday’s two practice sessions he hoped for more.
"Normally I’m happy with the podium," he said. "But we didn’t have the pace we showed on Friday."
Carlos Sainz Jr. secured a career-best fourth place for Toro Rosso, with Force India’s Sergio Perez in fifth. Jolyon Palmer finished sixth for his first points of the season, on the weekend it was announced he will be replaced by Sainz Jr. next season.
Montreal rookie Lance Stroll was eighth.
Vettel took pole with a super performance in qualifying, but his form deserted him in the rain.
Following a massive downpour several hours beforehand, more heavy showers soaked the Marina Bay circuit just before the race which started 8 p.m. local time (1200 GMT).
The treacherous conditions might have made Vettel a bit nervous, even on a track where he holds the record with four wins.
After a hesitant start, the four-time F1 champion veered hastily left as he tried to counter Verstappen’s strong start. It was a needless move so early on, and squeezed Verstappen and Raikkonen for room, causing them to collide on the inside.
Vettel’s recklessness was even more pointless, because Raikkonen is his teammate and Verstappen is not close to being in the title race.
Raikkonen’s wobbling car then tagged Vettel’s before spinning across the track, careering spectacularly into Verstappen and Alonso.
"I watched the chaos unfold in front of me. It was probably good that I had a bad start," Ricciardo said. "It gave me time to see what would happen."
Stewards summoned Vettel, Raikkonen and Verstappen to a meeting after the race. But no driver was deemed responsible and no further action was taken.
Hamilton stayed left, picking his spot, avoiding any danger as he moved into the lead.
"I saw this commotion happening," Hamilton said. "Then it was all about managing the tires."
After a few laps behind the safety car, the race resumed for real on lap 7.
Vettel was already in the garage contemplating the heavily damaged front wing and left of his car.
After apologizing to his team, he tried to explain his side of things.
"I saw Max and then next thing I see is Kimi hitting the side of me and Max somewhere there," said Vettel, who remains optimistic about his title hopes. "I’m sure there will be more opportunities."
Verstappen, who had started from second, blamed Vettel.
"When you’re fighting for a world championship you shouldn’t do that," the 19-year-old Dutchman said. "It was not very clever."
Vettel and Verstappen were involved in heated incidents last season, and the ill feeling still seems to linger.
Alonso, meanwhile, bravely continued but retired on lap 9.
"The car was completely destroyed on the left side," the Spaniard said. "It’s a pity. We had high hopes."
The safety car came out again shortly after, as Daniil Kvyat crashed his Toro Rosso.
By the next re-start on lap 15, Ricciardo had changed tires, but Hamilton hadn’t.
Hamilton eventually came in for his change on lap 30 of 61, and was a healthy nine seconds ahead after the change.
The safety car came out again, after Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber stalled on lap 39.
"Why another safety car?" a clearly annoyed Hamilton said.
The safety car cuts the leader’s momentum and enables others to close the gap.
It made no difference here, as Hamilton won by 4.5 seconds.