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Sergio Pérez wins soggy Singapore F1 GP as Max Verstappen has to wait | Formula One

The Singapore Grand Prix was billed as a potential title decider for Max Verstappen but instead of a coronation there was but consternation and contrition. Nor was he the only world champion found wanting on the streets of Marina Bay. Lewis Hamilton was among a swathe of drivers caught out as these gladiators at the pinnacle of motor racing lumbered in ungainly style into the barriers under an unforgiving, floodlit glare.

Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez won the race with a commanding victory over Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc that served as a salutary reminder of how the track in treacherous, wet conditions could be tamed, in a race featuring a series of incidents prompting five interruptions by the safety and virtual safety car. It was Pérez’s fourth win and the best of his career, in that he mastered the slippery surface and fought off a race-long challenge from Leclerc. His victory hung in the balance for more than two hours afterwards for a safety‑car infringement but the five‑second penalty imposed did not deny him the place.

Yet what had caught the eye was behind him as many careered about the circuit with considerably less grace. Not least Verstappen, who put in what was comfortably the worst race of his season, a rollercoaster of charging up and falling back that ended with him managing only seventh.

The scale of just how far off his recent form had been was evident as he sat slumped on the ground afterwards, apparently dumbfounded by a shocking day.

Verstappen had been on the back foot from the off having qualified only eighth. Worse followed as the Dutchman cursed his luck. The anti-stall kicked in on his car off the start and he sunk backwards to 12th in seconds. The win that was required if he was to take the title in this race had gone but he fought back, making it up to fourth after the mid-race pit stops – only to see it slip away.

After another safety car, the calm, considered Verstappen that had won 11 races this season with iron control appeared to have melted away in the heat of Singapore.

He went hard on the restart but was far too ambitious, taking too much pace into turn seven. He locked-up trying to pass Lando Norris and sailed straight on into the escape road. This was rookie stuff, the floodlights leaving nowhere to hide in this edition of wacky races.

Nor was the pain over. The lock-up shot his tyres and he was forced to pit and emerged in 14th, at the back of the field. Another laudable fightback ensued to secure seventh, a reminder of how well he can execute, but it was far from where he wants to be and he was suitably blunt in his assessment.

“It’s not what I am here for,” he said. “Not with a car like that, it was incredibly messy.”

Max Verstappen in the pits in Singapore
Max Verstappen in the pits on a frustrating day for the world champion. Photograph: Mohd Rasfan/AP

Such has been his dominance this year, however, that Verstappen remains in a strong position to wrap up the championship at the next round in Japan. He leads Leclerc by 104 points and Pérez by 106. He will secure his second title if he is ahead of both drivers by 112 points after the race at Suzuka. A win will suffice if Leclerc finishes lower than second.

Hamilton, too, had been hopeful of better, yet he was also found unusually wanting. Bottled up behind the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz, who finished in third, he was clearly frustrated: on lap 33 went in too deep at turn seven and pitched nose‑first into the barriers.

It was an error of the kind it is hard to remember the seven-time champion making in almost a decade. His car is a handful, the track is bumpy and was still slippery, but his touch in the wet is such it was a moment that felt almost surreal, prompting a double-take of disbelief.

With his front wing damaged he too fell down the field to manage only ninth but Hamilton held his hands up. “I am so sorry about that guys, I fucked it up big time,” he said. “My apologies to the team, we live and we learn. I am not going to punish myself for a mistake.”

The two champions were not alone. Yuki Tsunoda similarly plunged into the barriers, while Alex Albon planted his front wing in the barrier with such determination that it chose to stay put as he pulled away to trail back to the pits before retiring.

Pérez, however, showed no such shortcomings. He deserved a mighty win, having taken the lead from Leclerc off the line – after an hour-long delay to the start because of the heavy rain – and held it throughout. There were no flaws, indeed he saw off huge pressure from Leclerc in the final quarter and opened enough of a gap to negate the penalty the team had warned him might be imposed. The Mexican knew he had earned the victory.

“It was certainly my best performance,” Pérez said. “The last few laps was so intense I didn’t feel it that much in the car but when I got out I felt it. I gave everything for the win.”

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The championship moves on to Suzuka, then, where Verstappen will be expecting a return to normal service. It would, it seems, only be fitting to seal the title in more style than was on show in Singapore.

Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo were fourth and fifth for McLaren. Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel were in sixth and eighth for Aston Martin and Pierre Gasly 10th for AlphaTauri.


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