SEBASTIAN Vettel charged ahead from pole position to win the Singapore Grand Prix 2015 on a warm but haze-free night of surprises.
The Ferrari driver displayed superb control and blistering pace as he led the race around the 5.065 km Marina Bay Street Circuit for 61 laps to take the chequered flag 1.5 seconds ahead of Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo. Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen was third.
This was Vettel's third win of the season and his fourth Singapore title. He also won here from 2011-2013.
The Singapore Grand Prix was the 13th of 19 races this season, with the championship moving on to Suzuka in Japan next weekend. Worries about the haze had subsided somewhat by Saturday evening, with qualifying taking place under a relatively clear sky. But Sunday morning saw the Pollutants Standards Index (PSI) return to the unhealthy range. The PSI had been at that level in the past week, with the poor air quality disrupting various public outdoor events. But heavy rains and changing winds brought clearer skies and some relief to the race organiser by mid-week.
On a relatively clear Saturday night, Vettel and Raikkonen, as well the Red Bull pair of Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat, enjoyed superior grip around the street circuit during qualifying, while the Mercedes cars of defending Singapore champion Lewis Hamilton and his team-mate Nico Rosberg did not.
So in an uncharacteristic start for Hamilton, he found himself fifth on the grid on Sunday night, behind the two pairs of Ferraris and Red Bulls. The reigning world champion, who is chasing his third title, has dominated the season, clinching pole position in 11 of the first 12 races and winning seven of the 13 races so far.
Singapore was Ferrari's first pole since 2012's German Grand Prix, and on race day, Vettel had a perfect start, streaking away as the rest of the first four rows formed up neatly behind him. But he was reeled back in after the virtual safety car was activated on lap 13 when Williams' Felipe Massa exited the pit lane and crashed into Nico Hulkenberg's car, catapulting the Force India into the wall.
The actual safety car made an appearance subsequently, and the race restarted six laps later, with Vettel ahead and Ricciardo and Raikkonen in hot pursuit. Hamilton was a little behind the trio but the Briton's car lost power on lap 27 and he retired on lap 33 - the first race this season that the Mercedes driver has not finished in the points.
There was a surreal moment on lap 37 when a man in shorts was spotted wandering on the track, prompting the safety car's deployment. With the restart on lap 40, Vettel regained control until the end. The German driver now has 203 points and remains third in the drivers' standings, behind Rosberg's 211. Hamilton still leads with 252 points.
The bumpy, twisty and narrow Marina Bay Circuit took its toll on both cars and drivers, with five cars out of the 20 which started not finishing.
This year's race is the eighth since 2008's inaugural Singapore Grand Prix. Dubbed the "crown jewel" of the sport by F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, it is the only night race on the Formula One calendar. Amid a street circuit set in the middle of the historic and commercial district, each weekend in the second half of September sees both race and non-race fans enjoying the special carnival-like atmosphere.
More tickets were sold at this year's race, with a palpable buzz from the big crowds around the circuit.
Race promoter Singapore GP announced that 86,970 F1 tickets were sold this year, up from 84,454 last year but slightly lower than 2013's 87,500. The first race had the highest ticket sales of 100,000, which means 2015 has the third-highest attendance after 2008 and 2013.
Sales of corporate tickets were also strong, according to Singapore GP. Many factors account for the Singapore race's continued attraction, which has widespread appeal. One of them is the wide range of hospitality suite options which are also conducive for business networking. The food and beverage offerings have been consistently lavish, with Jean-Georges Vongerichten returning to the Paddock Club this year, accompanied by local dessert chef Janice Wong.
Then there is the entertainment line-up with big name acts. This year's concerts were staged by Bon Jovi, Maroon 5, Pharrell Williams, Spandau Ballet and Jimmy Cliff.
One interesting phenomenon though is this year's smaller spike in hotel room rates even though trackside hotels as well as luxury hotels around the island were said to be full or close to full.
According to hotel search website Trivago, average hotel prices for the race weekend were at an "all-time low" of between S$188 and S$191, having risen by an average of only 47 per cent above prices from the previous weekend.
"Compared to previous years where room prices for the F1 weekend increased by above 70 per cent, attending this year's F1 is much more affordable with the price increase not reaching above 50 per cent," said Trivago's Haryati Afendy, who added that "the Singapore dollar appreciating sharply against some currencies in recent months may have also boosted demand for cheaper hotels".
Another source also attributed increased competition from new hotels as well as non-gazetted budget and boutique hotels.