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Hamilton triumphs as things get wet and wild
TWO Ferraris made a Red Bull sandwich, causing a melee at the first corner and allowing Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton an easy win at the 10th Singapore Grand Prix.
In one of the most exciting races at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, made more unpredictable by the rain, Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel blasted off from pole position with Red Bull's Max Verstappen second on the grid.
But as the German approached the left-hand turn with the Red Bull beside him, his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, starting from fourth position and creeping up on the extreme left, had Verstappen hemmed in.
With nowhere to go, Verstappen tangled with Raikkonen and both crashed out, while nudging McLaren's Fernando Alonso off the track.
Raikkonen also T-boned Vettel, who still managed to peel away, only to spin out just metres later.
Hamilton, starting in fifth, was safely behind all the chaos and got away clean just before the safety car came out.
Alonso, who was eighth on the grid, continued despite damage to his car but the Spaniard was eventually forced to retire on lap nine.
Hamilton quickly built up a commanding lead but Sauber driver Marcus Ericsson's crash outside the Boat House on lap 38 packed everyone together again behind the safety car.
It didn't change the result because Hamilton continued to stay in front until the incident-filled race ended five laps short of the stipulated 61 because it had reached the maximum time limit of two hours.
He was four seconds ahead of Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, who started in third, while Hamilton's team-mate Valtteri Bottas, starting sixth, took the final step on the podium.
Vettel had arrived in Singapore three points behind Hamilton in the drivers' championships and was set to re-take the lead on a track which is notoriously difficult to overtake.
With Hamilton's victory - his third here - the Briton now has 263 points, or 28 points ahead of Vettel, his closest rival.
There are six more races to go before the end of the season, with a maximum of 150 points available.
Last year's winner was Mercedes' Nico Rosberg, who has since retired from Formula One.
The Singapore Grand Prix is always a hot and humid affair but this year was cooler because for the first time it rained during the race. It began to drizzle an hour before the start and by 8pm, the track was slick.
The wet surface made it difficult for drivers to see through the spray during the formation lap. But the rain soon stopped and the track started to slowly dry up after about a dozen laps.
Singapore's 5.065 km street circuit is bumpy and one of the slowest on the F1 calendar, with a maximum speed of only 280 kmh (compare this to Monza's more than 330 kmh).
Ticket sales jumped back up this year, with race promoter Singapore GP reporting that overall attendance was 260,400 over the three-day event, or a daily average of 86,800 - up 19 per cent from last year's 73,000 and almost equalling 2015's 86,970.
The spike was partly boosted by the possibility that this could be the last Singapore race. Because after seeing out two five-year contracts, there was no news of an extension until Friday, when it was announced that the Republic would continue to host F1 for another four years, from 2018 to 2021.
The deal took some time to hammer out, said Trade and Industry Minister S Iswaran, because of the changes in F1's ownership and management.
Singapore wanted to understand the new management's vision and plans for F1, as well as the importance and role of the iconic night race and whether it was aligned with the Republic's objectives.
Mr Iswaran added that Singapore wanted to thoroughly evaluate the medium-term prospects for F1 and the value a term extension could bring to the country.
The minister revealed that the 10 races so far have yielded "significant economic benefits", with over 450,000 international visitors hosted and about S$1.4 billion in incremental tourism receipts.
The buzz this year was palpable, with the hospitality suites busier than last year, when the sluggish economy caused ticket sales to slump to its lowest.
Security was noticeably beefed up, especially at the entrance to the Paddock Club. Long queues would occasionally form in front of the metal detectors and pair of X-ray machines, especially if there was further screening by staff wielding hand-held security wands.
At the other end of the pit building, tightly arranged concrete blocks buttressed the usual vehicle wedge barrier at the entrance to the paddock.
The annual cost of organising the race has dropped to S$135 million from S$150 million, even as operational costs in general continue to rise over the past 10 years. The government's share of costs remains at 60 per cent.
As expected, Singapore GP rolled out an impressive entertainment line-up for the race weekend. OneRepublic performed on Friday, Ariana Grande and The Chainsmokers on Saturday, and Calvin Harris on Sunday, among other supporting international acts.
After Singapore, the F1 procession heads across the Causeway for the 19th and final Malaysian Grand Prix.