SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Sebastian Vettel’s hopes of vaulting back into the overall lead of the Formula One world championship were wrecked by a first corner collision on the opening lap of the rain-drenched Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday.
The German had started from pole position but retired seconds later with a badly damaged car in an incident that also claimed Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Championship leader Lewis Hamilton, who led Vettel by three points before the start, jumped into the lead from fifth place on the grid.
Vettel had made a good start before Raikkonen’s Ferrari made contact with the squeezed Red Bull and speared into the side of the other Ferrari.
Vettel continued with a damaged car but then spun into the wall after turn three in an impact that removed the front wing and nose.
“I think there was damage on the car already and then it didn’t matter, to be honest,” the German told Britain’s Channel 4 television. “The cooler was damaged, massively bent, so we lost water pressure and had to stop anyway.
“Nothing we can do now. For sure, it’s bitter but it’s done,” added the four times Singapore GP winner whose retirement ended a run of 18 successive points finishes.
His last retirement was in Malaysia in October 2016, when Hamilton also failed to finish after leading.
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner defended Verstappen, who had started on the front row with Raikkonen behind in fourth place.
“He unfortunately ended up retiring as the result of somebody else’s accident,” he said.
“You saw Sebastian pull sharp left on him, he probably didn’t know Kimi was to the left of him and he had absolutely nowhere to go and then got hit again unfortunately.”
The race, the first to be hit by rain in the decade that Singapore has played host to it, had started in treacherous conditions after a formation lap behind the safety car.
Hamilton had been braced for Vettel to take back the championship lead but could now come away with a 28-point cushion instead.
“This race is all about getting the car home in one piece,” Hamilton’s race engineer told him over the team radio. “I realise that,” responded the driver.
Red Bull’s Australian Daniel Ricciardo was in second place as the safety car was deployed for the 10th year in a row at the Marina Bay street circuit.
The safety car was also deployed on lap 11 when Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat crashed into the barriers.
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso retired after being caught in the opening lap drama.
“No power, we are going to have to stop,” he reported over the team radio.
(Reporting by Abhishek Takle, editing by Alan Baldwin)