Carlos Sainz won the Singapore Grand Prix with a controlled drive for Ferrari that ended Max Verstappen and Red Bull’s winning run.
Sainz managed the race expertly from the front while Verstappen fought back to fifth place after starting in 11th on a difficult weekend for Red Bull.
Sainz led McLaren’s Lando Norris and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton nose to tail across the line after George Russell crashed out of third place on the last lap.
Russell and Hamilton gambled on a late pit stop for fresh tyres and charged back up to Sainz and Norris but could not pass before Russell’s late error.
It was a dramatic climax to an intriguing race that ebbed and flowed throughout its close to two-hour running time, with a safety car, a virtual safety car and some close racing through the field, a fitting event to mark the ending of Verstappen’s all-time record of 10 consecutive victories.
Sainz’s second win for Ferrari after last year’s British Grand Prix was the first time a Red Bull had failed to win since Russell won the penultimate race of last season in Brazil.
How did Ferrari pull it off?
Ferrari had clearly entered the race determined to deliver the win, and pull every strategic game they could to do so, sacrificing Sainz’s team-mate Charles Leclerc on the way.
Leclerc, who qualified third, was the only driver in the top 10 on the grid to start on soft tyres and the move paid off as he passed Russell off the line to make it a Ferrari one-two in the opening laps.
Sainz controlled the pace, as is typical for a leader in Singapore, while Leclerc was asked by Ferrari to back up the rest of the field and give his team-mate a five-second lead.
Leclerc did not quite do that, staying within a second of Sainz for 10 laps or so, and then dropping back to about three seconds away. But he certainly helped Sainz significantly when a safety car was deployed on lap 20 after Logan Sargeant broke his front wing by running wide into a wall and dragged debris around the track as he returned to the pits.
Leclerc backed off on that lap, holding up the cars behind him, and Sainz was nine seconds in front by the time he led the field into the pits at the end of the lap.
It worked a treat for Sainz, who returned to the track in the lead, but left Leclerc vulnerable, and he dropped behind Russell, Norris and Lewis Hamilton before returning to the track because Ferrari had to hold him before releasing him from the pits as traffic passed by.
At the restart, Sainz was leading Verstappen, who had vaulted up the field by not stopping under the safety car, but the world champion’s old hard tyres left him vulnerable and he soon tumbled back down the field.
Russell, now sitting behind Sainz, made it clear he knew the Ferrari driver was managing his pace, and that this was to stop Mercedes making another pit stop and deploying the fresh set of medium tyres they alone among the teams had saved for the race.
But when Esteban Ocon’s Alpine stopped in the pit-lane exit on lap 43, the virtual safety car was deployed and Mercedes pulled the trigger, stopping both Russell and Hamilton for those fresh medium tyres.
Russell rejoined in fourth place, just over 15 seconds behind Leclerc, with Hamilton in fifth close behind him.
Russell caught and passed Leclerc on lap 54, and then set off after Norris and Sainz up front, with Hamilton now right behind him and apparently even faster.
With five laps to go, the top four were nose to tail, and Sainz deliberately slowed to give Norris the benefit of the DRS and make it harder for the Mercedes to pass him.
On lap 59, with three to go, Russell had a run on Norris towards Turn 16, the final chicane, but the McLaren driver managed to cut off his attack.
Russell never got quite as close again and there was late drama as he crashed at Turn 10 on the final lap and Sainz led Norris and Hamilton across the line, the three separated by only 1.2 seconds.
Verstappen salvages decent result from frustrating weekend
Verstappen went into the race on hard tyres, aiming to run a long first stint and hope to leapfrog cars in front as they made their pit stops.
He had worked his way up from 11th to eighth within a few laps before getting stuck behind a battle between Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso and Ocon.
Staying out vaulted him up to second behind Sainz at the first safety car – and perhaps could even have given him the lead had Leclerc not backed up the field.
But he soon dropped back again and when he finally stopped on lap 40 for fresh tyres he fell to 15th.
But he stayed patient and picked off slower cars in front of him on his fresher tyres, and by the closing laps was putting pressure on Leclerc, but just ran out of time to try to pass.
Verstappen now leads team-mate Sergio Perez by 151 points, which means he cannot win the title in Japan next weekend, as he would need to leave that race 180 points in front to do so, and only a maximum of 26 are available.
Hamilton’s third place vaults him up to third in the championship, 10 points ahead of Alonso, who had a difficult race in Singapore.
The Spaniard earned a five-second penalty for crossing the pit-entry line at a first pit stop, then was passed by Ocon while trying to overtake Perez mid-race.
Aston Martin gambled on a late stop for soft tyres under the virtual safety car but Alonso ran wide at Turn 14 when he rejoined and ended up finishing 15th and last.