Sebastian Vettel scored his ninth victory of the season with a perfect drive in the heat of the night at Singapore.
The Red Bull Racing driver led from the lights to take the chequered flag in style, but he will have to wait until Suzuka to take the drivers’ title. Vettel only needs a single point to become the youngest-ever double world champion.
Jenson Button put in a late charge in the remaining laps, but had to settle for second position.
The McLaren driver had claimed second with a quick start, while Vettel’s front row partner team-mate Mark Webber got away slowly (yet again!).
Lewis Hamilton challenged Webber down the inside but ran out of space heading into Turn 1. He fell down to eighth, while Fernando Alonso made a great start from fifth on the grid to take third on the opening lap.
Webber twice passed Alonso on the street circuit, having to get back ahead after the Ferrari reclaimed third in the first pit-stops following an on-track exchange. But a bold move into the Turn 10 chicane on the restart lap secured the Australian third place and he pulled away thereafter.
Hamilton had an eventful run to fifth position. He quickly recovered from being wrong-footed on the opening lap but then clipped Felipe Massa into Turn 7 while racing with the Ferrari immediately after the first round of pit-stops. The McLaren picked up both wing damage and a drive-through penalty, while Massa was left with a right-rear puncture.
A fight back charge from Hamilton took him from P15 to fifth, an impressive performance although the safety car helped him. A clash between Michael Schumacher and Sergio Perez resulted in the Mercedes launching into the air and a hard hit against the barrier. Thankfully, Schumacher was unhurt in the incident.
The most impressive drive in the 61-lap race was Force India’s Paul di Resta. In his first appearance at this tough street circuit, di Resta finished the Singapore Grand Prix in sixth. His opening stint on the prime tyre was consistent and to finish ahead of Nico Rosberg and team-mate Adrian Sutil was a rich reward for the talented Scot.
Felipe Massa fell to P20 following the clash with Hamilton, but was able to recover to salvage some points in ninth.
Perez’s Sauber was undamaged in the incident with Schumacher, which happened when the Mercedes was coming back through after a pit-stop, and he finished tenth.
So only a single point is required from Sebastian Vettel to become the 2011 world champion. The next race is at his favourite circuit and it will be a surreal scenario if the championship leader doesn’t win the title this season.
Only Jenson Button can stop Vettel but the odds are stacked against him. Button needs to win the remaining five races to prevent the inevitable from happening to the Red Bull driver.
Race results from Marina Bay, 61 laps:
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1h59:06.537s
2. Button McLaren-Mercedes +1.737s
3. Webber Red Bull-Renault +29.279s
4. Alonso Ferrari +55.449s
5. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes +1:07.766s
6. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes +1:51.067s
7. Rosberg Mercedes +1 lap
8. Sutil Force India-Mercedes +1 lap
9. Massa Ferrari +1 lap
10. Perez Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
11. Maldonado Williams-Cosworth +1 lap
12. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1 lap
13. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth +1 lap
14. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari +2 laps
15. Senna Renault +2 laps
16. Kovalainen Lotus-Renault +2 laps
17. Petrov Renault +2 laps
18. D’Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth +2 laps
19. Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth +4 laps
20. Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth +4 laps
21. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari +5 laps
Fastest lap: Button, 1:48.454
Trulli Lotus-Renault 48 laps
Schumacher Mercedes 29 laps
Glock Virgin-Cosworth 10 laps
World Championship standings, round 14:
1. Vettel 309
2. Button 185
3. Alonso 184
4. Webber 182
5. Hamilton 168
6. Massa 84
7. Rosberg 62
8. Schumacher 52
9. Heidfeld 34
10. Petrov 34
11. Sutil 28
12. Kobayashi 27
13. Di Resta 20
14. Alguersuari 16
15. Buemi 13
16. Perez 9
17. Barrichello 4
18. Senna 2
19. Maldonado 1
1. Red Bull-Renault 491
2. McLaren-Mercedes 353
3. Ferrari 268
4. Mercedes 114
5. Renault 70
6. Force India-Mercedes 48
7. Sauber-Ferrari 36
8. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 29
9. Williams-Cosworth 5
Next race: Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka. October 7-9.