Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo prevented a Mercedes 1-2 by finishing ahead of Valtteri Bottas, who finished third.
Vettel can have little complaint as he seemed to cause the first-turn mayhem, despite starting from pole position. The crash caused a domino effect, taking out Vettel’s Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso. Having started from fifth, Hamilton could not believe his luck. The field opened up perfectly for the British driver to seal his third straight win, seventh of the season and 60th overall.
“I capitalised on the incident,” Hamilton said. “Who could have known that would happen?”
He now has a commanding lead over Vettel with just six races remaining. “It couldn’t be a more perfect scenario,” Hamilton said. “I definitely went in today thinking it was about damage limitation. To come out of it in the other direction is a shock.”
For the consistent Ricciardo, it was a seventh podium in the past ten races.
But after dominating Friday’s two practice sessions he hoped for more.
“Normally I’m happy with the podium,” he said. “But we didn’t have the pace we showed on Friday.”
Carlos Sainz Jr secured a career-best fourth place for Toro Rosso, with Force India’s Sergio Perez in fifth. Jolyon Palmer finished sixth for his first points of the season, on the weekend it was announced he will be replaced by Sainz Jr next season.
Vettel took pole with a super performance in qualifying, but his form deserted him in the rain. Following a massive downpour several hours beforehand, more heavy showers soaked the Marina Bay circuit just before the race. The conditions might have made Vettel a bit nervous, even on a track where he holds the record with four wins. After a hesitant start, the four-time champion veered hastily left as he tried to counter Verstappen’s strong start.
It was a needless move so early on, and squeezed Verstappen and Raikkonen for room, causing them to collide on the inside.
Raikkonen’s wobbling car then struck Vettel’s before spinning across the track, careering spectacularly into Verstappen and Alonso.
“I watched the chaos unfold in front of me. It was probably good that I had a bad start,” Ricciardo said. “It gave me time to see what would happen.”
Stewards summoned Vettel, Raikkonen and Verstappen to a meeting after the race. But no driver was deemed responsible and no further action was taken.
Hamilton stayed left, picking his spot, avoiding any danger as he moved into the lead. “I saw this commotion happening,” Hamilton said. “Then it was all about managing the tyres.”
After a few laps behind the safety car, the race resumed for real on lap seven.
Vettel was already in the garage contemplating the heavily damaged front wing and left of his car.
After apologising to his team, he tried to explain his side of things. “I saw Max and then next thing I see is Kimi hitting the side of me and Max somewhere there.”
Verstappen, who had started from second, blamed Vettel. “When you’re fighting for a world championship you shouldn’t do that,” the 19-year-old Dutchman said. “It was not very clever.”
The safety car came out again after Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber stalled on lap 39. “Why another safety car?” a clearly annoyed Hamilton said. It cuts the leader’s momentum and enables others to close the gap but it made no difference here, as Hamilton won by 4.5 seconds.