Lewis Hamilton equalled a record held by Formula One legend Michael Schumacher for having the lead in most races (142) last night, but the Mercedes driver had few reasons to smile after finishing fourth in the Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix.
Despite leading for a short period following Ferrari wonderkid and pole-sitter Charles Leclerc’s pit stop in the 21st lap, Hamilton – who started the race from second – fell victim to poor team strategy and ultimately missed out on a podium finish.
The race was won by Sebastian Vettel, 32, who pipped 21-year-old teammate Leclerc after Ferrari’s own strategy disadvantaged the young driver.
Mercedes decided to keep Hamilton out on track as their rivals changed tyres, but the 34-year-old ended up losing time on worn tyres. When he did eventually pit, six laps after Leclerc, the Briton rejoined the race behind both Ferraris and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who held on to third place till the end.
A clearly frustrated Hamilton said: “I knew that we should have undercut. I knew it this morning as well in the brief. I was like, ‘I should take the risk’, but they didn’t…. But we win and lose together as a team, so we will take this on our chin.
“It’s painful for us because we could have easily won today but it just didn’t work out.”
Undercutting is a strategy in Formula One where a driver pits early in a bid to get a performance advantage from fresh tyres that will hopefully put them ahead when his rival then pits.
There were sombre faces all round the Mercedes motorhome as they bemoaned their absence from the podium – only the second time this season neither of their drivers finished in the top three.
The first was in Germany in July, after wet weather saw Hamilton damage his car and finish ninth, while Valtteri Bottas retired after crashing into a tyre barrier.
Despite this, the Mercedes men still occupy the top two places in the drivers’ championship, with six races left this season. Hamilton has 296 points, ahead of Bottas’ 231. Leclerc and Verstappen are tied on 200, while Vettel is fifth with 194.
Hamilton said he felt Ferrari – whose win at the Marina Bay Street Circuit comes on the back of victories in Belgium and Italy – appear “hungrier” than Mercedes and urged his team to buck up.
“It feels like (Ferrari) are hungrier than us,” he said. “We’ve just got to step it up. We’ve got the ability and we’ve got the team, we’re still the best team. We’ve just got to stop dragging our feet and get on.
“We’ll debrief or re-huddle, get back in the scrum and come back fighting at the next race.”
The next race is in Sochi, Russia, this weekend.
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