It was a proper motor race in the final 18 laps, following the virtual safety car period for Esteban Ocon‘s stricken Alpine, and Hamilton came alive at the end.
Given Red Bull are very confident they will be back on form at the Japanese GP, Hamilton may go back-to-back seasons without a win. He had a big chance in Singapore to take a 104th victory in F1 and we need to look back at Saturday first to see the first area where the Mercedes driver missed out on a great chance.
One-lap pace a problem for Hamilton
For a third weekend running, Hamilton was outqualified by teammate George Russell and on a track like the Marina Bay Street Circuit, it will always put you on the backfoot.
Hamilton, who qualified fifth, was chasing the car throughout practice and didn’t have the same confidence as Russell to push hard and find the limit.
“It’s all in hindsight but I think the thing I was most disappointing with…I mean George was so close to pole yesterday,” Hamilton told Sky Sports F1. “I should have been on pole on Saturday.
“But then we had a good race. The race was kind of textbook. The team did a good job with strategy. I’m in my element in the race. It’s just qualifying needs to get better. George was great all weekend.
“It’s clearly not just the car. George was on the front row. It’s me, just my driving style, changes that perhaps I’m making. It’s a lot of different things, so I need to look into that.
“I will naturally keep my head down, keep pushing and will not be satisfied until I get back there.”
Unfortunate start or mistake?
Hamilton started from fifth but got up to third on the opening lap after cutting the first chicane. He claimed Russell pushed him wide, but he let his teammate through and was told to also let Lando Norris by, dropping him back to his starting position.
It looked like Hamilton was going to make the corner and if he tried to, the likelihood is he would have hit Russell. That said, it probably was Russell‘s corner, so giving the spot back was correct. However, letting Norris through too was overcautious from Mercedes.
From there, Hamilton was always facing an uphill battle and had to bide his time as Sainz controlled the pace at the front.
The safety car for debris from Logan Sargeant’s Williams early in the race eradicated any undercut or overcut strategy for Hamilton too, so the win was not a consideration as he ran in fourth behind Norris, Russell and Sainz.
Should Mercedes have split the strategy during VSC?
Mercedes elected to pit both drivers during the VSC with 18 laps remaining, with Hamilton five seconds behind Russell and around 23 seconds adrift of leader Sainz.
Interestingly, Hamilton briefly suggested to the press that Mercedes should have kept Russell out on track, rather than pitting him.
“We needed to take the risk, have a shot at trying to get past some of these guys and going for the win,” said Hamilton. “I think we had really good pace. So I think the team did a great job.
“I don’t know, I think George was in second at the time, and maybe if I was in his position, I probably would have stayed out and at least kept the McLaren behind.
“But we gave it a shot. And it was really fun to be hunting these guys down. But as Lando said it was just too difficult to pass in the end.”
If Mercedes only pitted Hamilton, the seven-time world champion would have had a golden chance to win because Russell could defend hard from Norris, thus giving his teammate a good opportunity to overtake the McLaren driver.
You would think Russell would simply get out of the way and Hamilton would go on to overtake Sainz, so Mercedes perhaps missed a trick here.
Of course, Russell would not be happy with this strategy and Mercedes generally want to give equal treatment as much as possible. However, it may have cost them the win on Sunday.
Should Russell have let Hamilton through?
Hamilton was mighty on the new mediums as soon as the VSC ended to the chequered flag. To close down a five-second gap against your teammate is not easy, but Hamilton managed it.
“I mean, based on our times, I think I was about a half-a-second a lap up [on Russell],” said Hamilton. “But I think it was just… It’s so difficult to overtake here, you need like, a second-and-a-half deficit to the car ahead.
“And what was really surprising is that the hard hadn’t dropped off as much as we would have thought but also our tyres dropped off a lot in trying to catch up the huge gap that were behind.”
Hamilton was all over Russell and looked like he had more grip than his teammate to get by Norris. Russell was never going to let Hamilton through with so few laps left, but there’s no doubt about who had the better final stint.
As Hamilton has alluded to, he’s in his element when it comes to the races and we saw that in Singapore. A better qualifying or a strategy in his favour cost him his 104th F1 win. That will come one day though as Hamilton has plenty of life in him yet.