|Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany (L-R), McLaren Formula One driver Jenson Button of Britain and Ferrari Formula One driver Fernando Alonso of Spain celebrate on the podium with champagne after the Singapore F1 Grand Prix at the Marina Bay street circuit in Singapore September 23, 2012. Vettel won the race while Button placed second and Alonso placed third. Photo by Tim Chong, Reuters.
SINGAPORE - World champion Sebastian Vettel won an incident-packed Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday to strengthen his chances of claiming a third successive Formula One title.
Vettel inherited the lead from McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, who retired on the 23rd lap with a gearbox failure, and withstood the challenge of Jenson Button through two safety car periods on the way to repeating his victory at the same circuit a year ago.
Championship leader Fernando Alonso took third spot at the floodlit Marina Bay Street Circuit in his Ferrari but his advantage over Vettel was reduced to 29 points with six rounds remaining.
Force India's Paul di Resta claimed a creditable fourth spot, his best finish in Formula One.
"You're back in this championship, well done," Red Bull team principal told German Vettel over the team radio.
"It's 10 points better than it was before so there's a lot of races left," Vettel told reporters. "It's difficult to predict what is going to happen but we have to make sure we finish the races whether we win or collect a lot of points."
After Narain Karthikeyan crashed on lap 33, the safety car was deployed for a first time and it returned to the track a lap after coming in when Michael Schumacher slammed into the back of Jean Eric Vergne's Toro Rosso.
The delays shortened the race by two laps to 59 but Vettel was never threatened by McLaren's Button and cruised to his second consecutive victory in Singapore and second win of the season.
"It would have been nice to have pushed Sebastian a bit harder as you never know around a street circuit," Button said.
"There was always the possibility that we could have gone one step further but it wasn't to be. Sebastian didn't make any mistakes but it's nice to get some good points on the board."
Nico Rosberg took fifth place for Mercedes with Kimi Raikkonen maintaining his championship challenge with a sixth place finish in his Lotus, although the Finn is now a distant 45 points behind Alonso.
The race got off to a smooth start with pole-sitter Hamilton pulling clear of Pastor Maldonado, who had qualified second in his Williams, before the Venezuelan was swamped by both Vettel and Button by Turn 2 in a frantic first few corners.
The first round of pitstops between the eighth and 11th laps did little to alter proceedings with all the leaders rejoining the race in the same position they held before their stops.
Hamilton already appeared to have the measure of Vettel until he suffered mishap on the start of the 23rd lap, the Briton unable to find a gear after he slipped into neutral, forcing him to pull off into a runoff area as the German raced past.
"We thought the pace was there in practice and it was confirmed straight away in the grand prix when we were able to push Lewis quite hard," Vettel added.
"He was obviously trying to save his tyres and we were too... making it a bit of a tactical race."
"The pace was there throughout, even towards the end there with Jenson. We had an answer each time he went quicker."
Maldonado's disappointing race came to a premature end behind the first safety car when his team informed him of a hydraulics problem and called him into the pits.
With little in the way of competitive action at the head of the field, the mid-division supplied plenty of drama, none more so than when Schumacher shunted Vergne in a repeat of his crash into the rear of Sergio Perez a year ago.
Alonso, who moved clear of Ayrton Senna in the all time standings for podium finishes with 81, said that third place was the best he could have hoped for from his starting position of fifth.
"We qualified well, which was the best part of the weekend. If you are stuck at the rear of the race then you have a lot of problems," the Spaniard said.
"A very positive weekend. We only lost points to one of our major title rivals which is good considering we are not quick enough." (Editing by Justin Palmer)