However, despite the appearance of the safety car on two occasions – including one to slow the field after a person managed to get on the course and briefly walk down the track -, Vettel had the measure of the competition to keep Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen at bay to the chequered flag.
A two-time race winner already this year, Vettel nonetheless came into the race with the unusual status as the hot favourite having dominated qualifying a day earlier, while main rivals Mercedes suffered with tyre troubles around the Marina Bay venue to start fifth and sixth.
Making no mistake from the lights, Vettel surged into the lead from the opening bend as Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Daniil Kvyat, Hamilton and Nico Rosberg retained their top six positions behind him.
Aware that Ricciardo had displayed promising long run pace in practice, Vettel set about stamping his authority on proceedings with a startling pace straight away, putting a remarkable three seconds between himself and his rival on the opening lap alone.
Though the gap stabilised at around five seconds in the coming laps, Vettel appeared to be controlling the pace when the first of the night’s two safety car periods began on lap 11, prompted by a collision between Felipe Massa and Nico Hulkenberg.
The pair came together after Hulkenberg swept across Massa at turn two as the Brazilian was exiting the pit lane. Sending Hulkenberg into the opposing barrier and Massa into an eventual retirement too, the incident brought out the Virtual Safety Car initially before the full safety car was used to clear debris.
With most of the leaders taking the opportunity to pit, Vettel remained out front, pursued still by Ricciardo and Raikkonen, while Hamilton found himself up to fourth at the expense of Kvyat, whose slightly earlier pit-stop forced him to slow under the VSC, dropping him to sixth.
However, Hamilton’s unusually challenging weekend would be dealt its final blow on lap 23 when he reported ‘a loss of power’, seemingly traced to a issue with the throttle. Immediately dropping down the order, Hamilton persevered for 10 laps before asking the team to retire him on lap 32, forcing the championship leader into his first DNF since the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix.
In the meantime, the top three appeared evenly matched, with Ricciardo pressuring Vettel as Raikkonen maintained a watching brief in third. However, Vettel’s modest pace would ultimately prove a ruse, the German unleashing his true form on lap 26 to produce a stunning lap time of 1min 50.520secs and put two seconds between himself and the Red Bull in just a single lap before multiplying his advantage thereafter.
However, circumstances would conspire to work against Vettel again in the most bizarre of manners when it emerged a person had gotten onto the track in sector 10 and was walking along the barrier. With officials scrambling the safety car immediately to neutralise the race on lap 36 of 61, the man got around 50 metres down the barrier before simply climbing back over again.
Prompting a dash for the pit lane once again, despite having his lead quashed yet again, Vettel remained in front after the stop and on the restart simply set about reasserting his advantage over Ricciardo.
It would prove to be the final push to take Vettel all the way to the chequered flag, easing off in the closing stages to cross the line 1.4secs ahead of Ricciardo, the Australian nonetheless claiming his best finish of the season for the resurgent Red Bull team.
Unable to make an impression on Ricciardo, Raikkonen faded in the final laps to slip 15secs behind the Red Bull, but third position still marks only his second podium finish of the season.
Despite his retirement, Hamilton will take heart from the fact main rival Rosberg couldn’t capitalise fully on a remarkably lacklustre weekend for the Mercedes team, his fourth place only able to reduce the margin between the two from 53 to a still substantial 41 points.
Indeed, Vettel’s win serves the purpose of putting him in range of Rosberg in the fight for second place, the pair now split by just eight points with six races remaining.
Behind Rosberg, Valtteri Bottas enjoyed an error-free afternoon to give Williams something to smile about in fifth position, the Finn benefitting from a frustrating race for Kvyat who lost time after pitting just before both safety car periods, demoting him to sixth at the finish.
With Hulkenberg failing to finish – and being punished with a three position grid penalty for Japan for his clash with Massa -, Sergio Perez flew the flag for Force India for his third strong points’ finish in a row in seventh place, the Mexican resisting the attentions of a feisty Max Verstappen in the closing stages.
Indeed, it was an eventful evening for the youngster after slipping a lap down at the start when he stalled on the grid. However, after being allowed to un-lap himself during the first safety car period, he mounted a stunning charge up the order, his alternative strategy working to his advantage as the super-soft tyres allowed him to make up ground in the final laps.
Even so, Verstappen may have questions for his team after he was asked to move over for close-following Toro Rosso team-mate Carlos Sainz in the final laps, eliciting a horrified response from the youngster, who proceeded to defy the order to stay in eighth, ahead of the Spaniard.
One of the big winners from the early safety car period, Felipe Nasr briefly found himself as high as seventh, only to slip back outside in the closing stages. However, the Brazilian forged back up the order late on to pass an ailing Romain Grosjean and snatch a single point for Sauber in tenth.
Meanwhile, McLaren showed solid pace and a good strategy to get both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button to run inside the top ten at times – despite Button complaining of tyre problems -, but mechanical problems would surface yet again to force a DNF for Alonso, while Button slipped out of contention when he tagged the back of Pastor Maldonado’s Lotus in the closing stages and damaged his wing, before then retiring regardless.