Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen both crashed out at turn one while Vettel sustained significant damage to his Ferrari in a dramatic start to the race in very difficult conditions at the Marina Bay Circuit.
Vettel's car was left badly damaged from the early clash with Raikkonen and Verstappen and the pole-sitter crashed out himself on lap two, spinning into a wall away from the leading pack.
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Lewis Hamilton was immediately told that "this race is all about getting the car home in one piece" by his Mercedes team as he suddenly found himself in the lead amid the chaos.
It was a huge blow for Vettel, who had never previously been beaten to victory from pole position in Singapore.
"I think there was damage on the car already and then it didn't matter, to be honest," Vettel told Channel 4. "The cooler was damaged, massively bent, so we lost water pressure and had to stop anyway.
"Nothing we can do now. For sure, it's bitter but it's done."

Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF70H and Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF70H collide at the start during the Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit

Image credit: Getty Images

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner was quick to defend Verstappen for his involvement in the dramatic opening.
"He unfortunately ended up retiring as the result of somebody else's accident," Horner said.
"You saw Sebastian pull sharp left on him, he probably didn't know Kimi was to the left of him and he had absolutely nowhere to go and then got hit again unfortunately."
Fernando Alonso was also caught up in the first-lap drama and reported the following over his team radio: "No power, we are going to have to stop."
Championship leader Hamilton, who led Vettel by three points before the start, jumped into the lead from fifth place on the grid for a very surprising lead given the initial grid.
Red Bull’s Australian Daniel Ricciardo was in second place as the safety car was deployed in very wet conditions.
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