The race was delayed by one hour and five minutes due to torrential rain falling in the build-up to the original 8pm start time, but the result was actually not confirmed at the chequered flag as Perez faces a post-race investigation for a safety car infringement.
That had been called into action twice, with three virtual safety car activations also taking place in the wet-to-dry thriller.
At the start, Leclerc and Perez made identical reactions from the front row but the Red Bull accelerated better as they raced away from the line and he swept past the Ferrari to comfortably seize the lead into Turn 1.
Behind, Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton went side-by-side through Turn 1 and made light contact just ahead of the Turn 2 apex, which sent the Mercedes wide and down to third, the incident reviewed by the stewards by deemed not worthy of a full investigation.
The same thing happened for Max Verstappen cutting the first corner after he had bogged down badly leaving the line as his car nearly went into anti-stall mode and he fell from eighth to 12th.
Up front, Perez scampered clear of Leclerc – but only to the tune of around a second over the first phase of the race, with Sainz and Hamilton – complaining about his inters to Mercedes very early – soon distanced by over five seconds.
Perez set a series of fastest laps but could only pull out a lead of 1.4s before Leclerc began to home back in, reaching 0.8s behind the Red Bull at the end of lap eight of the scheduled 61.
But there the race was neutralised by a safety car period, extending the streak of every Singapore race featuring such an intervention.
This broke Zhou’s front-right wheel and put him out on the spot, while Latifi toured back to the pits with a puncture, where he too retired.
The race resumed at the start of lap 11 with none of the leaders having chosen to pit – the track as it did between FP3 and qualifying taking a long time to dry, hence Perez and Leclerc lapping quickest in the 2m00s bracket.
Perez aced the restart and immediately re-established his one-second gap to Leclerc, who also again quickly dropped Sainz and Hamilton – the pre-safety car scenes recreated as the two leaders were the only drivers to now lap in the 1m59s bracket.
They exchanged fastest laps before Perez began to edge away, with his lead reaching 1.7s by lap 15 and the quarter-distance mark, where the leaders began to be warned by their teams to cool their inters on the remaining wet patches, with the track still nowhere near the crossover point for slicks.
The leaders reached the 1m58s bracket just before lap 20, at which point Perez’s lead went over two seconds for the first time.
Leclerc had just started to slide quickly further back, the race was suspended again with a virtual safety car activation on lap 21 when Fernando Alonso pulled off at Turn 10, his 350th F1 start ending with an apparent engine problem.
The leaders again eschewed pitting for new inters, but back in 15th George Russell made a bold call to take medium slicks.
The VSC lasted two laps, with Perez’s lead over Leclerc resuming at 2.5s but after just three further tours the first of two further VSC activations kicked in when Alex Albon – a lap one spinner at the rear of the pack – slid into the Turn 8 barriers and knocked his front wing off.
He reversed away and drove back to the pits to retire the other Williams , with the VSC ending on lap 27 but being activated again on lap 28 because Esteban Ocon’s Alpine had also retired with an engine issue – the Frenchman’s expiring in a massive blowout over the Anderson Bridge and approaching Turn 13.
Racing resumed on lap 30, with Perez’s lead up to 4.3s before Leclerc shot into the 1m56s and he cut the gap back down to under three seconds within two tours.
Here a series of dramatic events took place in the background, with Hamilton, who had been very frustrated tucked up behind Sainz sliding into the barriers solo as he chased the Ferrari on lap 33.
He reversed away and rejoined just in front of 2021 title rival Verstappen, who in turn had been hotly perusing Lando Norris .
On lap one, Verstappen had looked to make quick progress back past Kevin Magnussen , but did not have an easy time of it.
He dived past the Haas at Turn 7, but on the exit appeared to squeeze the Haas towards the wall, the pair making contact and Magnussen’s left-front wing endplate getting damaged.
Magnussen then barged Verstappen out of the way at the tight Turn 11 left just before the Anderson Bridge, but the world champion made his way by on the next lap.
The Turn 7 incident was later investigated by the stewards, but no penalty was given despite Magnussen being forced to pit to have his front wing changed by the officials just before the safety car appeared.
That gap was erased by the neutralisation, after which Verstappen jumped Vettel and Pierre Gasly to run seventh by one-quarter distance.
But again he got stuck, this time behind Alonso and he remained there until the Alpine retired ahead.
Verstappen was soon all over Norris’s rear but did not look likely to a quick pass before the Albon and Ocon VSCs – at the end of the second named nearly overtaking Norris when trying to get an early restart jump and falling back.
It was into the gap Hamilton slotted, but his left-front endplate was damaged, which Verstappen reported over the radio in the hope of the Mercedes being black-and-white flagged.
Now at just past the halfway point, Russell was finally setting purple sectors on his slicks, albeit way off the back of the pack.
This triggered a wave of cars to come into the pits, with Tsunoda among the first to do so and take mediums.
But he pushed too hard on his second full lap on the slicks and smashed into the Turn 10 barrier, triggering another safety car.
Perez and Leclerc had already come into the pits – the Ferrari doing so first on lap 34 – before the race was neutralised again on lap 36 so Tsunoda’s wrecked car could be recovered.
Sainz, Hamilton and Verstappen had done likewise, with the Mercedes getting a new nose fitted, while Norris stayed out.
He came in under the safety car, which preserved his lead over Verstappen and they were the centre of attention at the lap 40 restart as Perez and Leclerc, weaving to build temperature into their mediums, easily restored their advantage over Sainz.
On the restart lap, Verstappen immediately moved to pass Norris after the Turn 6 kink down the track’s first long acceleration zone following the corner where Zhou and Latifi had clashed so long before.
But his car appeared to bottom out as he went offline and the world champion locked both his front wheels, severely damaging his mediums.
He pitted at the end of the lap and fell to 13th, with the action at the front hotting up as Leclerc fired his slicks up to temperature better than Perez.
He put the Mexican under severe pressure for nearly 10 laps, with it now clear the race would end at the two-hour time limit and not go the scheduled distance.
Perez reported engine driveability issues under braking and while accelerating out of corners, which compound his attempts to break free from Leclerc’s lost attention.
This became even harder when DRS was finally activated on lap 43 and here Leclerc’s thrilling pursuit began.
Time and again he feigned to Perez’s inside at every major stop around the Marina Bay track – locking up briefly at Turn 15 on lap 45.
The next two times by there, Perez had major lock-ups too, but he was soaking up the pressure well.
Leclerc got the gap down to 0.4s at the end of lap 47, but having to catch a massive oversteer slide at Turn 16 meant he lost critical momentum and dropped out of DRS range.
He never regained it thereafter, a lap 52 Turn 16 near-off finally breaking his pursuit as Perez’s lead shot to 2.6s.
The was still work for the leader to do as he had been placed under investigation following the second safety car restart, apparently for dropping too far back from 10 lengths allowed to the pace car too early, something Hamilton suggested Perez also did at the first safety car restart.
He therefore charged to a winning margin of 7.5s over what was a final distance of 59 laps, with Ferrari telling Leclerc after he crossed the line second that Perez could be facing a pair of five-second penalties if found to be at fault in the investigation.
Sainz took a distant third having never had his teammate’s pace at any point, with Norris also lonely in fourth once Verstappen had erred, ahead of Daniel Ricciardo , who had also stopped under the safety car and so gained against his Aston Martin rivals.
Lance Stroll was the top green car home – ahead of Verstappen who had put in yet another fight back now on softs, rising back to the points over the concluding laps.
It looked as if he might stay ninth for the finish as he was bottled up again, this time behind Hamilton before the seven-time world champion made another mistake.
While sandwiched between Verstappen and Vettel up ahead, Hamilton tried to pass the second Aston on lap 57, but slid deep having taken to a still-wet part of the track approaching Turn 8.
This allowed Verstappen through and he got Vettel on the last lap, with Hamilton finishing ninth ahead of Gasly.
Russell finished at the rear of the pack behind Valtteri Bottas (11th), who he had lightly hit in a passing lunge during the early stages.
Magnussen took 12th ahead of his teammate Mick Schumacher , who Russell also collided with – this time at Turn 1 just after the second safety car restart in an incident that was investigated but not deemed worthy of punishment.
Russell stopped four times, with a late final service for a second set of softs that he used to set the race’s fastest lap at 1m46.458, for which he will not get a bonus point as he finished 14th.
|1||Sergio Perez||Red Bull||Red Bull|
|6||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||Mercedes||1’01.330|
|7||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||Red Bull||1’03.825|
|8||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin||Mercedes||1’05.032|
|10||Pierre Gasly||AlphaTauri||Red Bull||1’14.576|
|11||Valtteri Bottas||Alfa Romeo||Ferrari||1’33.844|
|Yuki Tsunoda||AlphaTauri||Red Bull|
|Zhou Guanyu||Alfa Romeo||Ferrari|
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