Max Verstappen’s Formula 1 winning streak ended at 10 in Singapore on Sunday as Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz claimed a superbly-judged victory in a strategic race around the streets of Marina Bay.
Autoweek rounds up the main talking points.
Sainz Serves Up a Masterclass for Second Win
Carlos Sainz was on form throughout the weekend in Singapore and delivered on encouraging practice pace by grabbing a second successive pole position.
Singapore’s Grand Prix is usually a follow-the-leader dirge-fest, with the front-runners lapping several seconds off the pace in order to make a one-stop strategy work. That situation came into effect on Sunday, with Sainz managing the pace up front, ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc.
George Russell was the main opponent following the pit stop phase, which came under a Safety Car period at one-third distance after Williams' Logan Sargeant hit the wall. A Virtual Safety Car period at two-thirds distance prompted Mercedes to pit their drivers for fresher and softer tires, but Sainz stayed out on his worn hards, and had to spend the rest of the race with McLaren’s Lando Norris close behind while the Mercedes drivers screamed closer at a rate of two seconds per lap.
As the Mercedes pair of Russell and Lewis Hamilton hounded Norris, Sainz stayed comfortably out front. He managed his tires to perfection while allowing Norris to remain within one second, thus ensuring the McLaren driver had use of DRS along the main overtaking spot. That meant Norris was better able to defend against the Mercedes duo, preventing Sainz from coming under attack in the closing stages.
After 62 laps around the torturously humid Marina Bay circuit, Sainz and Ferrari claimed victory, only the second of his career, and by far his best drive in Formula 1. It was Ferrari’s first win in Formula 1 since July 2022.
“We nailed a weekend, we nailed the race, we did everything we had to do, we did it perfect and we brought home a P1 that I’m sure all Italy, all of Ferrari, is going to be happy today,” said Sainz. “Given our limitations with tire wear and degradation, it was all about managing the beginning of the stints to make sure I made it to the target lap that we wanted to do on each compound.
"Obviously a Safety Car forced us to pit even earlier than we wanted, and I knew it was going to be a long stint on hard. It was just quite tight at the end, but we gave Lando a bit of DRS to help him and then in the end, we made it.”
Red Bull, Verstappen’s Winning Run Snapped at Last
Red Bull, which had won each of the previous 14 races this season, was going to come to an end at some stage and the team had been wary that Singapore was likely to be its weakest venue of the season.
That came to fruition as it got sucked into a negative spiral with the RB19 from a poor base set-up, and it could not run the car in the window it wanted, with the machine bottoming out in the braking zones. There were “inherent problems that we can’t necessarily fix in a race weekend,” according to Red Bull’s chief engineer Paul Monaghan, which have been present in the RB19 throughout the year but manifested badly around Marina Bay.
Red Bull was never a factor in Singapore as it tried the alternative strategy, but neither the Safety Car nor Virtual Safety Car timing worked in its favor. Verstappen, who saw his record-setting personal win streak end at 10, stayed out of trouble to finish fifth, while Red Bull's Sergio Perez had a clumsy Grand Prix as he had collisions with Yuki Tsunoda and Alex Albon en route to eighth place.
The outcome of the race. with Verstappen only adding six points to his lead over Perez, means he cannot wrap up the season title in Japan next weekend, with the following round in Qatar a likely championship clincher.
Mercedes Aggression Livens Up Grand Prix
Mercedes had a shot at winning in Singapore and warrants praise for its aggression.
When Esteban Ocon suffered a suspected gearbox failure, Mercedes pitted Russell from second, and Hamilton from fourth, dropping them back out in fourth and fifth respectively. Hamilton’s stop was a no-brainer, but it was particularly bold for Russell to relinquish second spot.
It turned a processional and potentially stagnant Grand Prix into one with a thrilling denouement, as Russell and Hamilton lit up the timing screens in pursuit of the revised top three. They both overhauled Charles Leclerc to hold third and fourth respectively and hunted down Sainz and Norris in the closing laps before coming up just short.
For Russell, the race ended in heartbreak. Norris clipped the Turn 10 entry wall but the pursuing Russell hit it harder, breaking the front-right, and leaving him cannoning into the barriers. That got Norris and leader Sainz off the hook while the following Hamilton inherited third position.
“We tried to win. And we didn’t,” said Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff. “The positives are that I love the call from the drivers and the strategy team to say ‘we’re going for it.’ The worst case was second and fifth, best case we win, first and second, our planner showed that at times.
“I’m sad for George, because he delivered a 99.9% fantastic weekend and a split-second lack of concentration clipped the wall and this happened, but I said to him I’d rather this is happening now and the learning is there, and when we race (again) for a victory or championship this will be engraved in him, this mistake.
“Lewis had a difficult day yesterday and he rebounded, had lots of pace at the end, a deserved podium. So it’s bittersweet, but overall I’m happy about the performance, happy about where the car was all weekend, and I think we gave it our best shot.”
Miserable Aston Martin Lose Distant P2 Shot
Aston Martin suffered its worst weekend of the season as Fernando Alonso failed to score while Lance Stroll was a non-starter.
Stroll was already struggling in the final sector in Q1 on Saturday, chasing lap time as the circuit rapidly ramped up, and had made a minor error exiting the right-left chicane. In a bid to advance out of Q1, Stroll went all-out at the final corner but lost control and the ensuing impact—given the limited runoff at the complex—was enormous.
Stroll was not only fortunate to escape injury but somewhat lucky that the following Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri had quick enough reactions to avoid striking Stroll’s damaged AMR23. Due to the extensive damage, and with Stroll still sore on Sunday morning, the decision was made not to take part in the race.
Alonso carried the flag for Aston Martin but was only in the lower fringes of the top 10 when he copped a time penalty for a pit entry error. Alonso labeled his AMR23 as “undriveable” and after a slow second stop went off at Turn 14, ending any slim hopes of returning from Singapore with points.
Aston Martin has now amassed only 42 points across the last six events and has slid away from contention for second in the Constructors' Standings to now having to keep an eye on a resurgent McLaren. A hefty 78 points still separate the two teams, but McLaren has been gaining an average of 11 points per race on Aston Martin since introducing its big upgrade package at Silverstone, and there are seven races plus three Sprint races left to go in 2023.
Excellent Lawson Makes Case for 2024
As at Monza, Liam Lawson was left flying the flag solo for AlphaTauri early on in the race in the wake of Yuki Tsunoda’s first-lap exit.
Despite his Formula 1 inexperience, and lack of prior running in Singapore, Lawson was competitive in the midfield from the outset, and made it through to Q3 on Saturday. In the race, Lawson ran a conventional Medium/Hard tire strategy and stayed in the hunt for points throughout, avoided the trouble that befell others, and was rewarded with ninth position.
The finish earned him two points in only his third race start, while ninth was AlphaTauri’s highest finish of its difficult season. Lawson is expected to remain in the AT04 in Japan next weekend, but will vacate the cockpit once Daniel Ricciardo—who was present in Singapore for engineering meetings and marketing events—is given the all-clear to return to competitive action.
Lawson already impressed in the Netherlands and Italy with his approach and his top 10 finish in Singapore was another step in the right direction as he continued to stake his claim for a 2024 seat.
F1 Singapore Grand Prix
Carlos Sainz, Ferrari, 62 laps
Lando Norris, McLaren, +0.8 seconds
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, +1.2
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, +21.1
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, +21.4
Pierre Gasly, Alpine, +38.4
Oscar Piastri, McLaren, +41.4
Sergio Perez, Red Bull, +54.5
Liam Lawson, AlphaTauri, 1:05.9
Kevin Magnussen, Haas, +1:12.1
Alexander Albon, Williams, +1:13.4
Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo, +1:23.6
Nico Hulkenberg, Haas, +1:26.2
Logan Sargeant, Williams, +1:26.8
Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin, +1:27.6
George Russell, Mercedes, +1 lap
Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo, +11 laps
Esteban Ocon, Alpine, +20 laps
Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, DNF
Lance Stroll, Aston Martin, DNS
Updated Driver Standings
Max Verstappen 374
Sergio Perez 223
Lewis Hamilton 180
Fernando Alonso 170
Carlos Sainz 142
Charles Leclerc 123
George Russell 109
Lando Norris 97
Lance Stroll 47
Pierre Gasly 45
Oscar Piastri 42
Esteban Ocon 36
Alexander Albon 21
Nico Hulkenberg 9
Valtteri Bottas 6
Zhou Guanyu 4
Yuki Tsunoda 3
Kevin Magnussen 3
Liam Lawson 2
Logan Sargeant 0
Nyck de Vries 0
Daniel Ricciardo 0
Red Bull 597
Aston Martin 217
Alfa Romeo 10