Race Weekend Central

F1 Review: Carlos Sainz Scores Singapore Win, Controlling from the Start, Snapping Red Bull Streak

Carlos Sainz led from start to finish, taking advantage of pole position and a surprisingly vulnerable Red Bull to win the Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix, earning his second career Formula 1 victory. Ferrari’s victory stands as the first non-Red Bull win of the season and ended Max Verstappen’s run of ten straight wins.

Lando Norris finished second, less than a second behind, for his third podium this season. Lewis Hamilton took third after Mercedes teammate George Russell crashed out of the race on the final lap. Charles Leclerc finished fourth, while Verstappen worked hard to salvage a fifth-place finish. Alpine’s Pierre Gasly took sixth, while McLaren’s Oscar Piastri finished seventh after hovering outside the top 10 for most of the race. Sergio Perez started 13th and finished 8th, followed by Alpha Tauri rookie Liam Lawson, who posted ninth for his first-ever F1 points. Haas’ Kevin Magnussen closed out the points-paying positions with 10th.

Despite his struggles, Verstappen extended his points lead over Perez to 374 to 223. Hamilton’s podium vaulted him over Alonso, who struggled mightily, where Hamilton leads the Aston Martin driver 180 to 170.

In the constructor standings, it’s barely noticeable that Red Bull was not at the top of its game. They lead Mercedes 597 to 289, while Ferrari sits third, ahead of Aston Martin 265 to 217. 

The Race

Sainz rocketed off the line and led easily into Turn 1, while Leclerc overtook Russell for second. Hamilton also got past his teammate but did so while running off the track. Verstappen, starting on hard tires, picked up one spot to tenth. It was a Ferrari 1-2 early at Singapore—what could go wrong?

Hamilton let Russell by on lap two as Russell tried to keep up with the Ferraris up front. Verstappen struggled to get by Magnussen for eighth, and finally pulled it off on lap 6. His teammate Perez stagnated and lost a spot to Piastri on lap 7. Perez and Yuki Tsunoda made contact on the opening lap, knocking out the Alpha Tauri while compromising Perez’s Red Bull.   

Leclerc, on soft tires, trailed Sainz, on hards, by less than a second on lap nine, and the most intriguing question arising was, “What is Ferrari’s strategy?” This notion led to the second most intriguing question: “How will they screw it up?” 

Ferrari race control instructed Leclerc to target a gap of three seconds to Sainz, a clear indication that Leclerc was meant to protect Sainz against a Mercedes undercut. Leclerc played the good teammate and allowed Sainz to pull away.

On lap 17, Ferrari asked Leclerc to target a gap of five seconds, and Leclerc surely rolled his eyes in acknowledgment but played the reluctant role of “No. 2” while complaining that it was certainly that. 

Logan Sargeant hit the barriers at turn eight, resulting in his front wing getting stuck under his car and the safety car came out on lap 20. Sainz was the first to pit, and Ferrari double-stacked, but pit lane traffic caused a near six-second stop for Leclerc. Leclerc lost four spots and came out sixth. Mercedes double-stacked as well, with Russell coming out in third and Hamilton in seventh.

Verstappen and Perez stayed out, and the Red Bulls ran second and fourth, with Sainz still in the lead. The advantage was overwhelming with Sainz, as the Red Bulls still had to pit.

Alonso overran the pit entry and jumped the curb, leading to a penalty that only exacerbated what was already a rough start for the Aston Martin.  

On the restart, Sainz pulled away, while Verstappen was no match for Russell on new medium tires and made the pass on lap 23. Norris overtook Perez for fourth, and Hamilton soon followed, passing the Red Bull for fifth.

Norris zipped past Verstappen for third, and it was an unusual sight seeing the Red Bulls so vulnerable, albeit on much older tires. Hamilton sent Verstappen down a spot, passing the fading Red Bull for fourth on lap 27.

On lap 32, Verstappen and Perez ran sixth and seventh, and as they had yet to pit, it was a possibility, although very slim, that Red Bull could leave Singapore pointless. Another safety car would help, but otherwise, Red Bull’s points haul would be vastly less than to what they were accustomed.   

Esteban Ocon’s Alpine lost power on lap 44. A virtual safety car was implemented, and it was major decision time for the leaders. Mercedes gambled, and both cars pitted, flawlessly double-stacking. The Ferraris and Norris stayed out, and Russell and Hamilton emerged fourth and fifth, although well behind the leaders but with brand new medium tires.  

Russell had Leclerc in sight for third on lap 52, and was in DRS range on lap 53. Russell got by at turn 14 and set sail for Norris, while Leclerc was left to deal with the Mercedes of Hamilton. Hamilton zoomed past on lap 54 and Mercedes was hungrily eyeing a double podium.

Sainz reported his front tires were “finished” on lap 59, but wisely backed up Norris into the Mercedes pair, widening Sainz’ lead. Shockingly, Russell clipped the wall into Turn 10 and hit the barriers, handing the final podium to his teammate.

Sainz took the checkered flag, with Norris in second. Hamilton finished third and added a bonus point for fastest lap. 

The Good

This was easily the most competitive race of the season, with no less than four cars with a legitimate shot to win in the closing laps. Now, had there been Red Bulls in the mix, the excitement and intrigue would have been off the charts.

With Red Bull’s struggles, the outcome of the race was determined when it should be–on the final lap–as opposed to what it’s normally been this season, which is whenever Verstappen assumes the lead. And despite the Marina Bay circuit’s reputation as a tough place to pass, there was a lot of passing. In addition, there was strategy galore, not only with tire choice but strategy associated with a safety car and a virtual safety car.   

Is Red Bull’s air of invincibility over, or was the car’s performance at Singapore just an aberration on a track layout that didn’t suit the Red Bull’s setup? Chances are, Red Bull will be back in form at Suzuki, where Verstappen will win the race easily, and Perez will miss Q3.

The Bad

How much more can Charles Leclerc take? After loyally serving his teammate by backing up the field under team orders, Leclerc was rewarded with a slow pit stop that cost him six positions and any chance of the win. Of course, his team said he was held up by traffic. I get it. Ferrari doesn’t always have the strategy, or the setup, or the personnel, but they always have the excuse.     

Although it didn’t happen during Sunday’s race, Friday’s practice session was interrupted several times by monitor lizards wandering onto the track. It was arguably the most notable appearance of a reptilian creature on an F1 circuit since Bernie Ecclestone.   

The Disappointing

Singapore had to be most disappointing for Russell. Russell had a sure podium finish in sight before Esteban Ocon’s car lost power on lap 44, bringing out a virtual safety car. Mercedes gambled, pitting both cars, while the top 3 stayed on the track. With new tires and sitting in fourth place, Russell had a real chance of not just a podium finish but a win. The win didn’t materialize, as non-team teamwork between Sainz and Norris kept Russell at bay. With third place just a lap away, Russell made contact with the wall late and ran into the barriers, ending his day. So, within a matter of five laps, Russell saw a possible win, then a certain podium evaporate.  

The Driver

Sainz easily wins this distinction. The Spaniard dominated all weekend, winning the pole on Saturday (September 16th), and led the race on Sunday from start to finish. In a competitive race, the speed of Sainz’s Ferrari was matched by Norris and the Mercedes of Russell and Hamilton, but it was Sainz’s slowing that was crucial to his victory. Sainz notably slowed to keep Norris within DRS range, allowing Norris to remain ahead of the Mercedes duo, the biggest challengers to Sainz’s lead and ultimate win. Sainz made all the right moves on Sunday, on the track and strategy-wise.  

The Results (Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix, Marina Bay Street Circuit)

155Carlos SainzFERRARI621:46:37.41825
24Lando NorrisMCLAREN MERCEDES62+0.812s18
344Lewis HamiltonMERCEDES62+1.269s16
416Charles LeclercFERRARI62+21.177s12
51Max VerstappenRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT62+21.441s10
610Pierre GaslyALPINE RENAULT62+38.441s8
781Oscar PiastriMCLAREN MERCEDES62+41.479s6
811Sergio PerezRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT62+54.534s4
940Liam LawsonALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT62+65.918s2
1020Kevin MagnussenHAAS FERRARI62+72.116s1
1123Alexander AlbonWILLIAMS MERCEDES62+73.417s0
1224Zhou GuanyuALFA ROMEO FERRARI62+83.649s0
1327Nico HulkenbergHAAS FERRARI62+86.201s0
142Logan SargeantWILLIAMS MERCEDES62+86.889s0
1514Fernando AlonsoASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES62+87.603s0
1663George RussellMERCEDES61DNF0

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JD in NC

It was great to see an F1 race this year that Red Bull didn’t dominate.

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