For 15 races, there was only one question in F1: can anyone stop Red Bull and Verstappen before Abu Dhabi? The answer was yes, and it came in ‘Singapore’.
The Asian circuit, like in previous seasons, threw a spanner in the works. Carlos Sainz and Ferrari took advantage of this, ending the team’s one-year winless drought.
Red Bull’s ultra-dominant car became far less competitive under the lights at Marina Bay. The RB19 couldn’t find the correct balance from day one.
The baseline setup was ineffective, and the corrections made were even worse. The engineers even tested and then dismantled the slightly updated floor specification.
However, no advantage was gained. At that point, Red Bull was forced to cut their losses.
Verstappen avoided a penalty for impeding in qualifying, which ruled out a change to the power unit, battery, gearbox or even the set-up for the race.
“We would have thought about it, but P11 is still a decent position to get points or maybe a podium,” the team said after qualifying.
However, there wasn’t much that could be done to change performance or use strategy to improve the situation. Red Bull opted for hard tyres to start the race.
The engineers set up Max’s car with less front load and slightly more robust pressures to avoid instability under braking.
Late in the race, with 70 kg less fuel and new medium tyres, the RB19 performed better. Red Bull did not show any significant degradation, although pure performance was nothing special.
Verstappen suffered 6/7 tenths per lap from the Mercedes, probably a similar gap from Norris and the Ferraris if we had seen them in equal conditions. Only the problems of Alonso, Ocon and Russell gave him 5th position.
Now the question has changed: was Singapore the classic banana peel, or is it hiding something more linked to TD18?
The Dutch Champion doesn’t even want to entertain this as a potential issue:
“Now, after a race like this, we have to win in Suzuka with a 20-second advantage,” declared Verstappen, avoiding the issue of the technical directive.
Ferrari with clear ideas and clear decisions, a bit like Vasseur. The Frenchman was very keen to get on the podium
Ferrari interrupted the Red Bull sequence thanks not only to a high-level performance from Carlos Sainz but also to some very clear choices after qualifying.
Leclerc gained a place over Russell with his soft tyres at the start, an early sacrifice Ferrari and the Monegasque had already discussed internally.
Although there wasn’t much space in the run to Turn 1, Ferrar’s choice to give Leclerc the softs provided enough grip to secure a 1-2 for the SF-23 machines.
Ferrari did not want to lose the race due to degradation.
Sainz and Leclerc had to control the pace. By contrast, Mercedes strategists would have liked to force them to use rubber much more. Sandwiched in between was Lando Norris.
Sainz and Leclerc travelled 1.5-2 seconds slower until the stop, which helped the Monegasque a little in managing the wear and tear of the first stint.
Everything was going smoothly until the Safety Car. The engineers asked Leclerc to move away from Sainz to guarantee a double pit stop and react to events.
In the second phase, the Spaniard continued to control his tyres – intelligently using the efficiency of the SF-23 on the straight to maintain position. Russell and Hamilton were aggressive and stopped for fresh tyres.
Norris, like Ferrari, could not stop in the pits. He had to become Sainz’s great weapon and defend.
Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang