Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Graham Read
Formula 1 Correspondent
2:58 PM 17th September 2023

Sainz On Top In Singapore Thriller

Today’s Singapore Grand Prix was initially the motor racing equivalent of a highly strategic chess match before it developed into an absolute thriller as Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz stayed calm to win for only the second time in Formula 1.

Carlos Sainz had to resist intense pressure to claim the victory spoils
Carlos Sainz had to resist intense pressure to claim the victory spoils
Various subjects have made the F1 headlines during the two weeks since the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, so let’s briefly cover the main ones. Firstly, Mercedes part owner and team principal Toto Wolff understandably attracted criticism for his rather ungracious stance after Red Bull’s Max Verstappen set an all-time F1 record at Monza by winning ten Grands Prix in a row, with Wolff referring to the achievement as "totally irrelevant." One suspects the Austrian might have been somewhat more enthusiastic if one of his own drivers had achieved such an outstanding milestone. Another senior F1 figure under fire was 80-year-old Red Bull motorsport adviser Helmut Marko, who had to apologise and was warned by the FIA governing body after suggesting that the inconsistent form of their Mexican driver Sergio Pérez was due to his ethnicity.

On a different front, the FIA has also announced that after extensive auditing procedures, all ten teams were found to have operated within the cost cap last year, killing at a stroke the ongoing unsubstantiated rumours that one or more outfits may have been in breach of the financial regulations. Elsewhere, it appears that the injured Daniel Ricciardo will be sidelined for longer than initially thought as the Australian recovers from breaking a metatarsal bone in his left hand at Zandvoort late last month, with his return possibly not being until at least the Qatar round in three weeks. This situation will simply give the highly promising young Kiwi Liam Lawson a longer opportunity to impress in the AlphaTauri, but Ricciardo was present in the Singapore paddock to keep a close eye on his deputy. It's never wise to be away too long, and Lawson’s pace has also raised questions about whether Yuki Tsunoda might drop to a reserve driver role for next season, with Ricciardo and the New Zealander perhaps occupying the race seats.

2023 Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix

1 Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 1hr46m37.418s
2 Lando Norris (McLaren) +0.812s
3 Lewis Hamilton(Mercedes) +1.269s
4 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +21.177s
5 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +21.441s
6 Pierre Gasly (Alpine) +38.441s
7 Oscar Piastri (AlphaTauri) +41.479s
8 Sergio Pérez (Red Bull) +54.534s
9 Liam Lawson (AlphaTauri) +1m5.918s
10 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +1m12.116s
11 Alex Albon (Williams) +1m13.417s
12 Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo) +1m23.649s
13 Nico Hülkenberg (Haas) +1m26.201s
14 Logan Sargeant (Williams) +1m26.889s
15 Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) +1m27.603s
16 George Russell (Mercedes) Retired
17 Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) Retired
18 Esteban Ocon (Alpine) Retired
19 Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) Retired
20 Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) Did not start
Meanwhile, four-time F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel, who retired at the end of last season, is refusing to rule out a possible return to the sport if an appropriate opportunity arises. The German is still only 36 years old, which makes him younger than current drivers Sir Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, who are 38 and 42, respectively. However, Vettel is a keen family man, and although he may well be missing F1, one has to question whether he would want to step back into a highly time-consuming full-on driver role. Also on the driver front, last Thursday the Alfa Romeo-branded Sauber team confirmed that China’s Zhou Guanyu would again be paired with Finland’s Valtteri Bottas next season as it seeks stability while transforming into the new Audi outfit with effect from 2026. The Alfa Romeo link is set to cease at the end of this year.

I well remember the Formula 1 paddock when it was a relative haven of calm over a race weekend with very restricted access, however packed the nearby grandstands and spectator bankings were. However, the issue of paddock overcrowding raised its head at last year’s Mexican Grand Prix and did so again in Italy a fortnight ago. With F1 becoming ever more popular and the commercial rights holder, Liberty Media, increasing paddock access opportunities for sponsors, celebrities, and well-heeled fans, the Monza paddock was truly packed throughout all weekend and often made life difficult for team personnel, including the drivers. Most of the latter are more than willing to engage directly with fans, but the paddock is still very much a workplace, and a balance needs to be found between access and privacy.

F1 visits downtown Singapore
F1 visits downtown Singapore
It’s worthwhile to pause for a moment and consider where the Aston Martin team currently finds itself. Owned by the highly ambitious billionaire Lawrence Stroll, it began the season really well, regularly challenging the superiority of Red Bull and with the veteran Alonso looking rejuvenated and on fine form in a very quick car. However, the situation has now reversed somewhat, and the Silverstone-based outfit arrived in Singapore having slipped to fourth place in the Constructors’ championship behind Red Bull, Mercedes, and Ferrari. It has to be said that the main problem lies not with Alonso, whose life has long been totally focused on racing in F1, but with his teammate Lance Stroll, who just happens to be the owner’s son. Prior to today’s race, Alonso had scored 170 points for the team this season, leaving him third in the Drivers’ Championship standings, whereas Stroll languished in ninth place after racking up a mere 47 points in the same car. The slide needs to be arrested as the end-of-year Constructors’ table accounts for how much prize money each team receives, but Stroll Snr seems unwilling to contemplate replacing his son with a potentially more competitive driver. The answer would be for Stroll Jnr to simply up his game and get closer to Alonso’s pace, but this is a big ask and probably not realistic. Read on to learn of an unfortunate incident that befell Stroll during Saturday’s qualifying session as he sought to drive faster.

The Singapore Grand Prix is a high-downforce night race held under floodlights on the Marina Bay temporary street circuit, and it is challenging for both the cars and drivers due to the ever-close barriers and the heat and humidity. Iced water baths are used regularly by the drivers to reduce their core temperatures and increase muscle recovery. Due to construction work, the layout of the closing part of the lap has had to be significantly revised for this year, reducing the demands on the tyres and making lap times faster. Every race at Marina Bay since 2011 has involved at least one safety car intervention, and in 2022 there were also three virtual safety car deployments, so all the teams were well aware that race disruptions could occur as they planned their intended strategies. One-stoppers have always been popular due to the high 27-second pit lane time loss caused by the 60kph speed limit and the tricky entry. On top of this, the Singapore track has traditionally ranked as the most difficult to overtake other than Monaco, with the best opportunity usually being presented by the first DRS zone.

Turning to the ontrack action, the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Sainz set the pace in Friday’s opening free practice period on an initially dusty circuit, with Verstappen and the McLaren of Lando Norris the best of the rest. Bizarrely, though, the hour-long session was interrupted three times in the Turns 8/9 section by the appearance on track of some either brave or foolhardy lizards! The same day’s second practice period began under the lights, and again it was a Ferrari 1-2, with Sainz now heading Leclerc. Mercedes’ George Russell and Alonso set the next fastest times, while Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez and Verstappen were only seventh and eighth in the end-of-session rankings, respectively. Sainz again led the way in yesterday’s final practice ahead of Russell, Norris, and Verstappen, and then it was time for a crucial qualifying hour, which began at 21.00 local time (14.00 back in the UK).

Red Bull and Verstappen in particular have looked so impressive all season, but the team suggested ahead of Singapore that this would be one of its least favourite circuits, and so it proved to be in qualifying, with both its drivers eliminated in Q2 after trying to hustle a clearly ill-handling RB19 around the track. Before this, the opening part of qualifying had ended slightly prematurely after Stroll suffered a massive head-on accident at the final corner while chasing an improved time. Fortunately, the Canadian escaped relatively uninjured, and his badly damaged Aston Martin was a testament to the major improvements in F1 safety standards in recent times, as the outcome could have been far worse in the past. The HANS device was so effective in protecting Stroll from serious neck injuries, and the deformable frontal structure of his car dissipated much of the energy unleashed in the crash. However, earlier today the team issued an official statement, announcing that Stroll would miss the Grand Prix as he was still feeling the after-effects of his big shunt and would focus on returning to full fitness before the next race.

Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll flying through the final corner before suffering a huge accident there
Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll flying through the final corner before suffering a huge accident there
In yesterday’s top ten shootout, Sainz thrilled all the Ferrari fans present in hot and humid Singapore by claiming pole position ahead of Russell, Leclerc, and Norris. There were no Red Bulls involved, but the sheer competitiveness of current Formula 1 was represented by the fact that the top three qualifiers were split by less than a single tenth of a second after completing a lap of the 3.06-mile circuit.

The formation lap for today’s Grand Prix began at precisely 20.00 local time, and, as the start neared, the aforementioned occupants of the front two rows were totally focused on gaining an early advantage, whereas the 11th and 13th placed Verstappen and Pérez were simply hoping to stay out of trouble and try to get more performance out of their recalcitrant Red Bulls. When those famous red lights went out, it was poleman Sainz who converted it into an early lead, but Leclerc made great use of his soft specification tyres to sprint past the medium-shod Mercedes of Russell before the opening corner. A moment of controversy then followed as Hamilton took an off-track detour to emerge in third place ahead of his teammate and Norris, but this was soon corrected as Mercedes and Race Control issued instructions for Hamilton to drop back to fifth position.

As the race developed, the pair of Ferraris started to edge clear of third-placed Russell, and the whole field soon entered a phase of strategic tyre management, with Ferrari repeatedly telling Leclerc to drop back from the leading Sainz if into the hands of his pursuers. Something that understandably didn’t exactly overly please the young Monégasque. Any desire for early pitstops was very much negated by the fact that all the cars were so condensed. However, Logan Sargeant crashed his Williams into the Turn 8 barriers on lap 20, and although the American got his damaged car back to the pits, a safety car intervention immediately followed, triggering a flurry of drivers heading down the pitlane for fresh rubber. Sainz rejoined the race still in the lead, but his teammate really lost out after being held in situ by others pitting. At this stage in the race, Alonso also picked up a five-second penalty for crossing and re-crossing the pitlane kerb in his haste to stop.

Racing resumed at the start of lap 23 and, as the yet-to-stop Red Bulls suffered on their worn hard tyres, the order out front was soon Sainz ahead of Russell, Norris, and Hamilton. On the 43rd tour, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, celebrating his 27th birthday today, ground to a halt at the inside of Turn 2 near the pitlane exit, suffering from a gearbox failure. This caused a virtual safety car period, and of the frontrunners, only Mercedes’ Russell and Hamilton were instructed to pit for new medium tyres.

(L-R)George Russell and Lewis Hamilton recuperate in their iced-water baths
(L-R)George Russell and Lewis Hamilton recuperate in their iced-water baths
With flatout racing soon restored, this left the duo in the box seats as they quickly used their pace advantage to close in on the leading trio of Sainz, Norris, and Leclerc. Soon they had dispatched the latter, with just Sainz and Norris between them and victory, and both Mercedes pedallers sensed blood. Come the final six laps, the top four were really close and engaged in a thrilling battle for supremacy until Russell made a mistake at Turn 10 on the last tour and headed into the barriers. This left a delighted Sainz, Norris, and Hamilton to claim the podium positions come the chequered flag, with Verstappen and Pérez finishing fifth and eighth for Red Bull after a race-long damage limitation battle. Hamilton also earned the extra point for the fastest lap of the race, and young Lawson deserves a special mention too for claiming his first ever F1 points after taking ninth place for AlphaTauri.

With another 2023 round done and dusted, it’s now time for Formula 1 to head briskly to the Suzuka circuit for next weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix. It’s a famous venue long intertwined with key moments in the sport’s history and is located just over three thousand miles north east of this weekend’s temporary home. F1 cars are very expensive to design, build, and run, but it’s also easy to see why international travel, freight, and accommodation costs also feature so significantly in FIA and team budgets.

2023 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship

1 Max Verstappen 374
2 Sergio Pérez 223
3 Lewis Hamilton 180

2023 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship
1 Red Bull 597
2 Mercedes 289
3 Ferrari 2