10 things we learned at the 2023 F1 Singapore Grand Prix
Carlos Sainz scored the first victory of 2023 for a team other than Red Bull in Singapore, as the Ferrari driver showed his Monza form was no flash in the pan. On a weekend that the year's dominant Formula 1 team appeared oddly subdued, with both cars missing the Q3 cut, and another piece of the 2024 driver market jigsaw slotted into place, here's what we learned
Red Bull was finally toppled in the 2023 Formula 1 season, as Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz brilliantly won this year’s Singapore Grand Prix.
He did so with a clever and calm approach, which also boosted McLaren’s Lando Norris and thwarted Mercedes’ bid to scoop the victory with a late roll of the dice on strategy around the race’s virtual safety car period.
Elsewhere, the FIA’s clampdown was a big talking point for Red Bull and others, Charles Leclerc revealed why he hasn’t been able to match Sainz’s results of late for Ferrari and there was rather a lot of despair encountered by the Aston Martin squad across the weekend, and for George Russell right at the race’s end.
All that and more is presented in the pick of what we learned from F1's latest visit to Singapore.
1. Red Bull is mortal in 2023 after all
Both Red Bulls were eliminated in Q2, leaving them to face a long afternoon slog to reach the points as its 100% win streak ended
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
“You guys have been asking me [about winning every race] since pretty much Jeddah,” Christian Horner exclaimed after Red Bull’s humbling in Singapore last weekend. In hindsight, perhaps F1 fans should consider a slight mind-game element to George Russell’s season-opening remarks that perhaps Red Bull could complete a unique F1 achievement with a season clean sweep…
“For Max to have won 10 in a row is insanity”, Horner added, but at the same time, it felt just as odd to see the soon-to-be triple world champion out in Q2 on pace alone. That was what really undid Verstappen’s chances, as his RB19 was indeed much better in the race, where the safety car timing also hobbled Red Bull’s contra-strategy approach. Nevertheless, Verstappen was strong enough to nearly beat the second car of the winning squad having started eight places behind.
Red Bull’s 2023 car rides bumps brilliantly considering it runs lower to the ground than others, but when track bumps such as those that litter the Singapore turns mean its ride height just must be raised, nailing set-up choices is crucial for one lap balance and tyre performance.
Red Bull got that wrong, even making things worse with pre-qualifying tweaks compared to FP3. That’s what proved so costly, as the rest are more adept at engineering their cars around naturally higher ride heights. But this result was still a shock considering Red Bull’s previous form.
2. Sainz's searing streak showing no sign of ending
Sainz was in superb form in Singapore, topping FP2, FP3 and qualifying before controlling the race from pole
Photo by: Ferrari
What was not surprising was seeing eventual race winner Sainz right on the pace from the first session, trailing Leclerc by just 0.078s. Sainz then led FP2, after which he swept all the F1 sessions in Singapore bar Q1 (headed by Yuki Tsunoda). This means that on that count, the Spaniard’s weekend eclipses what this writer called as his previous F1 best ever that had come just one race earlier in Monza.
There, Ferrari team boss Fred Vasseur had been impressed by Sainz leading Leclerc from the off and being rapid even in opening practice. He’d wanted to see Sainz carry on that approach, which indeed occurred in Singapore and so Vasseur was left to reflect that having “Carlos so quick at the beginning of the weekend was also very helpful for us and he did a very good job from the first lap to the last one”.
Sainz then nailed pole and did everything he needed to secure victory – including cannily dropping back to hand the pursuing Norris DRS as the Mercedes cars bore down late in the race. Sainz has always been considered a clever driver, but this was extra impressive as it combined with his coolness under intense pressure and heat to secure easily the best of his two F1 wins.
If Sainz’s searing post-summer break form continues, he’ll be putting himself in the best position to capitalise should Red Bull fall from its mighty 2023 highs again.
3. Flexi-bodywork debate set to rumble on in 2023
Horner maintained that Red Bull's Singapore struggles had nothing to do with the technical directives on flexible bodywork
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
The conspiracy theorists had a field weekend considering that Red Bull’s Singapore fall down the pecking order occurred at the first event where two separate technical directives came into force that clamp down on flex-wings and flexi-floors.
But Horner insists “I know all of you would love to blame the TD, but unfortunately, we can't even blame that because it's not changed a single component on our car” and so seemingly this all had little impact on his squad’s form potential in Singapore. Red Bull did, however, add changes to the existing floor edge and rear wing endplates but said it was part of its circuit-specific approach here.
Indeed and as we’ve covered, it was the track’s bumpy nature that made the real difference for Red Bull, as that changed the downforce-producing aerodynamic profile so significantly when it came to getting things perfect for qualifying. But still won’t stop the focus for many being on Red Bull’s bodywork in Japan this weekend, even if the evidence of previous 2023 races suggests it should theoretically return to form seen on similar tracks at Barcelona and Silverstone.
But it’s not just Red Bull where flexing bodywork has been the focus this season and there was enough evidence of various front wing panels still moving significantly around the Marina Bay track to raise questions, even though there was nothing illegal found on any cars last weekend.
4. Ferrari's recent car changes have hurt Leclerc in '2022 Verstappen' way
Leclerc says the Ferrari's current understeer tendency has blunted his attack
Photo by: Ferrari
Just as at Zandvoort and Monza, Leclerc found himself a firm second-best at Ferrari last weekend, with his typical qualifying surge unable to topple Sainz for the second weekend in a row.
He ran well in second when Ferrari was smoothly controlling the pace up front and was willing to play the team game in backing off to hold up Russell and reduce his undercut threat to Sainz. This followed Leclerc “changing my mind very last minute” to start on the soft tyres that enabled him to superbly jump the Mercedes off the line.
He did then make a mistake that allowed Hamilton by post-safety car and nearly hit Norris, plus cooked his ancient hards before having to manage engine temperatures that meant he “decided to bring the car home”.
Leclerc revealed after the race that changes Ferrari has made to the SF-23 have removed the oversteer tendencies he needs to reach his supreme pace highs. This is reminiscent of the heavy RB18 and 2022 Pirellis inducing understeer that held Verstappen back and boosted Perez early last year.
“I’m not completely comfortable with the car at the moment,” Leclerc explained. “A bit too much understeer for my liking and I struggle to drive around it. And because of the unpredictability of the car, I cannot have the oversteer that I want [with Ferrari’s floor design and set-up choices aimed at making the SF-23 more predictable overall].”
5. Russell must learn from late Singapore race crash to reach full F1 potential
Russell's last lap crash left him feeling deflated, and is something he needs to learn from
Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images
“I truly believe that I’m driving better than I have ever driven”, was Russell reflecting on what might have been in Singapore given his superb qualifying form eclipsed Lewis Hamilton and had him starting on the front row. This followed Russell being the lead Mercedes driver on a weekend where the Black Arrows squad really struggled at Monza.
Russell ended up in the Turn 10 barriers on the final Singapore tour suspecting “it was probably a lack of concentration, maybe frustration knowing that was the last lap and the opportunity was gone” after his chase of Norris had been frustrated by the McLaren driver’s great defence and getting DRS gifted by Sainz.
That cost Russell a podium, which Mercedes had been prepared to sacrifice a pretty much guaranteed second step on to set up its late charge with its deliberately saved mediums.
During this, it was interesting to see Hamilton behind was not only quicker than Russell, but kept his tyres in better shape to be the more threatening of the pair as the final laps ticked down. It's surely this that Russell would do well to reflect on regarding improving even more as a driver, beyond his “one-centimetre mistake [that] has clouded the whole weekend”.
6. Alonso reckons F1’s popular qualifying format is "obsolete"
Alonso cut a dissatisfied figure in Singapore, having a difficult race after blasting the qualifying rules
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
On a weekend to forget for Aston Martin and before he’d put in an oddly poor and mistake-riddled race performance, Fernando Alonso raised eyebrows with his comments on F1’s knockout qualifying system. The Q1-Q2-Q3 format has been in place since 2006, bar F1’s short-lived experiment with elimination qualifying in 2016, and is popular with fans.
In Singapore, the usual maximum lap time procedure installed to stop drivers going unnecessarily slowly and causing traffic issues was scrapped following a drivers’ vote. But when traffic nevertheless became a problem particularly in Q1, Alonso suggested another previously used format should be considered instead.
“Whatever [the FIA] do, we will find a way to sail that kind of rule,” he said. “They have a very difficult job in terms of managing traffic on street circuits. I have said many times that there is only one way to find a solution which is single-lap qualifying [last used in various arrangements in the three years running up to 2006]. All the other solutions we can test but will never work because we will find a way.
“I think this qualifying format is obsolete. It has been the same for 20-25 years [sic], but the cars are not the same. We have hybrid engines, we have to charge [the battery], we have to cool the tyres, so the only way to go forward is one lap.”
7. Stroll’s errors are seriously hurting Aston
Stroll shunted heavily in the dying seconds of Q1 and elected not to race on Sunday
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
Lance Stroll’s Q1 shunt interrupted qualifying in Singapore considerably. The Canadian driver felt he had to push on as “we just weren’t really improving on that last lap with the out-lap being really bad” thanks to “a lot of traffic” and getting “stopped at the weighbridge so that put us at the back of the queue”.
But he lost control and paid a hefty price at the final corner. This was compounded by Aston then deciding that its repair job was too big to get his car ready for the race, plus he still felt sore from the impact.
Aston team principal Mike Krack boldly tried to spin this into a positive, saying it was: “proof that he's full in”. But the reality is Stroll made a bad error and the team only had one car in the race fight as a result.
In a year when Stroll’s performance against a still top-level driver in Alonso has been really exposed, this incident will only add to the growing feeling that Lawrence Stroll keeping his son in one of Aston’s F1 seats is holding the team back when it comes to crucial constructors’ championship points.
8. Enforced Singapore changes popular with drivers, still planned to be temporary
The longer straight into Turns 16 and 17, even without DRS, presented another overtaking opportunity
Photo by: Alpine
The F1 pack was overall very complimentary about the first major layout change in Singapore’s now 15-year history in the championship.
The removal of four turns from the final sector had the additional benefit of making things slightly less punishing for the drivers over the shorter distance, plus it made the new Turn 16 a clear overtaking spot. Indeed, it was a shame there couldn’t be an agreement to make the new preceding straight another DRS zone as the added overtaking surely would’ve further improved Singapore’s racing spectacle.
This layout will definitely return for 2024 and 2025 as construction work takes place nearby but this could stretch on towards 2028. The Singapore GP promoter suggested last weekend that a compromise may then follow with the older corners installed back and a new final sequence created instead.
This is because the race missed the giant grandstand being used where all the building work is taking place, with promoter boss Colin Sin saying missing "25,000 people [sitting there], it's like a hole in the pocket".
9. Williams and AlphaTauri left with tough 2024 driver choices after Alfa keeps Zhou
Sargeant's Singapore mishap won't have helped his case to remain on the grid with Williams next year
Photo by: Williams
Alfa Romeo’s decision to retain Zhou Guanyu alongside Valtteri Bottas for 2024 was announced just as the Singapore event kicked off. It is a fine reward for Zhou in what has been an unheralded, decent campaign overall – blotted by his shunts in Hungary and the Netherlands.
That choice locks up an Alfa seat where it had been rumoured change might’ve been in the offing concerning 2022 Formula 2 champion Felipe Drugovich. The focus now switches to whether Drugovich becomes a real contender to race at Williams next year.
Logan Sargeant’s poor Singapore GP solo crash will only increase the feeling he’s currently out of his depth at this level, with alternatives available to Williams in Drugovich and Mercedes reserve driver Mick Schumacher. Sargeant is boosted by his good 2023 days, plus the risk replacing a rookie that would gain with additional experience would bring, especially by swapping in a new one.
Williams’ 2024 choice will now dominate the last of this year’s driver market silly season, as will Liam Lawson’s brilliant drive to bring points to AlphaTauri where another Yuki Tsunoda error – albeit one where Perez was equally to blame – cost the team the chance of more Singapore points.
Daniel Ricciardo is set to return soon and surely will in 2024 too, which would mean either Lawson or Tsunoda missing out. You sense there’s at least one more big Red Bull driver decision coming soon this year…
10. Andretti close to FIA entry approval over future F1 grid spot
Andretti's team is thought to be closing in on approval from the FIA, but that won't be the end of the matter
Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images
It emerged from the Singapore paddock that there has been further progress in the long saga of the Andretti squad trying to gain an F1 berth. This is because the American organisation's bid is now understood to be close to passing the first step – confirmation of approval from the FIA – that could come as early as this week.
If that happens, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, as the boss of the championship’s commercial rights holder, will have to undergo another round of evaluation on Andretti’s plans. That process would be expected to take several months.
The existing teams remain resistant to the idea, and said as much in Singapore, as the $200m dilution fee in F1’s rules around allowing new squads in is based on a figure they consider to be outdated given their values have all shot up in the years since it came in during 2020.
F1 teams remain resistant to Andretti's arrival on the grid in a long-rumbling saga which shows no sign of ending soon
Photo by: Lionel Ng / Motorsport Images
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