GPS analysis: How the new Singapore F1 layout cost Russell pole

With Red Bull out of the running for Formula 1 pole in Singapore, it became a showdown between Ferrari and Mercedes, with temporary track changes giving Carlos Sainz the edge.

George Russell, Mercedes-AMG, in Parc Ferme after Qualifying

Red Bull’s perfect Formula 1 win record in 2023 faces its most serious threat. An “undriveable” RB19 in qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix left Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez - who both played down expectations ahead of the round - bereft of confidence under braking and unsure of the cornering balance. As a result, Verstappen ran to 11th as his team-mate was 13th fastest.

This spot of misery for the hitherto dominant Milton Keynes outfit left the door open for an in-form Carlos Sainz to snatch pole position. He crossed the line to post a final 1m30.984s flying lap and pip Mercedes rival George Russell - the filling in a Ferrari sandwich - by 0.072s.

Sainz’s benchmark time smashed the Marina Bay lap record, previously held by Lewis Hamilton following his 1m36.015s romp to pole in 2018. That huge improvement is on account of a new layout for this year, with construction work around the final sector dictating that the fiddly Turns 16-19 chicanes have been replaced with a back straight. But had the track gone unchanged, the record would have likely gone again to Mercedes.

Ferrari’s first-sector advantage

GPS data from Sainz and Russell’s final Q3 laps show that it’s the Ferrari racer who starts the showdown stronger. Sainz hits 191mph before hitting the brakes into Turn 1, while Russell is 2mph worse off. A 0.06s deficit doubles through the comparatively open first left-hander and the Ferrari continues to creep forward to hold a 0.14s edge come Turn 5.

That rises to 0.22s as Russell is unable to match the SF-23’s apex speed, falling 2.5mph shy.

But then the Mercedes begins to respond, closing back to within 0.15s through the acceleration zone out of the 100mph right-hander. That is, until the speedometer climbs north of 186mph. Once Sainz, later to change up, pulls for eighth gear, the Ferrari has the edge in a straight line.

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Russell’s delta then suffers two quick spikes. He falls nigh on 0.3s behind through the 90-degree Turn 7 left, makes up 0.15s with a quick burst of throttle along the small connecting straight and then falls 0.35s away with a run through the similarly sharp Turn 8. As the W14 crosses into the second sector, it hasn’t equalled the Ferrari in the corners.

Mercedes’ middle-sector comeback

But Russell soon cuts the delta down to 0.12s with another surge of acceleration on the short sprint to Turn 9. While Sainz is a couple of hundredths quicker through the corner, again Russell is able to eat into the Ferrari’s advantage when he jumps back on the throttle. The GPS data shows a marginally steeper acceleration curve to bring the gap down to 0.04s come Turn 10.

For the first time, Russell is then able to edge ahead. He pulls 0.06s on Sainz as he slingshots out of the left-hander and charges towards the Turns 11-12 kinks. Again, the SF-23 sets the standard through the apex, but the delta is in Russell’s favour out of Turn 12 and into Turn 13. As per the first half of the lap, the W14 is the more responsive under initial throttle to give Russell a 0.2s lead down the back straight as he reaches the final sector.

No chicanes, no glory

Perhaps suggesting that the Ferrari rear tyres have passed their peak, the roles reverse for the run to the flag. The Mercedes is the pacesetter through the slower corners from now on. Despite Russell running 2mph slower than Sainz at the end of the straight, he stretches his advantage to 0.255s - as good as it’ll get – through the acute Turn 14 right. While the Merc will be 3mph slower at the apex, the deceleration and acceleration either side is more severe to give him the upper hand overall.

 George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Previously, from this point, both cars would then have navigated the fiddly right-left and left-right sequences of Turn 16-19. But owing to the layout changes, those four corners are gone. This appears to put pole beyond Russell’s grasp by removing the slower-speed corners and quick stabs of acceleration that have underpinned his strong lap thus far.

Instead, the replacement longer back straight plays to Sainz. He finds an extra 3mph over his rival to hit 181mph before Russell can respond through the final chicane. The Briton is a whisker in front, but his 0.04s lead doesn’t last long. Had four turns not been ditched, his cushion at this stage might have been more substantial to hold onto first place. Instead, the Ferrari is quicker into and out of the relatively high-speed final corner to settle the pole shootout.

Top three Qualifiers George Russell, Mercedes-AMG, pole man Carlos Sainz, Scuderia Ferrari, Charles Leclerc, Scuderia Ferrari

Top three Qualifiers George Russell, Mercedes-AMG, pole man Carlos Sainz, Scuderia Ferrari, Charles Leclerc, Scuderia Ferrari

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

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