Tuesday April 16, 2024

Sainz takes pole for F1 Singapore GP as Red Bull flounder

Published : 16 Sep 2023, 21:01

  By Michael Butterworth, Xinhua
Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz of Spain reacts during the second practice round of the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix Night Race at the Marina Bay Street Circuit on Sept. 15, 2023. Photo: Xinhua by Then Chih Wey.

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz took pole position for the 2023 F1 Singapore Grand Prix, as both Red Bulls sensationally failed to make the top-10 shootout for the first time since the 2018 Russian Grand Prix.

Both Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez had poor final runs in the second phase of qualifying, with an irate Verstappen ending up 11th and Perez spinning on his way to 13th.

Runaway championship leader Verstappen, who has won the last ten Grands Prix, may yet start from even further back on the grid for Sunday's race, with two separate stewards' investigations against him for blocking earlier in the session.

But while Red Bull struggled, Ferrari came into qualifying as favorites for pole after having topped the timesheets in all three practice sessions, and Sainz duly delivered with a time of 1:30.984.

"I just focused on not doing any mistakes on that lap. Keeping it clean in Singapore normally pays off," said Sainz, who topped two of the three practice sessions and has looked the man to beat so far this weekend.

"We had a very good car on certain tracks and conditions. These short apexes and quick changes of direction, our car seems to be very good this weekend.

"We know our weakness is always the race pace and where we pay the price.

"But I think our team has been doing a great job over the last couple of weekends to understand the package and car. We have definitely made a bit of progress, keeping in mind this circuit always suits Ferrari well.

"Mercedes is normally a bit quicker than us come race day. They have a different tire strategy, which we will have to keep an eye on.

"But if I focus on my own race and put together a good first stint and stint on Hard [tires], we can target the win."

Behind Sainz, Mercedes' George Russell qualified second, 0.072s further back, but the Briton saved an extra set of Soft tires relative to the Ferraris, potentially giving him an advantage for Sunday's race.

Sainz's teammate Charles Leclerc took third, just 0.007s adrift of Russell on a thoroughly good day for the Prancing Horse.

Lando Norris took fourth place for McLaren, who have brought a raft of upgrades to Singapore, with Russell's teammate Lewis Hamilton fifth.

Kevin Magnussen took an excellent sixth for Haas, with Fernando Alonso a slightly disappointing seventh on a circuit that many thought would suit Aston Martin.

Esteban Ocon ended the session eighth for Alpine, with Magnussen's teammate Nico Hulkenberg ninth, and Liam Lawson rounding out the top ten in his AlphaTauri, with the rookie New Zealander notably setting the crucial Q2 lap that saw Verstappen nudged out of the top ten.

Red Bull have dominated on a variety of different circuits so far in 2023, but have struggled badly with handling issues all weekend in Singapore.

With the two Red Bulls starting firmly in the midfield on a circuit where overtaking is notoriously difficult, the team's perfect win record so far in 2023 seems under serious threat.

The two Red Bulls ended up sandwiching Pierre Gasly's Alpine in 12th place, with Alex Albon 14th for Williams and Yuki Tsunoda 15th in his AlphaTauri.

Q1 was ended prematurely when Lance Stroll crashed heavily at the final corner, bringing out the red flag and meaning several drivers were not able to improve their times.

In the 16th to 19th places, Valtteri Bottas, Oscar Piastri, Logan Sargeant and Zhou Guanyu were the four drivers to be knocked out, along with Stroll, who qualified 20th and last, but will likely start from the pit lane owing to the damage to his AMR23.

With several drivers facing stewards' investigations for blocking around the tight confines of the Marina Bay Street Circuit, the final grid order for Sunday's race may yet change if penalties are to be applied.