Carlos Sainz took victory in the Singapore Grand Prix after a thrilling chase with Mercedes failed. The Ferrari driver’s triumph ended Red Bull Racing’s unbeaten run into 2023 and the team’s hopes of a perfect first F1 season.
Pole winner Sainz had nailed his breakaway and spent the rest of the evening setting a slow pace around Marina Bay to ensure his favored one-stop strategy worked.
Charles Leclerc had moved up to second early on to act as his teammate’s main defender against front row starter George Russell, but an early safety car – for an incident with Logan Sargeant crashing into the wall on lap 19 – it dropped the Monegasque to sixth place. , leaving Sainz vulnerable to Mercedes.
Sainz leads at the start. Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images
Russell tried to force Sainz into making a mistake, but the Spaniard was astute in his defense, not giving the Briton a chance to show him a wheel.
On lap 44, with 18 laps remaining, Russell had had enough and Mercedes took him and fourth-placed Lewis Hamilton to the pits for a last-gasp switch to a new set of mediums. They dropped to fourth and fifth respectively and 18 and 23 seconds off the lead, but significant tire life and compound offsets helped them push their way into the lead group.
By laps 53 and 54 the Mercedes duo had overtaken Leclerc into third and fourth place, and with five laps to go they were a second behind Lando Norris in second place and aiming for victory.
It should have been an easy pass, but Sainz slowed down tactically to keep the Briton within range of the DRS to give him a crucial defensive tool against the faster cars behind and give himself a useful buffer.
For five laps Sainz delicately caught up with his three pursuers, occasionally increasing his margin to more than a second before bringing his rivals back into the DRS train to ensure they never had the chance to race to the their pace. It was a lesson in tactics for the cerebral Spaniard, who claimed a tough victory by 0.8 seconds.
“An incredible feeling and an incredible weekend,” Sainz said. “We nailed the weekend, we nailed the race. Everything we had to do we did perfectly.
“In the end the situation was quite tough, but we gave Lando some DRS to help him, and in the end we finished P1. I’m over the moon right now.
The battle for second place ended in Norris’s favor on the final lap when Russell hit the outside wall while braking for Turn 10 with his left hand. He sent him into the barriers and out of the race, leaving Norris off the hook.
“Carlos was very generous in trying to help me get the DRS,” Norris said. “He helped my race; it also helped him.
“We knew it would be tough as soon as the Mercedes stopped. We kept them at bay. We did everything we were supposed to do and more. Very happy.”
Hamilton capitalized on his teammate’s mistake to take the final place on the podium, ensuring Mercedes saw at least some return on its strategic gamble.
“We rolled the dice this weekend … to do what we did today,” he said. “The team did a really amazing job today to help us get back up there.
“Extremely unfortunate for George, but we were pushing so hard to catch those guys and our tires were so hot. I know he will recover.”
Leclerc finished a subpar fourth, his race ruined by the safety car which took him out of the fight for the lead. He held off a recovering Max Verstappen in a drag across the line by just 0.264 seconds.
Verstappen had qualified a lowly 11th but had prepared for a reverse strategy by starting on hard tires to try and get himself into the victory frame. After six laps he was up to eighth and was told to settle down to play the long game, having started on the hard tire with the intention of compensating for the rest of the field.
But the long-term strategy was thwarted when Sargeant hit the barrier at Turn 8 on lap 19. The American extricated himself and returned to the pits with his front wing stuck under the car, but a safety car was required to clear the track of debris. .
Everyone except Verstappen, teammate Sergio Perez and Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas, who all started on the hard tyres, made mandatory pit stops on the hards in preparation for the race to the end.
Verstappen took the restart second behind Sainz, but warmed up poorly on his 20-lap old tires and sank helplessly to sixth after six laps of the race.
“It’s like driving on ice,” he radioed to his team, but was busy waiting for another safety car to salvage his recovery.
It never happened and on lap 40 the team called on the championship leader for his only stop, dropping him to 15th place and 45 seconds off the lead. From there, fifth place was the best he could achieve: his worst result.
Pierre Gasly led the midfield in sixth after teammate Esteban Ocon retired with a suspected gearbox failure and Fernando Alonso uncharacteristically went off the road at Turn 14.
Alonso’s mistake saw Oscar Piastri move up to seventh place, while Perez, who had dropped to last after his pit stop, moved up to eighth place.
Perez, however, faces a post-race investigation for causing a collision with Alex Albon that put the Thai driver into the wall at Turn 10, costing Williams a chance at the points.
Liam Lawson drove an excellent race scoring his first points in just his third Grand Prix. He also marks the first occasion on which the second AlphaTauri car has scored points this season.
Kevin Magnussen took 10th place ahead of the recovered Albon, scoring Haas’ first points since the Miami GP in May. Albon finished ahead of Zhou Guanyu, Nico Hulkenberg, Sargeant and Alonso.
Valtteri Bottas retired due to a technical problem, while Yuki Tsunoda’s race lasted just one lap after contact with Perez.
The story originally appeared on Racer