F1 – Singapore GP – Qualifying

Hai, MiniFans! We’ve finally touched down in Singapore again after two years of absence due to the pandemic. An extremely wet FP3, which was shortened due to the amount of rain on the urban track, left a few unanswered questions, but the chance of rain lowered drastically for qualifying and dry sessions tend to be more predictable.

Q1 kicked off with intermediate tyres on the cars, as the track was still a bit wet due to the style of track and the climate, but it was clear the session would very likely end with slicks. Unlike the usual sight, almost everyone was out to do some laps from very early on. The first good lap times came courtesy of both Mercedes, specially from Russell, who was comfortably doing laps one full second faster than his teammate, but it only lasted until Ferrari and Red Bull clocked in, joining them at the top.

Times kept lowering by big margins, courtesy of the drying track, but Verstappen was sure intermediates were still the tyre of choice when asked by his team, and it seemed as if no one would dare to change to slicks yet, both due to there still being remnants of water and not having enough time to warm a set of dry tyres up. Both Haas, who hadn’t managed to set one good lap yet, launched themselves into the top 10, but nothing was decided yet. After a bit of a scramble of positions, thanks to the improvement we always see in these conditions, lap times seemed to settle in a more usual order. The drivers eliminated in Q1 were Bottas (P16), Ricciardo (P17), Ocon (P18), Albon (P19) and Latifi (P20).

The choice of tyres for the start of Q2 was also the intermediate, but this time drivers went out to test the waters with used sets, with some of them letting their teams know it wouldn’t be long until the switch to slicks. Lap times kept getting quicker, but a few specific spots on track didn’t make the drivers feel safe enough to risk a dry weather tyre. Leclerc did ask for slicks, but Ferrari gave both him and Sainz new inters, as did the majority of the teams pitting their drivers. Aston Martin, however, seeing themselves in a bit of pinch and not being sure they’d make it through, made a bet on soft tyres with less than five minutes to go.

Despite the earlier radio messages, no one copied the Aston Martin strategy except for Zhou, who complained about lack of grip. Those on intermediates kept getting green sectors, and there was even a purple sector by Alonso, while none of the ones with softs managed to improve their grid positions. The biggest shock came courtesy of Russell, who, for the first time in a very long while, had a less than good session, missing the cut by only six thousandths of a second. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Russell (P11), Stroll (P12), Schumacher (P13), Vettel (P14) and Zhou (P15).

Slicks were finally the norm in Q3, when all but Tsunoda and Magnussen decided on soft tyres. The asphalt was mostly okay and dry, but the rubber needed warming up and there were still a few difficult spots sprinkled in the Singaporean streets. In between all that, Tsunoda managed to slot himself in second place as he waited for the cars with red tyres to reclaim their places, among all the corrections to their driving and the small adjustments made when their single seaters threatened to make them kiss the walls.

Magnussen and Tsunoda were the only ones who visited the pitlane to blend in with their rivals and use dry weather tyres too, as the rest decided that staying out was more worth it than a fresh set and being proven right by the improvement to their times.  In yet another show of hands over car in tricky conditions, Alonso managed a fifth place as his teammate had been eliminated in Q1, barely a tenth and a half off the best time. Leclerc grasped yet another pole position, while Verstappen was called to pits in his last try, not being allowed to finish his last lap by his own team and having to accept an eighth place on the grid.

Singapore is no stranger to F1, but after two years away, drivers needed to reacquaint themselves with the track, and the earlier rain provided one more layer of complexity to an already difficult track, which surprisingly produced no red flags and just a couple minor yellow ones, but none due to crashes. Verstappen’s first match ball is upon us, but qualifying hasn’t helped him, and the one driver who can still stop him will depart from the position of privilege in F1’s return to night racing in Singapore.