F1 – Singapore GP – Qualifying

Hai, MiniFans! A ray of hope seemed to shine on the horizon before the qualifying session kicked off, as Red Bull appeared not to be up to speed in the streets of Singapore. However, they’re not the kind of team to write off simply because the free practice didn’t goo according to plan, and they would fight against the problems that both drivers reported with shifting gears and drifting.

Unlike their usual plans, Red Bull went out in Q1 in the first group, right after the light turned green, as they needed to test the changes made to the cars to try and fix what the drivers had complained about earlier. Meanwhile, McLaren’s newest package seemed to be doing the opposite for the papaya team, once again attacking the first positions since the beginning with Norris, who was only being surpassed by Leclerc. In an attempt to save up on tyres, a few teams, including Mercedes and Aston Martin, only left the pitlane almost halfway through, as tyre degradation meant that a fastest lap could be done on six or seven-lap-old soft tyres.

Once everyone was on track, it was Russell who topped the timing tower, while the top four sported four different teams when Verstappen finally seemed to find the balance with his car and surprisingly shot to the top, soon after being demoted by Sainz, but by barely half a tenth. Not knowing exactly how much the track would improve, everyone went back out with fresh tyres except for Mercedes, who opted for softs. The bigger amount of rubber on track meant that times went down up to almost a second, and both Haas and AlphaTauri, the first to set new times, settled at the top, but all tries were halted to a stop when Stroll crashed hard into the barriers at the start of the main straight after losing the rear in the last corner. A red flag concluded the session so that the track could be cleaned and repaired. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Bottas (P16), Piastri (P17), Sargeant (P18), Zhou (P19) and Stroll (P20).

While the marshals were sweeping away the remnants of Stroll’s car, an investigation on Verstappen came out, as he had remained stopped in the fast lane of the pitlane before the last attempts and prevented others from leaving. He wasn’t the only one, as a few other unnamed drivers were under investigation for impeding and being slow in the last corners as they tried to make it to the finish line before the checkered flag dropped.

When the track was finally cleared and the barriers repaired, the session resumed with Q2. The barely used softs from the end of Q1 were the chosen tyres. The first few laps were riddled with small mistakes and corrections, and it ended with Alonso on top, very closely followed by Sainz and Norris. His time would only be beaten by Russell as the first stint came to an end and another investigation for impeding came out for Verstappen, as he had forced Tsunoda to abort his lap. The track improvement, however, meant that everyone had to go back out.

Verstappen’s bad first sector left him in tenth, but a great effort by Lawson edged him out by barely seven thousandths, while Pérez spun in his lap and couldn’t improve his time. At the front, the battle was tight, but Sainz kept his momentum and snatched first place away from everyone else as his teammate got an investigation going for failing to slow down under yellow flags. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Verstappen (P11), Gasly (P12), Pérez (P13), Albon (P14) and Tsunoda (P15).

Cars were out on track as soon as the light turn green and Ferrari took no time to settle in first with Sainz commandeering the timing tower, knowing they still had a second set of fresh softs, which would allow them to take a bit more risk on their second attempt. The rest had to do their first timed laps with used softs, but even in this way, Norris was barely three and a half tenths away. The red cars were the first contenders for pole position to leave the pitlane, and drivers left just enough space among themselves to do a lap in clean air. Sainz was the first to cross the checkered flag, while Leclerc and Norris settled behind him until Russell barely edged them out of the front row, confirming Sainz’s fifth career pole position.

Red Bull had appeared in the qualifying session without being among the favourites to start from the front row, but the surprise came when neither of them, for the first time in more than five years, went through to Q3. Ferrari, however, had been looking strong all weekend, as had McLaren with their new package, and they managed to take advantage of Red Bull’s problems and snatch pole position with Sainz, while Russell managed to be his companion in the front row by seven thousandths. In any other track, Sunday would be looked at as a chance to see many overtakes by Red Bull in their chase of victory, but with Singapore not being prone to being witness to many of those, their problems have opened up the possibility of seeing a winner that does not wear the Red Bull suit for the first time in the season.

MiniDrivers – F1
2023 Singapore GP