F1 – Singapore GP – Race
Hai, MiniFans! The day kicked off with the news of Stroll not taking part in the race after his crash on Saturday. The key points of interest, however, were somewhere else: Red Bull hadn’t even made it to Q3 and didn’t quite look as if they’d be able to even make it to podium positions, and Ferrari seemingly placing themselves as the most likely winners with no energy drink team car in sight.
With Red Bull starting out of position, their hard tyres weren’t a surprise in a sea of mediums, but Leclerc’s softs from third on the grid did raise some eyebrows, but they did prove useful to overtake Russell at the start. This distraction, added to an already bad start by the Mercedes driver and a decent one by Sainz, helped the Spaniard to start pulling away. Meanwhile, Hamilton got past Russell as well, but on the outside of the track, so he let him teammate get back in front of him. Despite a clean first lap, a yellow flag soon came out due to Tsunoda being slow on track, but it was brief as he could get his car behind the barriers on his own.
Further back, Alonso had gotten past Magnussen, which was the car which could have proven to be a moving chicane for him, while Verstappen, who had managed to gain a couple of places, was starting his own battle with the Haas and needed quite a handful of laps to do so. Radios from Norris were complaining about Hamilton getting past him illegally, as he braked way later and didn’t even attempt the first corner, but the investigations came to nowhere as the young British driver got past the seven-time world champion on his own. At this point, the field was starting to settle in order, quietly waiting for the strategies to start kicking in.
When the pit window started to get closer for Leclerc and his softs, Ferrari started asking him to leave a three-second gap to Sainz, eventually raising it to five seconds to create a bigger gap to Russell and be safer in the eventual pitstop. Sainz also contributed to this, setting fastest laps to open up the gap as everyone at the top lowered their times. A double yellow came out due to Sargeant crashing into the wall, but the Williams managed to get back to boxes with his front wing tucked into his side. Despite the quick green flag, Race Direction eventually decided on a full safety car to clean up the track and the pit stops kicked off.
Everyone at the top pitted for hards, with Ferrari doing a good stop for Sainz but needing to keep Leclerc in for a while due to traffic in the pitlane, forcing him to lose a few positions. Red Bull had a different strategy and remained out with both cars, due to having started on hards and mediums not lasting enough to do a one-stopper at that point. This left Verstappen in second and Pérez in fourth, while Leclerc had dropped to seventh, behind Hamilton, as everyone lined up behind the safety car. Meanwhile, Alonso was handed a 5-second penalty for crossing the pitlane entry line after having gone wide in the corner that hosts the entry.
The restart saw a smart move from Sainz, who managed to make the push at the perfect place to leave Verstappen hanging and struggling to warm up his used hards. Once again, Hamilton got complained about for overtaking on the outside of the track, while the Red Bulls slowly but surely started to lose positions to the fastest cars. In a very uncommon sight, Pérez was the one leading the midfield train as Sainz was setting a race pace that would help his tyres reach the end comfortably.
Managing the race had become Sainz’s mantra to coast to the win, his slow pace becoming a small joke between Russell and his race engineer, making comments on how they were sure he could improve more than the one second the Spaniard told his team. When the race seemed almost decided with around twenty laps to go, a virtual safety car to retrieve Ocon’s stopped car at the end of the pit lane exit shook things up a bit. Neither the Ferraris nor Norris went in, but both Mercedes did pit for fresh mediums. Another driver who stopped was Alonso, who fulfilled his penalty, which added to the problems with fitting his tyres, dropped him to fifteenth.
The Mercedes started pulling fastest laps, while Sainz abandoned his management of the tyres in favour of dropping his previous times by almost two seconds. The Spaniard was the fastest of those who hadn’t stopped, but the Silver Arrows were pulling a punishing pace to close the gap to the podium positions. Their speed did drop as laps went by, even if they were still faster than the cars currently occupying the podium places. Leclerc’s abysmal pace when compared to both Sainz and Norris made it so that Russell reached him with ten laps to go, kicking off a brief battle that ended up with him behind both Mercedes.
Mercedes was seeking a double podium with their two drivers, slowly but surely chipping away at the gap to Norris. With four laps to go, the top four was almost fused to each other’s rear wings as Sainz kept Norris in his DRS zone to try and help him defend himself from the Mercedes. Once the battle between the British drivers did kick off, Sainz alternated between pulling away a bit and staying close enough to still keep Norris in his DRS range for his own benefit. A very brief intermission with no attacks preceded another wave of them from Russell during the last lap, which ended up with him crashing into the barriers due to the only mistake made by the top four in the last handful of laps and a second career victory for Sainz, who’d share the podium with Norris and Hamilton.
In a series of unprecedented (and likely catastrophic) events for Red Bull, they did not only not get into Q3 with any of their cars, but the first safety car of the race doomed all and any hopes they might have had with their opposing strategy. Meanwhile, Ferrari saw the opportunity and grasped it, scoring an unthinkable pole position in any other scenario. Their strategy towards the end almost doomed the otherwise secured win as Sainz kept his head cool and managed the race masterfully to earn his second ever win with blood, sweat and tears left on the asphalt alongside a brilliant battle for the podium steps.