Slow-burn Singapore Sees Sainz Stop Red Bull Streak, Singapore GP Review 2023
September 17, 2023

After a woeful qualifying performance for Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, the fight at the front had Ferrari, Mercedes, and McLaren glued together throughout the race. Sainz controlled the pace in the opening two acts before a late-race Virtual Safety Car had him under intense pressure from a three-pronged attack before securing his second grand prix victory.

Ferrari vs. Mercedes vs. McLaren drama bookended Sunday's action under Singapore's lights following a slow getaway from George Russell that let Charles Leclerc into second place. The Briton's defending meant teammate Lewis Hamilton had to cut Turn 2 to avoid contact, much to the ire of Russell and McLaren's Lando Norris. Hamilton eventually handed the positions back, but his delay had let the two Ferraris out front enjoy the opening laps without pressure.

Further back, Red Bull tried to rescue their weekend by running Pirelli's hard-compound tyre on both RB19s. The decision meant slow progress for each driver, though, and Verstappen had only advanced a handful of places on the tough-to-pass track, with Perez hitting Yuki Tsunoda on Lap 1 to end the Japanese driver's race. A lack of field spread thanks to Sainz managing the pace to extend his tyre life meant most drivers settled into a long DRS train, further limiting the RB19's advance.

After some low-energy laps seeing no notable position changes, Williams' under-pressure driver Logan Sargeant briefly reignited the race. The American understeered into the Turn 5 barrier, breaking his front wing and scattering debris over the circuit on his return to the pit lane.

Slow-burn Singapore Sees Sainz Stop Red Bull Streak, Singapore GP Review 2023

With the race director opting for the Safety Car's services to clean up Sargeant's mess, the frontrunners took the opportunity to swap their Pirelli medium tyres in favour of the longer-lasting hards. The unsurprising exception was Verstappen and Perez, who continued running on their old rubber but now in P2 and P4. Red Bull presumably hoped for another slowdown to get them closer to the front with a cheap pit stop and rescue their races.

Double-stacking action in the pit lane jumbled the order and hurt Leclerc the most. The Monegasque driver pitted after race-leading Sainz but found himself held up by Hamilton, who was queuing up behind Russell. The result meant Ferrari retained the lead, but Sainz lost his rear-gunner support as Leclerc dropped behind the British duo of Russell and Norris. Further disappointment for Leclerc came on the restart when he outbraked himself and inadvertently let Hamilton through, meaning he lost three positions in just a handful of laps.

The previously dominant RB19s became two corks in two bottles during the first green-flag laps, as Verstappen and Perez's old Pirellis couldn't hold back the fresh-tyred drivers behind. Russell surged by Verstappen in the shorter final sector, with Norris duplicating the move on Perez just moments behind. Before long, Norris and Hamilton also passed the Red Bulls, and the top four positions of Sainz, Russell, Norris, and Hamilton remained until the last lap.

After holding out for another slow down, Red Bull finally ended their drivers' misery by Lap 39 and Lap 40, pitting Perez and Verstappen for the final third of the race on fresh medium tyres. Sainz's reduced pace had each Bull drop to P16 and P15, respectively, albeit with a faster tyre compound for the last laps. However, they might've fared a little better had they waited just three laps longer.

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Slow-burn Singapore Sees Sainz Stop Red Bull Streak, Singapore GP Review 2023

Esteban Ocon's Alpine pulled off at the side of Turn 2 with a power loss, and the resulting VSC changed the course of the race. Mercedes opted to roll the dice and pit both their drivers for fresh mediums — a benefit they had thanks to conserving an extra tyre set in qualifying — and set about chasing down the leaders.

While Russell and Hamilton began the pursuit, Verstappen slowly inched forward in a recovery drive for the reigning champion. His newer Pirellis were no match for the midfielders nursing their older hard tyres around, and he eventually finished an impressive P5.

In the race for the win, the Mercs had closed up and passed Leclerc for the final podium spot with 10 laps remaining, and soon reeled in the Sainz-Norris leading pair. The front four were glued together in the final laps thanks to a clever decision from Sainz's cockpit to allow Norris to close in. Sainz had halted the Mercedes advance by smartly giving the McLaren driver DRS, removing the Silver Arrows' straight-line speed advantage.

This race still had one final twist in the tale, though. With Russell still hunting down P2, the Mercedes driver ran too close to the wall on the last lap, breaking his suspension and becoming the final retirement with two miles remaining. Sainz crossed the line in P1 just ahead of Norris, with a jubilant Hamilton inheriting the final podium spot in a breathless finish to one of 2023's best races.

Slow-burn Singapore Sees Sainz Stop Red Bull Streak, Singapore GP Review 2023
Slow-burn Singapore Sees Sainz Stop Red Bull Streak, Singapore GP Review 2023