Fans of Formula 1 who have complained that the 2023 season is too boring and predictable would be wise to tune in for the Singapore Grand Prix. It’s a backward world over there; Carlos Sainz has secured a second pole in a row for Ferrari, George Russell managed to haul his Mercedes up to second place, and nearly undefeatable Max Verstappen could only muster eleventh place behind an Alpha Tauri.
Verstappen isn’t alone, either. Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez also suffered from an invisible lack of pace from the dominant RB19, only managing 13th with a 0.137-second gap to Verstappen. Red Bull’s pace deficit has been obvious in practice sessions, but a truly dismal qualifying confirms that, at the very least, Singapore is not the ideal track for the dominant car. Onboard footage shows a capricious, snappy car that struggled with rear traction.
A new technical directive from the FIA raised eyebrows ahead of this weekend with a new clampdown on flexible aerodynamic elements. It’s suspected that teams are passing the scrutineering checks for flexibility, but are manipulating bodywork to flex in ways that aren’t detectable by the FIA. Some teams, like Williams, openly said that they will have to make changes. The official stance from Red Bull is that the technical directive did not affect its overall speed.
Even with Red Bull being the dominant story of the weekend, qualifying was eventful. A late crash from Lance Stroll in Q1 red-flagged the session as the track was rapidly evolving, ending Oscar Piastri’s lap early and leaving him in 17th. Liam Lawson went quick enough for his first Q3 appearance in his third-ever F1 race and finished tenth, ahead of Verstappen. Haas had an excellent showing with Kevin Magnussen securing fifth for Sunday with a stunning lap, while teammate Nico Hulkenberg starts ninth behind Esteban Ocon. While Piastri didn’t have a chance at a good lap, McLaren teammate Lando Norris managed an excellent fourth ahead of Lewis Hamilton in fifth.
Red Bull's misfortune is another team's opportunity. So maybe, just maybe, we’ll see someone surprising on the top step tomorrow.
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