Red Bull’s hopes of winning every race in the 2023 season were dashed in Singapore, where Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz triumphed and an exciting rookie claimed his first championship points.
AFP Sport looks at three talking points from the Singapore Grand Prix:
You can’t win them all
Red Bull’s winning streak finally came to an end in a chastening weekend under the floodlights as Sainz drove a perfect race to hang on to victory for Ferrari.
The last time neither Max Verstappen nor Sergio Perez stood on the top step of the podium was in Brazil in November 2022.
George Russell took his first grand prix victory in that penultimate race of last season. In Singapore on Sunday, the Mercedes driver was sniffing a second win when he crunched the unforgiving Marina Bay circuit barriers.
That left Sainz, Lando Norris of McLaren and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton to cross the line nose-to-tail in a breathless finish.
Verstappen and Perez were never in the mix during a weekend that demonstrated how thrilling a spectacle Formula One might be if Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren and Aston Martin can close the gap on Red Bull.
Unfortunately for race fans, the switch-around is likely to be short-lived with Red Bull expected to roar back on the sweeping high-speed Suzuka circuit in Japan this weekend.
Verstappen is still runaway favourite to claim a third world title in a row but must wait a little while longer.
But the gap to the rest is closing and that bodes well for the remaining seven races this season — and for 2024.
Sainz shows his smarts
Sainz said that slowing in front to give Norris a “cheeky DRS boost” had been key to victory.
Sainz’s cool head in the heat of the night to keep the McLaren within a second was as impressively smart as it was precise.
As a result, Norris was able to hold off the Mercedes pair of Russell and Hamilton, whose bold gamble to switch to fresh tyres with 18 laps remaining so nearly paid off.
Russell emerged from the pits 18 seconds behind Sainz with Hamilton in tow and threatened a famous win as he reeled in Charles Leclerc and drew up to the back of Norris.
He got alongside the McLaren in the run to turn 16 with four laps remaining, just failing to nose in front.
Sainz saw it in his mirrors and the quick-thinking Spaniard backed off when his instinct might have been to put his foot down.
“I knew he was on a hard (tyre) and if George and Lewis were going to overtake me I would be dead meat,” explained Sainz.
“At that point, obviously I had to change a bit the strategy. I had to give Lando a bit of a cheeky DRS boost and that helped us to keep them behind and win the race.”
Rookie Lawson impresses
Liam Lawson had a dream weekend in only his third grand prix, first knocking Verstappen out of qualifying and then guiding his AlphaTauri to ninth place and two points, the New Zealander’s first in the championship.
Three weeks ago Lawson was a spectator in the back of the garage when Daniel Ricciardo broke his hand in a Friday practice crash at Zandvoort.
The stand-in was thrown in the deep end but calmly negotiated rain and red-flag chaos of the Dutch Grand Prix to bring the car home 13th.
He finished 11th on his first full race weekend in Monza and his upward trajectory continued on debut on the tricky Marina Bay circuit.
The perfectionist 21-year-old said there was plenty of room for improvement, and you can be sure AlphaTauri’s parent Red Bull team will be monitoring his impressive progress.
“I need to sort these starts because it’s two weekends in a row now that I’ve lost two spots off the line,” Lawson said after the race. “It’s just making our life more difficult.”
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