All winning streaks come to an end! If ever there was an indication that the Singapore Grand Prix might not belong to Red Bull and Max Verstappen, Friday practice may well be the first stutter in their 2023 Formula 1 World Championship unbeaten run.
That may be a big prediction after only one day of practice at Marina Bay Circuit, “early days” one might say. But it’s hard to remember when last RBR had such a below-par Friday this season. Seven-tenths down on the top time set by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, with a car that appeared jittery and hard to drive.
The hitherto impeccable Red Bull RB19 was a shadow of its majestic self, as not only did Sergio Perez struggle (he tends to anyway) but Verstappen not finding the sweetspot today is headline-grabbing news amid a season he has utterly dominated.
Singapore’s 14th Grand Prix has all the hallmarks of a first glitch on their incredible 2023 F1 World Championship-winning journey. Today they did not look like the mighty team we have seen for the past two years, no matter what day of the weekend.
Tricky to drive, on a green but rubbering track, Verstappen had a big moment at the Esplanade Bridge area, thereafter reported “no grip at all” as he trailed the top time by a tad over seven-tenths of a second and only good for P8 on the timing screens.
Checo: Every braking zone I feel like I’m gonna crash
Late in the session, Perez told his engineer: “It’s just not coming mate. Every braking zone I feel like I’m gonna crash. The rear is just stepping out massively.” The Mexican ended the day P7.
Later in the Red Bull team Friday report, Verstappen added: “Our performance was unexpected. We tried quite a few different things in FP2 and some worked, and some didn’t. We never really got the car together today.
“I struggled with the balance especially, so there are quite a few things to work on with the Team tonight. I will of course try to improve but there’s quite a gap. The Ferraris are looking fast. Let’s see what improvements we can make overnight,” added the soon-to-be triple F1 World Champion, who is targeting an 11th win in a row on Sunday.
In the sister Red Bull, Perez echoed his teammate: “I think there are some interesting bits going on that we need to figure out overnight. We seem to be struggling quite a bit with the rear end of the car, especially in FP2.
“There are plenty of things to look at and hopefully, we can come up with the best possible setup before qualy. We did expect the Ferrari to be good around here, but we are just too far away. All being well, we should be able to close the gap a bit more
“It will be quite a big challenge. The main thing is to improve the balance because right now we are too far off,” reckoned Perez, perhaps for the first time this year the RB19 has been lacking by so much.
Max targeting his 13th win of the 2023 F1 season
After a so-so FP1 session in which Verstappen was third quickest, but only a tenth and bit down on the top time set, expectations were that Red Bull would set the place alight in the nighttime FP2.
But not so as they lacked around half a second to the top time, this time set by Carlos Sainz, whose Ferrari team have the upper hand heading to Saturday.
What’s really going on with Red Bull’s disappearing pace has launched much debate in the F1 paddock. Some claim RBR are sandbagging, others suggesting upgrades brought to Singapore bombed, setup changes did not work, and those, of course, who predict the Champs are on the ropes already at Marina Bay Circuit.
FP1 showed that out of the box, the car was in a good window. Furthermore, by all indications, Perez showed some handy race pace. Thus FP3 will be crucial for Verstappen and Perez to find the sweetspot in the RB19, as strong qualifying is key to success at the incident-prone and safety car certain GP venue.
This weekend, record-breaking Verstappen is also targeting a ninth pole position start of 2023, and a 13th GP win out of 15 this year. Perez won the 2022 Singapore Grand Prix, his only win at Marina Bay.