Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admitted it was breath of fresh air to have a different winner in the Singapore Grand Prix, a podium with no Red Bulls.
Formula 1 found fresh air in the heat and humidity of Singapore on Sunday but next weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix could provide a reality check for those celebrating the end of Red Bull’s record run of success.
Until Singapore, Red Bull had won all 14 races this season with runaway leader Max Verstappen chasing his 11th victory in succession.
This time there was no Red Bull in the top 10 on the starting grid and a Red Bull-free podium at the end as Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz held off McLaren’s Lando Norris and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.
Singapore is something of an outlier and Red Bull are expected to bounce back at Suzuka where they won one-two last year and can also retain their F1 Constructors’ Championship.
“I wouldn’t get carried away too much, I think Red Bull are always the main guys to beat and I think in Japan they will be back to where they used to be,” commented Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
“I expect Red Bull to dominate in Japan,” agreed Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso. “Singapore was also not good for Mercedes in the past, when they were dominating the championship, so it’s a very special race weekend.”
Rivals were still enjoying the moment, however, a Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff clearly expressed,
“It’s a breath of fresh air that we have a different winner, we have a podium without them. You’ve got to take the small positives in a year of dominance,” he said.
Commercial rights holders Liberty Media may also be feeling some relief
Liberty’s CEO Greg Maffei recognized at a Goldman Sachs conference earlier this month that double F1 World Champion Verstappen’s runaway success was not ideal from a business perspective, however remarkable in sporting terms.
“The reality is we have a very attractive competitive product, other than the fact that Max is that fast,” he explained then.
“Short of breaking his leg, a la Tonya Harding, I’m not sure what we can do about that,” he joked, referencing the 1994 Winter Olympic scandal where the U.S. skater’s rival Nancy Kerrigan was attacked by a hired assailant.
The sport found its own solution in Singapore, with Red Bull struggling all weekend and Verstappen finishing only fifth even if he did extend his lead over team mate Sergio Perez to 151 points.
Removing Red Bull from the equation also offered a thrilling vision of how exciting F1 could be without one dominant team.
Las Vegas may prove more of an extravaganza when F1 takes to the Strip in November but four cars and three different teams going into the final lap nose-to-tail and fighting for the win takes some beating.
Suzuka may see a return of the stranglehold. If not, the breath of fresh air could turn into something altogether more bracing. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin)