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Singapore Takeaways: Return of the Smooth Operator and Red Bull's implosion

Singapore Takeaways: Smooth Operator, implosion and other stories

Singapore Takeaways: Return of the Smooth Operator and Red Bull's implosion

Carlos Sainz, aka Smooth Operator, treated us to a magnificent display of cunning and calculated racing on his way to victory at the 2023 Singapore Grand Prix, on a weekend in which Red Bull imploded.

Sainz will go down in the Formula 1 history records as the driver who ended Red Bull’s Max Verstappen’s dominant 2023 winning streak, and he did so fittingly after driving an impeccable race from pole in Singapore, masterfully managing his pace when he needed to, pushing when he needed to, not to mention his wily plan to keep Lando Norris in his DRS to tow him away from the chasing Mercedes of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton.

The race in Singapore was a boring procession at start, but then, and thanks to Mercedes, it became one of the most exciting races this season, if not the most exciting, and the fact that it came after Monza where Sainz gave us some decent defending driving when dueling with his teammate Charles Leclerc, is a good thing for F1.

I previously wrote an Editor’s Desk about how F1, while going through changes – some we like some we don’t – always finds a way of getting back into a better situation, and the race in Singapore somehow reminded me of that piece.

In a season where we go to every race knowing that, barring something out of the blue happens, Red Bull and Verstappen will win, having a race like the one we watched last Sunday, and even the one from Monza, just shows that despite the dominance of one team and one driver, F1 still delivers exciting races and a thrilling show.

And a thrilling show is what Singapore exactly delivered, and here are our Takeaways from the 2023 Singapore Grand Prix.

Ferrari back their “Number One” driver

Leclerc may be the driver Ferrari, and even the Tifosi, see as the chosen one who will deliver the Title to Maranello, but after Monza and especially Singapore, Sainz proved that he is a force to be reckoned with and that he also can deliver for the team what they believe only Charles can.

We all know that in terms of raw pace, Leclerc has the upper hand on Sainz, but the latter has upped his game after the summer break outqualifying the former for three races in a row, snatching pole in two of them.

Sainz has been even more impressive on race days, a thing we all know is his forte, but in Singapore he took it to another level, the way he managed his race, fending off the Mercedes attack with nerves of steel with a risky tactic (allowing Norris into his DRS) only he could make work.

I imagine, had Leclerc been in Sainz’s shoes in Singapore, he wouldn’t have won the race. Don’t get me wrong, he would’ve given the chasers hell to pass him, but he would’ve gone through his tyres in the process, not to mention that he might have made a mistake.

Credit to Ferrari is that from the start of the race they realized that backing Sainz in the strategy was their best chance to win, and they did so using Leclerc in the process, and indeed, they were rewarded with the win.

Strangely, Leclerc obliged, and did not complain. I am sure that it was eating him up on the inside, but if he doesn’t like that, he should’ve made sure he got pole.

The only mistake Ferrari made was not pitting Leclerc under the Virtual Safety Car, but we do not know the data available to them and their tyre situation – Mercedes had a new set of Mediums per driver – but other than that, their race execution was impeccable, another encouraging sign there.

But what was most interesting is that, towards the end, Sainz asked the Ferrari pit wall to update him on the gap to Norris lap by lap, and soon his engineer was panicking over the radio informing him Norris was too close, to which the Spaniard responded: “It’s on purpose.”

Could it be that Ferrari did not know what he was up to? He did say after the race that he didn’t need the pit wall to tell him what to do.

Carlos showed his mettle in Singapore and that he can be Ferrari’s number one driver, and if he keeps delivering the same level he showed last weekend, Fred Vasseur and Co need to rethink their driver-management strategy, and maybe as well lock down their Smooth Operator in a long term contract, that is if Audi haven’t done that already.

Red Bull: When it rains, it pours…

That must have been a bruising weekend for the Bulls and Verstappen. They knew and insisted Singapore would be tough, but never imagined it to be so bad.

As soon as the RB19 hit the Marina Bay Circuit, the writing was on the wall… The streak was over, and while some of us thought Red Bull will turn things around between Friday and Saturday, they did not, and Verstappen had to go through the humility of missing out on Q3, and at the hands of a rookie, in an AlphaTauri, Liam Lawson – more on him later.

On race day, the situation was no better and the RB19 just did not switch on its tyres, both Verstappen and Sergio Perez struggling to make any progress up the order, the Mexican also lucky to keep his eighth place finish after being handed a five-second penalty for his incident with Albon.

Speaking of penalties, Verstappen got away with three investigations for impeding after qualifying, and while I honestly cannot judge the decision of the stewards not to penalize him for being stationary at the exit of the pitlane, nor the one related to the pileup at the end of Q1, the other incident with Yuki Tsunoda was quite interesting.

How convenient was it that AlphaTauri did not even send a representative to argue their case with the stewards…

As for the speculation as to why Red Bull were off the pace, and some putting it down to the new FIA technical directive that clamped down on flexible body work, that probably is not the case, and we don’t have to wait long to find out.

F1 will be in Suzuka this weekend, a track where the RB19 should be in its element, and we will see if it will back to business as usual for Red Bull.

Anyhow, Singapore was a disastrous weekend for Red Bull, and it reminds us of weekends when Mercedes would implode and get everything wrong during their 2014-2020 dominant years – remember the 2019 German Grand Prix?

Indeed, when it rains, it pours…

Lawson gets his first Takeaway

And for the right reasons. The Kiwi has continued to impress since he was chucked in the cockpit of the AlphaTauri in Zandvoort, after Daniel Ricciardo broke his hand.

He has steadily improved and built up his momentum from Zandvoort to Monza and Singapore, and a points-scoring ninth place in the last race was a well earned reward for the 21-year-old driver.

For some reason, Red Bull- read Helmut Marko – have always given the impression that Lawson was not ready for F1, and their actions said as much, otherwise, why did they get Nyck de Vries and keep Lawson for an extra year in the Super Formula Championship?

Liam has shown he is ready for an F1 debut, and I am particularly looking forward to seeing how he performs at Suzuka, a track he knows quite well.

Moreover, I believe Red Bull/AlphaTauri should give Ricciardo the rest of the season off and keep Lawson to do a proper evaluation of his abilities.

Really, what is there more to know about Ricciardo, Red Bull knew him from the days he used to drive for them, and to be honest, he is a shadow of the driver he used to be, with age not on his side as well.

Wouldn’t it be worth to give Lawson a longer audition to prove his worth? Who knows, maybe Lawson delivers, and turns out to be the savior of the withered Red Bull junior driver program?

Quick hits

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  • Lance Stroll… Honestly what can be said? It was a good call to withdraw him from the race on Sunday, even if the reason was simply the team’s inability to re-build his car in time, and not only because he was sore. It was a relief to see him get out of the car, that crash was huge!
    The Canadian is becoming a risk to himself, and Papa Lawrence really needs to have a talk with his boy about his future. It’s actually overdue.
  • Russell’s mistake at the end of the Singapore GP was a clumsy one, and shows he still needs more experience to fight at the front of the grid, but up until his DNF, he was brilliant, giving Hamilton something to think about for a few races now, especially in qualifying.
  • Not only the Red Bull/Verstappen streak ended in Singapore. Fernando Alonso’s point-scoring streak ended last Sunday. A shame.
  • Sainz stole the spotlight in Singapore, but we also need to acknowledge Norris for the race he delivered and for playing along his former teammate as they both fended off the Mercedes duo.
  • Oscar Piastri also deserved a shoutout for his seventh place finish in a McLaren MCL60 that did not sport any upgrades, and kudos to McLaren who are bringing upgrades that work out of the box.