Red Bull’s own perfection backfired – this is how Verstappen’s flawless F1 season ended in Singapore


This weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix was one of, if not the most exciting, races of this year’s Formula 1 season, with the victory of Ferrari and Carlos Sainz, Red Bull’s crazy 15-race winning streak was interrupted, and at the same time, the possibility of a perfect season for the team was lost. . In addition to Ferrari’s victory, the fall of the Red Bulls was at least as much of a surprise, but basically a lot of things turned upside down in Singapore, which led to the order covering the betting slips as well. How long has Max Verstappen’s hegemony lasted? Was Singapore just a chain of lucky-unlucky coincidences that threw the current balance of power into chaos, or could the end of the 2023 season be intense? Can Ferrari, McLaren or Mercedes hope to maintain their good form? We are looking for answers to these questions.

How did Ferrari win?

Ferrari won a race in F1 for the first time in more than a year, since the Austrian Grand Prix in July 2022. Several factors had to come together in Singapore for Carlos Sainz to celebrate at the end.

The city track of Singapore classically offers the drivers few opportunities to overtake, so from the moment Sainz grabbed the first grid in Saturday’s qualifying, the Ferrari driver is in an ideal position, especially since the world-beating Red Bull in that part of the season was badly stuck. Another good news for Ferrari was that due to a grandiose construction project that started in March 2023 and lasted for years, the back section of the track had to be redesigned, and the chicane between turns 16-19 was replaced by a longer straight. This came in particularly handy, because this year’s Ferrari car, the SF-23, feels most comfortable on straights with floor gas.

In addition, the team, which was often and rightly criticized in recent seasons due to faulty strategic decisions, now saw the tactical battlefield as best as possible: they realized before the race that without sacrificing Charles Leclerc, it would be very difficult for them to keep Sainz’s first place. That is why Leclerc was started on the softest tire compound, so that he could overtake George Russell, who was wedged between the two Ferraris at the start of the race. This overtaking came in, after which Leclerc was able to slow down Russell enough for Sainz to be able to move calmly in the lead.

The safety car ordered due to the accident of Williams’ Logan Sargeant messed things up, but even then Ferrari made the right decision, they brought Sainz out earlier than planned for a tire change, who was therefore forced to stay on the track a little longer than expected until the end of the race, but he resolved the situation.

Special mention should be made of Sainz’s primarily tactical performance in the early stages of the race. Mercedes switched to the “we’re pulling a card for 19” mode with both of its drivers when a virtual safety car period came after Esteban Ocon’s elimination, and they changed the tires of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton in quick succession so that they could attack for the podium places.

Carlos Sainz in the lead – Photo: Andy Chua / Reuters

This came to such an extent that the pace of Russell and Hamilton was dangerous for Sainz and Lando Norris, who were in the first two places. While driving, Sainz recognized even faster than the team that Norris was less of a threat to him than the Mercedes approaching at a pace 1.5 seconds faster per lap, so he decided to try his best to help keep Norris’ second place.

This can be solved thanks to the openable rear wing, right? All Sainz had to do was keep his advantage over Norris under 1 second so that the McLaren competitor could be faster in front of the Mercedes at certain points on the track. After the race, Sainz himself admitted that if he had just focused on himself and cut Norris off, the two Mercedes would probably have crushed McLaren first and then him as well, and the race victory would have slipped away. Coming up with and implementing such an important tactical move while at the front is a huge thing, the latter would have been a challenge even if the team had come up with the idea of ​​what to do. In addition, the matter did not fall for Sainz at Ferrari for a while

he deliberately lets Norris get close to him.

What happened to Red Bull?

This is the (many) million dollar question after the Singapore Grand Prix, especially since they had confidence in the Austrian team in advance, so much so that the chief consultant Helmut Marko talked about the fact that, although they are watching their rivals, the reality is that they are still the most likely for victory.

In comparison, the team and the F1 environment were quite shocked when neither Sergio Pérez nor Max Verstappen made it to the top 10 in qualifying. The last time the Red Bulls performed this badly was during qualifying for the 2018 Russian Grand Prix, which clearly shows that something went very wrong in Singapore. Although team boss Christian Horner said in his assessment on Saturday that everything was done to the best of their ability, the car was essentially exactly the same as before in Monza or even Zandvoort, but he did not fully explain all the details of the truth.

Singapore is a very special stop on the F1 calendar. The heat in September is combined with extremely high humidity, due to which F1 drivers can lose up to 4 kilos during a race. This is the case every year, but this year, Red Bull had to pay serious attention to another factor: the fact that the race is held on the rather uneven roads of a city.

Of course, this is also a factor that all ten teams have to take into account, but here Red Bull’s perfection backfired. Since the rule change that came into effect at the beginning of the 2022 season, one of the most important features of Formula 1 racing cars is how close the bottom of the car can be to the asphalt. Since in the case of new racing cars, a significant part of the downforce is provided by the air flowing under the car, it is important that the gap under the car is as small as possible, thereby making the air flowing there as fast as possible, and that the resulting suction effect is as large as possible. At the beginning of 2022, the vast majority of teams found it difficult to find this balance, which is when the problem known as dolphinization appeared.

Red Bull’s dominance this year is partially based on the fact that they manage the air flowing under the car better than anyone else, but this is exactly what backfired in Singapore. The huge clouds of sparks seen during the competition are not merely visual elements, in fact, they are not primarily. There is a titanium plate on the bottom of the car, which can only wear to a certain extent by the end of the race, otherwise the driver in question will be disqualified – this happened to Michael Schumacher, he lost a race victory because of it, although at that time it was not made of titanium, but of wood plate.

Sparking Red Bull (and Mercedes) in Singapore – Photo: Clive Rose / Getty Images

The surface of the urban track in Singapore is much more uneven than usual, so in order to avoid more wear than is allowed in the rules for the titanium plate, the teams raise the ground clearance of the car higher than in most races. Due to the dolphinization problem, many teams already have significant experience of how to set up the car well with raised ground clearance, but for Red Bull, because of the too good car, this was a completely new area, and the three free practice sessions were not enough to find that set-up. , next to which the tires warm up ideally

However, certain parts of the track were re-asphalted, and these became smoother than expected, where Red Bull’s suspension was softer than before and the undercarriage of the car regularly hit the bottom of the car. So, the car did not work well on either the newly asphalted or the old surface, and the suspension that was hardened for Saturday brought some improvement in this area, but it significantly reduced the grip of the rear tires, which meant that they were actually only found with another, at least the same, problem against themselves.

In the end, this is what caused the team’s loss – the fact that Verstappen ended up fifth and Pérez eighth was a huge save on their part, and it also required that the strategy constantly changed due to several accidents. (It was also suggested that Red Bull could have been affected by the fact that in Singapore they checked more strictly than before, whether a couple of parts, such as the front wing, were bent more than allowed, but since Red Bull did not change it, this could not have been the behind a decline.)

Could Mercedes have won?

McLaren’s Lando Norris kept his second place, which was due to two factors: the already discussed Ferrari assistance, and the fact that, like Ferrari, McLaren worked well in the longer straights, where it would have been possible to overtake. The two Mercedes received new medium compound tires for the last 18 laps, with which they could easily attack the pair of Sainz and Leclerc, who were driving on the used, old hard (thus slower) tires. At certain stages of the race, Russell and Hamilton approached the first two places at a faster pace by 1.5 seconds per lap, but the biggest part of this difference came together in the middle sector of the track, they could not get closer in the straights, and they could not overtake them elsewhere.

It was also unlucky for Mercedes that it was Russell-Hamilton, as the latter was 4 tenths faster on his best lap, so it seems that Hamilton had a reserve with which he could have overtaken Norris. In addition, the team did not intervene in the fight (at least no such radio message could be heard in the broadcast), so Russell had to pay attention to Hamilton’s small jabs here and there in the mirror while attacking Norris, which did not make his job any easier. At the very end, he made a mistake, he just touched the barrier and fell out, missing a podium place.

George Russell - Photo by Clive Rose / Getty Images

George Russell – Photo by Clive Rose / Getty Images

What will happen now?

If Red Bull suffers in the next race weekend, in Suzuka, the rest of the season could be interesting, but there are not many signs of this for now. The weak Red Bull performance in Singapore only affected a few things:

  • the winning streak of Verstappen and Red Bull was interrupted,
  • Red Bull’s chance for a perfect season is gone,
  • and Verstappen certainly cannot be champion after the Japanese Grand Prix, because for that he would need a 180-point advantage, and after Suzuka, he can be ahead of teammate Sergio Pérez by a maximum of 177 points.

Red Bull, on the other hand, can already win the team championship in Suzuka, for which they would need to increase their current 308-point advantage over Mercedes by a single point. If Red Bull won every race from here on, the perfect season of 23 wins out of 23 would not be achieved, but they could break McLaren’s 1988 record, when they won 15 out of 16 races and produced a victory rate of 93.8%. Red Bull could close with 22 out of 23 for 95.6%.

Continuation September 22-24. between in Japan.

The article is in Hungarian

Tags: Red Bulls perfection backfired Verstappens flawless season ended Singapore


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