When we look at the unbridled success that Red Bull have commanded from the 2023 season, I don’t think anyone was prepared for a weekend quite like Singapore. The mere suggestion that we would get a race in which Red Bull would not be a legitimate competitor for the entirety of the weekend seemed unthinkable until a few days ago.
When we look back the short history of the Singapore Grand Prix, we can see that it has always been a bit of a bogie track for the reigning world champion, but with Red Bull’s record-breaking season, many thought that their RB19 would simply power through the notoriously demanding street circuit under the city lights.
So, why was Singapore the best race of the year?
The tight twisty track offered up a high-stakes game of ‘no risk no reward’ driving, often lauded as the toughest track of the year, drivers begin training for the clammy climate of the Marina Bay circuit way ahead of time in order to acclimatise themselves to the unrelenting heat and humidity of Singapore.
The 2023 season would see a revised track layout, with four corners removed, making the track more accommodating to better racing. This would see the perilous challenge of qualifying suffer slightly as there was slightly less jeopardy during a flying lap, but it would make the race come alive when Sunday rolled around.
The unpredictability of this street circuit in particular, casts a spell of intrigue over the viewer drawing you in as you watch the drivers throw their cars around the track just mere centimeters from the wall at every turn. When we talk about Formula 1 throwing up the unexpected and making the impossible possible, this is the exact track that comes to mind.
Any previous results that we’ve seen throughout the year simply cannot be applied to Singapore, it’s a circuit that stands on its own and goes by its own rules.
Qualifying – A sign of what’s to come
As soon as the cars took to the track in the first competitive session of the weekend, it wasn’t long before the walls closed in on Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, as his car went hurtling toward the barrier at over 150 mph in a frightening crash that closed out Q1. There was a universal sigh of relief once we saw the Canadian jump out of the car unaided, but the sheer impact of the crash would put an end to his Singapore weekend as he was withdrawn from the race on Sunday due to still feeling the after-effects of his crash.Embed from Getty Images
Just as things started to settle down again, Q2 would provide possibly the biggest shock of the weekend with both Red Bulls failing to make it into Q3 for the first time since Russia 2018 and to add salt to the wound, the reigning world champion was knocked out by Liam Lawson in the sister team, Alpha Tauri.
The stage was set for a Q3 shootout and it was Sainz who ultimately took the top spot for a second weekend in a row.
There was an electrifying buzz in the air following qualifying as it was a genuine possibility that we would have a non-Red Bull winner for the first time this year, as the team from Milton Keynes looked to be absolutely nowhere.
The best race of the year so far
It has to be said that the race got off to a slow start. It was a slow and strategic game that saw Sainz back up the pack in order to limit the chance of an undercut from anyone else in the field, but things kicked up a gear with the first safety car came out on lap 20. Following Logan Sargeant’s trip into the barrier, we saw the first signs of movement amongst the teams as those at the top came in for their first pit stop.
This crucially put Red Bull, who started on hard tyres, at a bigger disadvantage as those around them not only got fresh tyres but got to stop with a significantly reduced time under the safety car. As the race went on, another interruption was introduced as the VSC came out on lap 44 and this is what really kicked off the four way battle for the lead that would last until the very end.
With the VSC playing perfectly into the hands of Mercedes, both drivers came in for a late stop to switch onto new medium tyres whilst the cars ahead of them were sliding and struggling around the street circuit on aging hard tyres.
The pursuit of the top 3 by the Mercedes drivers had everyone on edge for the remaining 18 laps, no one could call who would take the chequered flag first as we had a Ferrari, McLaren, and both Mercedes going all out in a long-awaited battle for the lead. The tension was palpable, everyone was hooked to the screen waiting to see if Mercedes could execute the strategy that had been provided to them, or whether Sainz would be able to withstand the faster cars behind him.Embed from Getty Images
As we approached lap 61/62 it looked as though Sainz had it in the bag and Russell would at least score a podium then just when no one was expecting it, Russell went into the wall on the last lap throwing away his hard-fought podium and handing it to his teammate, Hamilton. The shock twist on the very last lap perfectly encapsulated the weekend at Singapore. It put a bow on the gift that was the Singapore Grand Prix, it kept everyone guessing and showed us what F1 would look like in an ideal world.