Sergio Perez, Carlos Sainz Jnr, Singapore, 2023

Ferrari’s rivals fear they have pace in hand – but can Red Bull find theirs?

Formula 1

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Just two weeks ago in Monza, Carlos Sainz Jnr admitted that he’d given up trying to predict how strong his Ferrari team would be heading into race weekends due to how variable their performance had been and how frequently the pecking order had changed – behind the unstoppable Red Bulls.

That weekend he went on to prove the difficulty of making pre-race predictions by storming to pole position, then taking his first podium finish of the season in the race on Sunday.

Heading to Marina Bay, a circuit whose only similarity to Monza is that they both feature a pit lane, both Sainz and team mate Charles Leclerc were eager to downplay Ferrari’s chances, hoping to avoid the inevitable hype from building at a track they felt would not be as favourable to them as the previous round. But after a Friday where the two Ferrari drivers were quicker than every other car in the field in both practice sessions, any chance Sainz and Leclerc had of entering qualifying day without the weight of high expectations pressing down on them has evaporated into the Singapore night sky.

Unlike rivals Red Bull and McLaren, who have brought multiple new parts for their cars for this weekend, Ferrari have only arrived in Singapore with a new flap on their front wing. But both Leclerc and Sainz admitted they had found more pace from the car’s set-up during the first day of running.

“For us, we haven’t really brought anything different. It’s just a small tweak to what we had,” said Sainz after topping the second hour of running by just 0.018 seconds over his team mate.

Leclerc could make it three Singapore Grand Prix poles in a row
“We tested a couple of things of set-up that I wanted to try around this kind of track and it looks like it worked and it’s going in the right direction. So let’s see if we can put another good lap tomorrow and be on the front row.”

Ferrari’s unexpectedly strong performance was only half of the story on Friday. The other side was that the as-yet-unbeaten Red Bulls were seven tenths of a second off the pace, finishing with Sergio Perez in seventh and Max Verstappen in eighth. This on a day with no rain, no red flag interruptions and no obvious mechanical or technical problems afflicting them.

“Our performance today was unexpected,” Verstappen admitted after he climbed out of the car. “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.”

Perez spent most of the night time session complaining about the lack of stability in his RB19 and how he felt he was going to crash in every braking zone. Fortunately for Perez he successfully avoided the barriers, but it will be a long Friday night and Saturday morning for Red Bull as they try to extract some more pace out of their car into qualifying.

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“I think there are some interesting bits going on that we need to figure out overnight,” Perez said. “We seem to be struggling quite a bit with the rear end of the car, especially in FP2.

George Russell, Mercedes, Singapore, 2023
Russell continued his recent strong run
“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 tomorrow, it will be quite a big challenge. The main thing is to improve the balance because right now we are too far off.”

With Red Bull off the pace, George Russell’s Mercedes was the closest car to the Ferraris at the end of the day. While Mercedes have often built up their pace over the course of the weekend, Russell could not deny that he had enjoyed “probably our best Friday of the year so far” around the Marina Bay circuit.

“The car is feeling really good around the circuit,” Russell said. “It definitely improved in the cooler temperatures of FP2 but equally, it still felt decent in the slightly unrepresentative conditions of FP1.”

Looking ahead to qualifying, Russell does not only think that Ferrari are currently the strongest looking team, but that they likely have pace in hand as well.

“Ferrari are looking favourites at the moment,” he said. “I don’t think they were maximum power unit as well. So they’ve probably got a couple more tenths in the pocket – so the fight’s on probably for the second row.”

The Marina Bay circuit has a slightly different character to it for this season due to the removal of four corners in the final sector. With the track running straight from turn 15 into what was previously turn 20, drivers are hitting the brakes at around 290kph in seventh gear for the right hander, rather than at around 180kph as they were previously. The result is every team lapped more than 10 seconds quicker compared to their best times in the whole weekend last year, while average lap speeds are now around 15kph faster than they were. That is no small increase, but even with the faster speeds, Singapore remains well down the list of circuit speeds on the current calendar, slower even than the Hungaroring.

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As a street circuit, traffic is once again of major concern. Before setting the fastest time in the session, Sainz had to abandon a fast lap when he caught an unaware Verstappen over the Anderson Bridge just before turn 13, forcing the Ferrari driver to jump on the brakes. But while there is no return of the maximum lap time being extended to all laps in qualifying like at the last round in Monza, Valtteri Bottas thinks the heat and humidity of Singapore could help to alleviate it slightly.

Zhou fears final chicane will be a trouble spot
“Yes, there will be some bunching up in quali – especially Q1,” said Bottas. “But at least we’ve got some temperature, so I don’t think losing tyre temperature is going to be a massive issue.”

However, Bottas’ Alfa Romeo team mate Zhou Guanyu predicts trouble along the newly formed straight on the run to turn 16 in qualifying.

“I think mainly qualifying it’s going to be a massive pile-up going to the last chicane before you’re starting the lap,” Zhou admitted. “That’s probably the biggest issue at the moment.”

As a team who have been caught out on more than one occasion this year by not paying enough attention to the radar, Ferrari will have to ensure there is no risk of Sainz or Leclerc getting into any trouble with the stewards on Saturday. Especially as they look as though they could be about to head into a qualifying session as genuine favourites for pole position for the first time all season.

“It’s good to build a weekend starting on a Friday like this,” said Leclerc. “But again, we still need to do a step forward for tomorrow so that’s where we are focusing everything at the moment and let’s see what we can do.”

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Combined practice times

PositionNumberDriverTeamFP1 timeFP2 timeGapLaps
155Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’33.4281’32.12050
216Charles LeclercFerrari1’33.3501’32.1380.01852
363George RussellMercedes1’33.6951’32.3550.23550
414Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-Mercedes1’33.9741’32.4780.35853
544Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’33.5401’32.5850.46544
64Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’33.5221’32.7110.59147
711Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’33.7251’32.8120.69245
81Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’33.4761’32.8520.73245
920Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’34.8871’33.0170.89748
1077Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’34.8021’33.1050.98549
1127Nico HulkenbergHaas-Ferrari1’34.9851’33.1391.01944
1240Liam LawsonAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’34.8941’33.2851.16554
1331Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’34.0661’33.3611.24149
1418Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’34.5681’33.3901.27050
1581Oscar PiastriMcLaren-Mercedes1’35.4741’33.4611.34145
1622Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’34.0421’33.4771.35752
1724Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’35.4561’33.5751.45550
1810Pierre GaslyAlpine-Renault1’34.6391’33.8241.70447
192Logan SargeantWilliams-Mercedes1’35.7781’34.3272.20752
2023Alexander AlbonWilliams-Mercedes1’34.6571’35.5582.53724

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2023 Singapore Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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