After several weeks off, Formula One arrived at the twisty, tricky street circuit in Singapore and the whole weekend was not short on drama. It all started with rumors swirling throughout the paddock that two teams — Red Bull and Aston Martin — had exceeded the 2021 budget cap. Practice sessions were filled with mechanical issues and qualifying was damp and unpredictable. More rain delayed the start of the grand prix on Sunday.
The race itself proved to be no different. Here’s what we thought about what happened under the picturesque lights in Singapore.
Immediate reaction: All the small things
Sunday’s GP did not have any massive happenings, though it did have a lot of small events that contributed to some intrigue. Those moments started in qualifying when George Russell failed to make Q3 and Max Verstappen had to pull into the pits on his last qualifying lap due to low fuel, which caused him to start in 8th. He then compounded his poor position with an equally poor launch and lost four spots, dropping back to 12th. We then saw a race with several virtual/full safety cars bunching the field back up multiple times, but given the semi-wet conditions on a street course, track position was at a premium. Charles Leclerc tried to push past Checo Pérez, but in the end Pérez was able to pull away by 7.5 seconds and survive a five second penalty for falling too far behind the pace car before the last restart.
Driver of the race: Checo
There are probably arguments to be made for others who maximized on the day and scored max points given their circumstances, but I have to celebrate Checo’s win. It was not an easy race dealing with a damp track and intermediate tires for a large part of the race, but Checo was able to run a mostly flawless race. His one mistake was not keeping pace with the pace car before the last restart, which earned him a five second penalty after the race, but he held off the charge of Charles and ended up far enough in front that it didn’t matter.
Moment of the race: The start
Had any of the safety cars shuffled the field and caused drama, they likely would have been in this spot, but since that didn’t happen, it was the start. Checo took the lead, which he never relinquished, and Max lost crucial spots, which kept him from ever seriously challenging for a podium, let alone the lead.
Thoughts moving forward: Ferrari vs Mercedes
This is still the most intriguing thing to watch as the season winds down, but Ferrari got a bit of breathing room in Singapore. While Ferrari had a pretty mediocre race for their standards, that made for a solid points day, which we cannot say about Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton and George Russell both had subpar results, which equated to only two points scored for team Mercedes; meanwhile Ferrari’s mediocre day bagged them 33. With five races left, this might have been the exact thing that Ferrari needed to secure second place in the constructors championship.
Just Ferrari Things: *Blank*
Am I going to have to retire this segment? While there are probably some small things you could nitpick Ferrari for today, they did not have any massive blunders which caused me to create this category. Can they keep this up? I guess we’ll find out through the last five GPs.
The Singapore GP might be the most chaotic race in which the same driver led every lap. While the race started slowly as the drivers navigated the wet track on intermediate tires, an accident between Nicholas Latifi and Zhou Guanyu kicked off a middle portion of the race that saw several retirements and safety cars that kept the field from permanently separating too much.
Even the normally sure-handed weren’t immune to the tricky race conditions: both Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen sailed off the track in separate incidents after getting into wet areas while trying to overtake another car in Turn 7. As fate would have it with those two, they each ended up rejoining the field right in front of the other. Charles Leclerc seemed less willing to push his luck outside the dry racing line to pass Checo Pérez, assuring his second place finish. It was probably the right call in the grand scheme of the season, but too bad the conditions weren’t right for better battles between the two drivers who were the class of the field.
Driver of the race
Pérez was not fazed by the wet track, the heat, nor beating pole-sitter Leclerc to Turn 1 (something he similarly did at the Azerbaijan street circuit). He battled a handling issue and general exhaustion to win the most physically demanding race on the F1 schedule. As he sat cross-legged on the ground with Leclerc after the race, dumping water over his head, Red Bull boss Christian Horner called it the best drive of Pérez’ career. The only flaw to be found was that the stewards penalized him for failing to stay within 10 car lengths of the safety car three times.
Moment of the race
Shortly after the end of a safety car period, Leclerc was right on Pérez’ rear wing as it wiggled several times around the track. Checo radioed his team that he was having drivability issues. It looked like Ferrari might have a shot to steal the lead back as DRS was enabled for the first time in the race. But whatever the issue was, Red Bull figured out a way to mitigate it, and Leclerc could never quite get close enough or find track space dry enough to attempt an overtake at a track where it is notoriously difficult to pass.
The other crucial moment was when George Russell, who was mired in the back of the field, elected to be the first driver to risk changing from intermediate to slick tires. It was too soon, but he stuck with it and ultimately made it an easier call for the other teams, who just monitored his lap times to find the right moment to switch.
Thoughts going forward
Next week, the FIA is expected to certify the teams’ budget reports from the 2021 season — and reveal any teams that did not fit under the cap. The rumors brought out some salty comments from many teams, especially rivals Red Bull and Mercedes. If Red Bull is found to have overspent, how will the FIA choose to punish them? Will there be any impact to the standings from last year… or this year? If they want the teams with deeper pockets to take the new limits seriously, they may need to come down hard on any violations. It would also help to resolve these audits sooner, if possible, going forward. We could be looking at re-litigating the results of an already-controversial championship from eleven months ago.