Five talking points from a marathon Singapore GP

Max Verstappen’s second Formula 1 world championship must wait, at least for another week. Instead, after Red Bull botched his Saturday by fuelling him too light for qualifying, the Dutchman’s team-mate Sergio Perez took the limelight by defeating Charles Leclerc’s pole position-winning Ferrari to claim his fourth career win. ‘Checo’ clung on to it too, despite a nervous wait post-race as the stewards debated how to penalise him for not one but two infringements behind the safety car, on a convoluted wet-dry night-time marathon on the streets of Singapore.

Five talking points from a marathon Singapore GP

Brilliant Perez rides his luck

The second Red Bull driver fully deserved his second victory of the season, following his other street track win in Monaco back in May. Following an hour’s delay to the start because of heavy rain, Perez made a peach of a getaway from the inside of the front row to beat Leclerc into Turn 1 as the field all opted for intermediate tyres.

Despite the intense tropical heat, the track took an age to dry as drivers held off from the switch to slick Pirellis. Out front, Perez kept his cool and was never headed despite pressure from Leclerc, with two full safety car periods and three Virtual Safety Cars pock-marking a strange race that was processional for long periods, before it came alive in the final act.

Five talking points from a marathon Singapore GP
Five talking points from a marathon Singapore GP

Perez is vastly experienced, so it might seem a surprise that he made two significant errors behind the safety car. Then again, he hasn’t led that many grands prix, and perhaps that played against him as he broke the rules on two separate occasions. During both the first safety car interruption early on and the second triggered on lap 35, the Red Bull failed to stay within ten car lengths of Bernd Maylander’s Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series. The tricky conditions were seen as extenuating circumstances for the first offence and he was let off with a reprimand, but Perez copped a five-second penalty for the second.

Fortunately, his team had told him a post-race investigation was pending during the race and after valiantly soaking up pressure from Leclerc after the final restart, the Mexican was able to stretch away and open up a winning gap of 7.5 seconds. It was frustrating to watch the finish, in the knowledge we couldn’t be certain who had actually won. But eventually after the investigation was complete, Perez’s victory was confirmed – by 2.5 seconds. He’d been made to sweat in more ways than one, during and after the best performance of his career so far.

Five talking points from a marathon Singapore GP

A messy night for Verstappen

The world championship leader started eighth and finished seventh. But those bare statistics only tell a sliver of his messy story from Singapore. Verstappen was left venting expletives on the radio on Saturday when he was called off from what looked certain to be a pole-winning lap. He backed off when Red Bull realised he was short of fuel for the mandatory post-session scrutineer’s sample. Without that he’d have been dumped to the back of the grid, but eighth was little consolation when he knew what would have been – and on a weekend when a victory might have delivered him the second world title that looks a certainty.

The crown is surely only a matter of time, but the win he needed from a lowly grid position – as we’ve seen from Verstappen on other occasions this year – was always a long shot on this tough street track. Still, after a poor first lap that dropped him to 12th, he was the only driver on the move in the early stages, impressively picking off cars ahead of him in still treacherous conditions to rise up to sixth. After the first safety car, he passed both Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly on a single lap, such was his determination.

But then came another error when, after the second safety car, he tried a dive on Lando Norris’s McLaren on newly fitted slicks and slid straight on at Turn Seven. After a quick spin-turn he charged back from 14th and picked up eighth with a minute and a half left on the clock when Lewis Hamilton ran wide while attacking Vettel. He then also passed the Aston Martin on the final lap for seventh as the gruelling marathon ran to its two-hour maximum.

Verstappen can win the title at Suzuka on Sunday, but he’ll need to win with fastest lap if Leclerc is second. Perez is two points behind the Ferrari driver in third.

Five talking points from a marathon Singapore GP

Missed podium chance for calamitous Hamilton

If Verstappen’s race was frustrating, Hamilton’s was worse. Having been a contender for pole, he dropped a position to Carlos Sainz Jr. at the start to run fourth and found himself frustrated by the Ferrari’s slow pace – the Spaniard admitting afterwards he was never in the groove on this difficult night. Then on lap 33 Hamilton dropped a clanger and went straight on into a tyre wall, finding himself lucky to emerge and return to action at all – albeit with a damaged front wing that soon needed changing. Having dropped to ninth, he picked up a place when Verstappen made his mistake in challenging Norris, only to lose it again. In the closing stages, Vettel led his two fellow world champions in a three-car train and Hamilton couldn’t resist a look at Turn Three, got it wrong and handed eighth to Verstappen. Still, when he’d started the evening hopeful of a podium the difference between eighth and his eventual ninth is meaningless. Overall, one for the seven-time champion to forget.

Five talking points from a marathon Singapore GP

McLaren jumps Alpine for fourth

Behind the deflated Ferrari drivers, neither of whom felt satisfied with second and third, Singapore proved a great night’s work for the McLaren drivers. Norris started sixth and Daniel Ricciardo only 16th after failing to progress out of Q1 on Saturday, but they both caught a lucky break by running long on their intermediate tyres. Just after the frontrunners had pitted, Yuki Tsunoda crashed his Alpha Tauri into the wall to trigger the second safety car, allowing the McLaren duo to pit without major time loss. They restarted fourth and fifth and that’s where they stayed until the end, for a decent points haul.

In contrast, McLaren’s main rival, Alpine, endured a nightmare in the darkness of Singapore. Fernando Alonso’s 350th grand prix start ended early with an engine failure, while Esteban Ocon also dropped out with Renault power trouble on lap 28 for a big fat no score. McLaren’s double points has suddenly changed the complexion of the teams’ fight for fourth place in the constructors’ standings, McLaren leapfrogging Alpine to lead the Anglo-French team by four points with five races to go. Unlike the fight for the world title at the sharp end, this is one battle that really could go to the wire.

Five talking points from a marathon Singapore GP

A good night for Aston too

Lance Stroll and Vettel delivered a double-points haul for Aston Martin too, as a night of attrition paid dividends. The Canadian drove well to finish a fine sixth, and although Vettel was mugged by Verstappen on the final lap for seventh, he’d still put up a decent showing on his final appearance at a circuit where he has previously won a record five times.

Gasly picked up the final point in tenth. Nicholas Latifi earned himself a Japanese GP grid penalty by causing the first safety car after turfing Zhou Guanyu into the wall in the early stages. And George Russell endured a shocker starting from the pitlane, clashing with both Valtteri Bottas and Mick Schumacher, and finding himself used as a guinea pig on the switch from intermediate to slick tyres, losing a load of time slithering around on the yellow-walled mediums having changed far too early. He was the final classified finisher in 14th.

Images courtesty of Motorsport Images.

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