Carlos Sainz clung on in a tense and thrilling finish to win the Singapore Grand Prix, as Red Bull tasted defeat for the first time in the 2023 Formula 1 world championship.
Sainz actually led from lights to flag, to give Ferrari its first victory since the 2022 Austrian Grand Prix, but he was made to sweat on the result as Mercedes made a late charge on much fresher tyres.
This race turned on a virtual safety car period, thrown with just under 20 laps to run after Esteban Ocon’s Alpine lost drive on the pit straight and stopped on the circuit between Turns 2 and 3.
Mercedes decided to pit both its drivers – George Russell from second place and Lewis Hamilton from fourth – to take on fresh medium compound Pirelli tyres, while the rest of the leading group stayed out of the pits and attempted to carry their ageing hard tyres to the finish.
Russell and Hamilton caught and passed Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari with ease, before setting off at pace and catching the leading pair of Sainz and Lando Norris with a handful of laps left.
Although they at times lapped 1-1.5s faster than the leading pair, neither Mercedes could find a way around the McLaren of Norris, helped by Sainz strategically allowing the McLaren to gain DRS from the Ferrari to help keep the Mercedes at bay.
The threat ended prematurely on the final lap when Russell crashed out, having clipped the wall with his right-front wheel before the Turn 10 braking zone.
So Sainz clung on for victory, with Norris and Hamilton completing the podium.
Leclerc clung on to fourth place, finishing just two tenths clear of Max Verstappen’s charging Red Bull.
Having run second early on, after using soft tyres off the start line to power past Russell into Turn 1, Leclerc lost track position in the pits when Ferrari double-stacked its drivers.
Logan Sargeant crunching his Williams’ front wing against the wall triggered the race’s only full safety car period on lap 20/62.
This triggered a round of pitstops and ended an early phase of extreme car and tyre management.
As such, the gaps across the field were condensed, and being held in the pits while Hamilton’s Mercedes came past to make its own stop meant Leclerc lost ground.
But the strategy ultimately worked in helping Sainz win this race for Ferrari.
Verstappen salvaged a decent result from what was easily Red Bull’s worst weekend of the season.
Although the RB19 couldn’t be run at the correct ride height to access its best performance on this track, and the team had to revert to an old floor specification while also struggling to balance the car on stiffer suspension than originally run in Friday practice, the car’s inherently strong race pace paid dividends.
Verstappen climbed from 11th on the grid to run eighth before the pitstop phase was triggered. That came too soon for Red Bull, which elected to start both its drivers on hard compound tyres while the majority of the field began on mediums.
The Ocon VSC also came too late for Red Bull to extend its drivers’ stints on the hard tyre, so Verstappen plummeted to 15th after his pitstop under racing conditions, before using his fresher medium tyres to charge back into the top six.
Perez recovered to eighth – though a VSC pit exit incident between him and Alex Albon’s Williams is under investigation – behind Pierre Gasly’s Alpine and the McLaren of Oscar Piastri, who recovered from an unfortunate Q1 exit to finish seventh.
AlphaTauri stand-in Liam Lawson, who was the only one of Red Bull’s four drivers to qualify inside the top 10, scored his first F1 points by finishing ninth, while Haas driver Kevin Magnussen rounded out the points scorers in 10th.