MARINA BAY, Singapore – A busy Friday with two practice sessions behind the Formula 1 paddock led to a new day as teams prepared for the final practice and the qualifying rounds on Saturday. Early in the day, rain washed away the rubber on the surface on Friday. It gave a new challenge as teams prepared to finalize their setups and set the grid for Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix.
So far, Ferrari had been the class of the field. At the same time, the armor for the formidable Red Bull team had started to show signs of cracks, but with a new day, it would have to be seen if that would be replicated.
First up on the day was the third and final practice session that started relatively tame as the conditions would not match the upcoming qualifying round and the Grand Prix the next night. Due to the difference in conditions, most teams decided to wait for cooler weather to get as close to matching conditions as possible.
Being the weekend star, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz grabbed the session’s fastest lap, again showing Ferrari seems to be the team to beat for the Singapore Grand Prix. The Mercedes driver of George Russell and the McLaren driver of Lando Norris followed behind. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen went fourth fastest. At the same time, the remaining Ferrari, Charles Leclerc, rounded out the Top 5 of the timing sheets in the final practice.
With the final practice done, teams and drivers now focused on qualifying under the lights to set the grid for the Grand Prix.
With the lights on and the track cooled down even more, the expectation was that this qualifying session would be one to watch. Red Bull looking to be on the back foot opened up the possibilities for who could take the top spot on the grid if they couldn’t turn things around.
Finally, the anticipation for the first round of qualifying left as the light turned green for the cars to take to the track. Leclerc set the early pace of the session just ahead of Norris, but Mercedes staying behind in the garage for an extended period proved dividends as Russell soon took the top of the timing sheets.
All drivers set their opening times, including a moment between the Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll and Williams driver Logan Sargeant that caught the stewards’ notice of possible impeding on track.
Soon, it came time for the final run of the first round as all 20 cars took to the track for 15 spots into the second round. As drivers started to make their laps, the AlphaTauri team looked to show some strength, with Yuki Tsunoda setting a new benchmark. But before the rest of the field could complete their final timed lap, Stroll came out of the last turn with perhaps too much speed as he entered the barriers, including getting slightly airborne before stopping on the pit stretch. Thankfully, Stroll radioed to the pit wall that he was okay as he gingerly exited the car.
However, Stroll’s wreck came after time expired, ending the first round before everyone could complete their final lap. Sargeant and the pair of Alfa Romeos of Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu joined Stroll. A shocking first-round exit was the McLaren of Oscar Piastri, who was behind the Stroll wreck and couldn’t improve his time.
The second round was delayed due to repairs needed to the barrier that Stroll hit. Still, the session did not disappoint once the track was cleared and the 15 remaining cars could be sent onto the track.
The first runs of the session saw Russell put his Mercedes to the top of the board to set the benchmark. It looked like a close session, as many of the Top 5 were just behind him; however, the Red Bull pair of Verstappen and Sergio Perez needed more pace.
Then it came time for the final runs in the second round, with all eyes on the Red Bull pair, mainly to the championship leader of Verstappen. He came across the line, barely improving his time, keeping him above the cut line. In contrast, his teammate Perez couldn’t improve his time after spinning early on his lap. But the shock came as the stand-in rookie Liam Lawson, in his AlphaTauri, bumped Verstappen out of the Top 10, planting his spot in his first final-round career appearance. It was a shock exit for both Red Bulls in the second round.
Joining the pair of Red Bulls out of the second round was the Alpine of Pierre Gasly, the Williams of Alex Albon, and the other AlphaTauri of Yuki Tsunoda. But all drama wasn’t over for Verstappen and Red Bull, as he would face an inquiry from the stewards after the session for possibly impeding other cars, mainly Tsunoda, in both the first and second rounds. This was Red Bull’s first time since Russia in 2018 that both cars missed the final round.
With Verstappen and Perez out of the final round of qualifying, the playing field was wide open for who could sit on the pole and break the streak of victories that Red Bull has had dating back to last season. Once the track turned green, the remaining ten cars set their benchmarks, with Sainz setting the pace and time to beat with his teammate Leclerc right behind him.
With a new set of tires on all cars, the final attempt was to begin. Sainz immediately improved his time, with Leclerc slotting in behind him. But that was short-lived as Russell stormed his way to slot between both Ferrari cars, with just .079 seconds between the Top 3. Norris slotted in fourth, with Hamilton closing out the Top 5.
Behind them, the quick qualifying Haas of Kevin Magnussen came home sixth in qualifying ahead of the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso and the Alpine of Esteban Ocon. The other Haas of Nico Hulkenberg finished ninth with the sensational session from Lawson ending with a tenth-place starting spot.
With the Red Bulls mired into the middle of the field for Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix, the first win from a different team has a greater chance of happening. Ferrari looks to be the favorite, but the rest of the grid, especially Mercedes and McLaren, are hungry to pick up some statement wins. But counting out Red Bull is not exactly something one should do yet.