Ferrari's Carlos Sainz successfully converted pole into a race victory in the Singapore GP, holding on over McLaren's Lando Norris and a late charge from Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton in a thrilling finish which saw George Russell crash out on the final lap.
Max Verstappen and Red Bull's overwhelmingly dominant run in 2023 finally came to an end, with the team unable to overcome its poor qualifying performance and ongoing handling issues, leaving Verstappen fifth and Sergio Perez eighth.
There were just 18 cars lining up under the floodlights on the hot and humid starting grid at Marina Bay Street Circuit following Lance Stroll's withdrawal in the wake of his heavy crash in qualifying, and Zhou Guanyu starting from pit lane due to Alfa Romeo's decision to make overnight changes to his power unit under parc ferm conditions.
Even so, it was still very busy when the race lights went out and polesitter Carlos Sainz and George Russell led the charge into turn 1 on medium tyres. Charles Leclerc was hoping for an immediate advantage by being the only man in the top ten to opt to start on the soft compound. By contrast the two out-of-position Red Bulls were both banking on a long first stint on hard tyres.
Sainz won the race into the first corner. Leclerc's gambit paid off as he snatched second from Russell, who also lost out to Hamilton who cut the corner to avoid contact. That meant Hamilton was told to hand the place back to his Mercedes team mate, leaving Lando Norris feeling aggrieved in fifth before Hamilton was instructed to let him by as well, in an abundance of caution to avert a steward intervention.
Fernando Alonso was up to sixth with Kevin Magnussen dropping to eighth behind birthday boy Esteban Ocon. Further back Yuki Tsunoda was pulling over at turn 14 with a puncture on the AlphaTauri from first lap contact. Starting from P11, Max Verstappen picked up a couple of places at the start but laboured before finally passing Magnussen using DRS at the end of the bridge on lap 6. Perez meanwhile was still only 13th and struggling to get within DRS range of Liam Lawson, with Oscar Piastri closing on him in the McLaren in turn.
Tyre management was proving paramount. Sainz was unwilling to use up his mediums too quickly, annoying Leclerc who felt he could be much quicker on front on the softs. Behind them there was a long train of evenly matched cars vying for DRS, but Logan Sargeant bailed out of that procession by running wide and hitting the wall at turn 8. While he was able to get going again, the damaged front wing of the Williams was scattering debris all over the track to the point that race control deployed a safety car on lap 20 to allow marshals to clean up.
It triggered a mass of pit stops and a general shift to the hard compound. Sainz resumed in the lead while Verstappen stayed out on his original hard tyres to take second ahead of Russell. Perez also didn't pit, putting him fourth ahead of Norris. Leclerc had been held up by traffic on pit lane but was still out ahead of Hamilton, Alonso and Ocon for the restart on lap 23. Sainz immediately pulled away, while Verstappen was all over the place defending from Russell who soon pulled off the move - at the same time Norris did likewise on Perez.
Hamilton also barged his way past Perez at turn 7 and had a prime view of Norris picking off Verstappen for third. By now, Verstappen was struggling badly - "it's like driving on ice" - and it was inevitable that he would lose out to Hamilton at turn 7 on lap 27. The Red Bull was then promptly undone by Leclerc at the same place on the following lap. All that, and a pit stop still to come. Perez was likewise struggling to stay ahead of Ocon, who had pushed past Alonso on lap 37. The Alpine pulled off a lovely move on Perez into turn 8 on lap 39, and the Red Bull promptly lost out to Alonso and Pierre Gasly as well.
That was enough to force the team to call Perez in for new tyres on lap 40, dropping him to the back of the field in 17th behind Sargeant. Verstappen was in on the next lap, barely able to make the turn onto pit lane, and a three second stop meant he came out in 15th. It was hard to imagine a more stark turnaround in fortunes for the championship leaders this weekend.
With Red Bull out of the picture, the battle for victory was a four-way fight between Sainz, Russell, Norris, Hamilton and Leclerc. A Virtual Safety Car for Ocon pulling over with a gearbox issue on lap 43 allowed Russell and Hamilton to pit for fresh mediums, while Sainz, Norris and Leclerc stayed out. Although they had 15s in hand over the two Mercedes, the top three were significantly slower on aged hard tyres.
Sue enough, Russell caught and swallowed up Leclerc into turn 16 on lap 53. Hamilton also swept past the Ferrari around the outside of turn 7 seconds later. Knowing his tyres were shot, Sainz packed Norris, Russell and Hamilton together to create a DRS train that meant his pursuers started falling over each other. It allowed Sainz to hand on for his second F1 career victory with Norris second. But Russell overcooked it and crashed at turn 10 on the final lap, allowing Hamilton to take his place on the podium.
As well as Russell, there was a late retirement for Valtteri Bottas. Fernando Alonso dropped to P15 after a series of mishaps and a penalty, while Alex Albon missed out on points with a late run-off. Instead, Liam Lawson scored his first championship points in his third Grand Prix finishing in ninth ahead of Haas' Kevin Magnussen.
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