Ferrari certainly has been very surprising in 2019. Having left the paddock cooing after preseason testing with talk of the Scuderia’s most hopeful challenger for many years, Ferrari has scarcely missed an opportunity to disappoint over the first two-thirds of the season. Even despite a clear power advantage, Charles Leclerc was only able to nose ahead of the rampant Mercedes duo in Spa and Monza. However, Ferrari did not disappoint in Singapore.
Defying every paddock prediction, a team that finished more than a minute off the pace at the last high downforce circuit in Hungary went on to score pole position and a superbly executed 1-2 finish. The general atmosphere of shock in the paddock almost relegated the controversial circumstances of Sebastian Vettel’s undercut to a forgotten detail. In scoring the biggest upset of the season, the Scuderia also relied on a pair of standout performances from their drivers…
Top of the class…
Sebastian Vettel – Scuderia Ferrari
Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.220s | Race margin to team-mate: -2.641s (safety car)
Vettel is an utter master of the Marina Bay circuit and a brief review of his pole lap from 2015 highlights just how comparably circumspect the German has been in 2019. Albeit clearly lacking some feel with his SF90, he started the weekend as fractionally the quicker Ferrari driver. Come Saturday a reinvigorated Leclerc would prove too fast, although a brief spell at the top of the timesheets after a fine lap in the opening salvo in Q3 was a much-needed morsel of hope.
Vettel’s race was very classy indeed. Having put in a fine assault against Hamilton on the opening lap, Vettel skilfully maximised the fresh hard tyres on his out-lap to jump both Hamilton and Leclerc. Thereafter, despite flashes of superior pace from Leclerc, the German didn’t come under any sustained pressure and proved more effective at carving through the long-running midfield traffic than his younger team-mate. That said, a somewhat over-optimistic lunge on Pierre Gasly could have ended in disaster. Certainly, Vettel showed his class in Singapore, however it wasn’t the redemptive homerun that it could have been. There is no doubting who is still the faster Ferrari driver…
Charles Leclerc – Scuderia Ferrari
Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.220s | Race margin to team-mate: +2.641s (safety car)
Leclerc’s star is really beginning to shine brightly. Reminiscent of Daniel Ricciardo’s audacious breakthrough year in 2014, Leclerc is driving with immense confidence and relish, buoyed by the realisation that he can compete with the very best. In the car, he is looser through the wrists and more relaxed across the shoulders than he was earlier in the season. Whilst instinctively smooth in style, Leclerc can turn up the aggression when required, allowing him to energise the car in qualifying. This was perfectly captured by his pole lap and three moments on the lock-stops up against the barriers. As spectacular as these antics were, the fact remains: Leclerc could have gone even faster in qualifying,
There was little more the Monegasque could have done in the race. Unable to pull away from a Mercedes which probably had the legs in race trim, Leclerc was boxed into a corner by the tight pack and the vast advantage offered by the undercut. As he conceded after the race, there probably wasn’t any way of securing the 1-2 without handing the win to Vettel. After relinquishing track position to his team-mate, Leclerc showed flashes of speed, but couldn’t clear the traffic as decisively as Vettel. A disappointing race, but if Ferrari really has belatedly unlocked the potential from its SF90, Leclerc could be the man to beat for the remainder of the season.
Lando Norris – McLaren F1 Team
Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.511s | Race margin to team-mate: -21.205s (safety car)
As a rookie, the Singapore Grand Prix is almost certainly the most intimidating race of the season. Norris duly arrived in the city a week early in order to acclimatise and – as we have come to expect from the latest batch of rookies – proceeded to master the circuit with alarming ease. A missed downshift in Q3 left him down in ninth on the grid despite having shown every chance of challenging team-mate Sainz. Ricciardo’s exclusion and Hulkenberg’s tangle with Sainz on the opening lap gifted Lando track position over his midfield rivals, and the young Brit accordingly took the opportunity with both hands. The barrage of safety cars in the latter stages put Gasly a bit too close for comfort, but Norris had the situation in hand. Another remarkably mature performance.
Antonio Giovinazzi – Alfa Romeo Racing
Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.161s | Race margin to team-mate: N/A
For a man now in direct competition with Nico Hulkenberg for a seat for 2020, Singapore was the perfect opportunity to make a splash. In his first taste of the Marina Bay circuit, the Italian proved the faster Alfa driver all weekend, eclipsing team-mate Kimi Raikkonen by two tenths in Q2. A long opening stint on the hard tyre briefly gave Giovinazzi the lead but left him exposed to the medium runners. A belligerent stint on the soft tyre allowed Antonio to salvage a point, however, it would have been even better if not for the deluge of safety car appearances.
Homework to do…
Romain Grosjean – Rich Energy Haas F1 Team
Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.335s (Q1) | Race margin to team-mate: -51.086s (safety car)
Having somehow rescued his F1 career, Grosjean, unfortunately, proceeded to vindicate the reports about the prominence of commercial incentives in his 2020 deal. Having again reverted to some of the early season spec aero pieces, there was at least a reason for the three tenth gap to team-mate Kevin Magnussen in qualifying. That said, considering the gains Magnussen has made with the newer pieces in recent races, the decision to revert rather underlines how truly lost Grosjean is with the VF-19. A completely unnecessary tangle with George Russell in the race came about as Grosjean perversely kept his nose alongside the Williams through the tight Turn 8 hairpin, resulting in an inevitable tangle on the exit. Another weekend to forget for a man who can count himself lucky that he will still be on the grid next year.
Lance Stroll – SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team
Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.070s (Q1) | Race margin to team-mate: N/A
Despite it being a historically strong circuit for the Silverstone-based outfit, an unfortunate mix of pace and driver errors contributed to a difficult weekend. Whilst it was his more experienced team-mate who glanced the barriers and earned himself a five-place gearbox penalty, Stroll’s customary lack of single-lap pace left him down in sixteenth on the grid. A fairly anonymous race at least put Stroll in outside contention for points before the Canadian connected with the barriers and suffered a puncture. Overall, Singapore was a return to a more sedate tempo for Stroll having been torpedoed out of a potentially strong result in Monza.
An uncharacteristically haphazard weekend for the reigning champions saw Valtteri Bottas in the barriers in FP1 and left both drivers off the podium after an unusual strategic miscalculation. Lewis Hamilton was probably the quickest man on track but couldn’t quite eclipse Leclerc in qualifying and never got the chance to unleash his speed in the race. A rare missed opportunity. Red Bull doubtlessly left Singapore in a similarly disappointed mood. Despite some fine laps from Max Verstappen and the correct strategy in the race, the RB15 never quite had the pace. Indeed, with Alexander Albon tending to gravitate a decent chunk behind the top five, Red Bull will probably be forced to concede that this was their least convincing performance at Singapore for many years.
Whilst the Renault chassis wasn’t capable of repeating the team’s Monza heroics, both drivers snuck into Q3, although Ricciardo was later disqualified for an innocuous MGU-K spike. Renault would suffer a messy contact-strewn race, with Hulkenberg clobbering Sainz on the opening lap and Ricciardo clumsily collecting Giovinazzi. A fine recovery from the German at least salvaged a handful of points.
A resurgent Pierre Gasly arguably produced his best weekend of the season, enjoying a comfortable margin over Daniil Kvyat in qualifying. However, the Toro Rosso wasn’t fast enough for Q3. Despite starting on the hard tyre not being the ideal strategy, Gasly recovered back to eighth with a combative final stint on mediums. George Russell maintained his customary advantage over the outgoing Robert Kubica, although the Pole managed to peg the gap back to a respectable three tenths in qualifying. Sandwiched in the first corner, Russell’s faltering race was ultimately ended by Grosjean. Kubica made a solid if unspectacular fist of his race to last place.