Ferrari face mighty challenge to hold off Mercedes in fascinating Singapore GP

The 2023 Singapore Grand Prix has the potential to be the race of the year in F1

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What a 2023 Singapore Grand Prix we have in store. We said pre-event that Red Bull would be susceptible at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, but nobody thought both Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez would fail to reach Q3.

It leaves us with a fascinating battle between Ferrari and Mercedes at the front of the grid, with Lando Norris thrown into the mix too.

Carlos Sainz will start from pole position ahead of George Russell and Charles Leclerc on Sunday, all of whom are targeting to be the first non-Red Bull race winner in 2023.

Russell and Hamilton with a tyre advantage?

The heat and multiple traction zones mean Singapore is one of the higher degradation tracks on the Formula 1 calendar, so tyres will be vital and so will strategy.

Straight away, Mercedes and Ferrari are set to differ here. Russell and Lewis Hamilton have two new medium tyres in their bank, whereas everyone else only has one set of mediums.

George Russell in action at the 2023 Singapore Grand Prix| LAT Images / Mercedes F1 Team

If tyre degradation is a major problem, the Mercedes pair can go medium-medium-hard and avoid the softs. If it’s a two-stop race, everyone else will be forced to use the softs since they have just one set each of the mediums and hards.

“I’ll definitely be going for it [at the start],” said Russell. “I think that will make our life easier.

“I think we’ve got the pace over Ferrari in the race but, as I said, we’ve got a strategic advantage over them. So, I’m pretty relaxed, even if we are P2 after Turn 1 – or even P3, because we are the only team who can do a two-stop race.

“Tyre degradation looks bad and I hope we’re going to put them in a challenging position to fend this off. So, it brings…  I’m feeling good, I’m feeling excited.”

Will race pace be Ferrari’s Achilles heel?

Ferrari‘s weakness has been race pace but they have not exactly been blasted away in recent races, with decent showings at Spa-Francorchamps, Zandvoort and Monza.

A strong point of Ferrari is they tend to enjoy the softer Pirelli tyre range, so it isn’t a massive surprise to see them so quick around Singapore as they also have excellent traction.

With two cars in the top three, Ferrari have the option to run one driver long in case of a timely safety car. Of course, Mercedes can do this too but it depends on Hamilton not losing ground at the start from fifth place.

Interestingly, Sainz isn’t too pessimistic about Ferrari‘s chances despite a tyre disadvantage and is more hopeful for victory at the Marina Bay Street Circuit since it’s hard to overtake.

Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz embrace each other at the 2023 Singapore GP | Scuderia Ferrari

“I think it’s a bit easier to hold on to our track position,” explained Sainz. “That obviously gives me more confidence than Monza in terms of pace, I really have no idea how we’re going to be.

“Looking at long run data from Friday, the Mercedes, the Aston Martin and the Red Bull did look a bit quicker than us in tyre degradation and race pace, so it could be that tomorrow we have to run, yet again, a bit of a defensive race.

“But I don’t discount that even around this track we could hold on to a P1 because it’s a lot more difficult to pass than other tracks this season, but our race pace still looks like our weakest point.”

Guaranteed safety car

Every edition of the Singapore GP has featured a safety car, so history suggests it’s a matter of when will we see one on Sunday. The timing of this will be pivotal.

If you have just made a pit stop under green flag conditions and a safety car comes out, you will lose a lot of time compared to those who have not pitted during that round of pit stops.

Sebastian Vettel won the 2019 Singapore GP with an overcut strategy | REUTERS/Thomas Peter

This where having two cars as far up the front as possible. You can also play the overcut and undercut game too. We saw in 2019 that the overcut worked as Sebastian Vettel emerged ahead of Leclerc after the first and only pit stops after going one lap longer.

The difficulty of overtaking means the leader can control the pace and keep the field bunched up in order to discourage an undercut, as a front-runner may come out behind a midfield driver after a pit stop. There are so many fascinating games to be played on Sunday.

Where will Verstappen and Perez finish?

Verstappen will start from 11th with teammate Sergio Perez in 13th and surely Red Bull‘s 100 percent winning record in 2023 will go.

It would take a lot of luck and something special for either driver to win and Verstappen seems to think a podium is impossible too.

Rightly so, as the Red Bull just looks all out of sorts. Whether that’s due to the new technical directive which clamps down on flexi-wings, or the track itself, we can only properly answer that at the Japanese GP next week and we need to see how Red Bull fare in the race.

Sergio Perez of Red Bull Racing walks in the pit lane during qualifying for 2023 Singapore Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Verstappen should be able to jump ahead of Liam Lawson in 10th, the Haas pair of Nico Hulkenberg (ninth) and Kevin Magnussen (sixth), plus Estbean Ocon in eighth. But that might be it, as Fernando Alonso is seventh and then you have the top five cars.

Asked by Sky Sports F1 if he could finish on the podium, Verstappen said: “For sure not. I think anyway here it’s much less about having a good race car. It’s a bit like Monaco. You put it all on qualifying.

“Even if you have degradation, it doesn’t matter because people won’t really pass you because the tyre wear is not that high. It will be a long, tough afternoon. Hopefully not too many safety cars and the race will be quite short.”

John Smith
John Smithhttps://total-motorsport.com
Editor at Total-Motorsport.com and all round Motorsport journalist specialising in Formula 1, IndyCar and Formula E.
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