Ferrari At The Double, Red Bull Hit Trouble

Sainz tops the times on new-look Marina Bay Street Circuit

15 September, Singapore – Ferrari claimed the top two spots at the end of the first day’s running in the Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix 2023 as changes to the Marina Bay Street Circuit’s layout saw lap times tumble.

F1 experts predicted a nine-second drop with the lap shortened by four corners and 135 metres, but Carlos Sainz’s quickest lap of 1:32.120 seconds, at an average speed of 193.052km/h, was in fact 10.913 seconds faster than the equivalent session in 2022.

The 29-year-old Spaniard led teammate Charles Leclerc by 18-thousandths of a second as the scarlet cars carried their form at Monza to the very different surroundings of the Singapore streets.

Third, two-tenths slower, was George Russell for Mercedes, who clearly liked what he saw from the cockpit. “I am really enjoying the new track layout,” said the 25-year-old Englishman. “It makes the final sector, and the lap as a whole, much more flowing. It definitely improves the experience behind-the-wheel and should help create better racing on Sunday.”

Two-time Singapore winner Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin was sandwiched between Russell and the second Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, while a raft of no fewer than nine upgrades helped Lando Norris’s new-liveried McLaren to sixth, albeit over half a second off the front-running Ferraris’ pace.

Max Verstappen, yet to win in Singapore, and Red Bull teammate Sergio Pérez, winner here last year, both complained about their cars’ handling as the Mexican took seventh spot ahead of the dominant Dutchman.

“Every braking zone I feel like I’m going to crash,” Pérez complained as his 250th race weekend got off to a sluggish start. Same problem for Verstappen, who at one point admitted “I lost it” as his RB19 went into a lurid slide out of Turn 13. He nearly lost Sainz as well, the Ferrari driver yelling “I almost crashed into this guy!” as the Red Bull dawdled in front of him with 20 minutes of the session left.

Kevin Magnussen, whose two fastest laps have both come in Singapore, again excelled at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, powering his Haas to an unexpected ninth place, backed up by teammate Nico Hülkenberg in 11th. Between them was the Alfa Romeo of Valtteri Bottas, complete with a new floor which the veteran Finn said was “the upgrade we have been waiting for all season.”

Alex Albon’s Williams looked superb in its new race livery but the 27-year-old who has over-performed in a still under-performing car lasted no longer than 10 minutes of second practice. “I lost power” was the ominous message from the cockpit and Albon’s race and qualifying preparations, for which this session is crucial, were over.

Earlier in the day, Thai driver Tanart Sathienthirakul took a commanding pole position for the first TSS The Super Series race. The 30-year-old’s Audi R8 Evo II had already enjoyed a comfortable 3.6-seconds gap from the 16-car field in a free practice session stopped early after Hong Kong driver Mak Hing Tak’s Bentley GT3 came off second-best in a crash with the Singapore barriers. The Thai star then extended the gap to 4.233 seconds in a superb qualifying performance.

In Porsche Carrera Cup Asia's opening practice, China’s Kailuo Luo laid down a marker for Saturday’s qualifying session, clocking 2.06.022 to leave series leader Florian Latorre 0.435 seconds in his wake.

Series stalwarts Chris van der Drift, a double race-winner last time out, and Martin Ragginger were third and fourth in a session which was also halted 15 minutes early after John Shen stopped at Turn 10.

Off-track, 88rising’s line-up of artistes including Jackson Wang, Niki, and Rich Brian performed to a crowd of 50,000 at the Padang stage in Zone 4.