Written by Traber Burns, Edited by Meghana Sree
The drivers took to the streets of Singapore this Friday with the usual two hours of running. While there might be two hours on the clock, night races in F1 tend to only have one representative session under the lights, so the teams are under pressure to get most of their work done in FP2.
The talk of flexi-wings came back when the FIA released a technical directive regarding how much the wings can flex on track. Some teams have put gurney flaps on their wings as upgrades, but it’s also possible these are adjustments to comply with the directive. Another possibility is that the gurney flaps are simply a setup choice. At Williams, Alex Albon looked to have a gurney flap on his front wing, while Logan Sargeant did not. In tire talk, Pirelli has brought the softest compounds to the the Marina Bay circuit. Those who are tough on their tires may be looking for setups adjustments to be easier with the degredation and alternate strategies to get a good result.
In FP1, the drivers remained clean, with no yellow flags caused by them. There were, however, three yellow flags caused by a lizard on track. In 2016, Max Verstappen saw a large lizard crossing the track, prompting his engineer, Gianpiero Lambiase’s to comment “Face to face with Godzilla there mate.” Max seemed pleasantly surprised by the reappearance of a lizard this year, saying “Ah! There’s a lizard again on the track! A smaller one this time.” GP responded with “Understood. Maybe Godzilla had a kid.” A different lizard made its way on to the track to bring out the second and third yellows. This lizard was met with a sad ending when either George Russell or Liam Lawson was unable to avoid him. In non-lizard-related news, Ferrari showed pace in FP1, with Leclerc just ahead of Sainz.
Two notes for qualifying. A lot of drivers were doing multiple cool laps and then setting their fastest laps. This is a cause for concern when it comes to traffic management. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a few grid penalties come Sunday if multiple cool down laps become the norm. To add additional challenges to the traffic management, multiple team engineers were reporting GPS issues. If these continue, expect a very chaotic qualifying session.
FP1 was relatively calm in terms of radio messages, but once we got to FP2, that all changed. FP2 is the only session under the lights before qualifying, making it the only representative session. Once drivers realized their setup wasn’t right, they started panicking. Because of the slow speed corners, most setup complaints had to do with the rear differential. There might be a lot of sweating tonight over car setups for the engineers.
Oh boy. What a dramatic Friday for Red Bull. It feels like every single problem that could’ve happened, happened. While FP1 started jovial with the lizard banter, FP2 had both drivers constantly complaining and having issues with the car. It started with Max complaining about downshifts. Most of the time this comes to nothing, but this time the team decided it was a serious enough to warrant a change in something regarding the power unit. It didn’t stop there. It looks like both drivers are complaining about the rear differential coming out of the slow corners. Max put it on display when he had an odd oversteer moment out of turn 13. He lost the car slightly mid corner, mashed the gas, and looked to either hit an anti-stall or grabbed the clutch on exit. It could’ve been a problem, but it also could’ve been a loss of cool by Max. It wouldn’t be surprising with the day they’ve had. I’m sure the heat and humidity aren’t helping either. Once he came out again, he said “I need a different steering wheel. This one has no grip on the right palm.” To top it off, the session ended with an awful practice start due to some kind of malfunction with the car’s start procedure.
It’s a street circuit, so is it Checo time? With Max struggling, it might be his time to shine. Perez could really use a win to get some confidence back – both with Red Bull and himself. Unfortunately, Red Bull's problems didn’t stop at Max’s side of the garage. An interesting issue for Checo emerged in FP1. During the early running, Perez said he was having trouble seeing the apexes because his seat was too low; an odd issue to have so late in the season. Throughout the afternoon session, he was having trouble negotiating with the rear end, and that continued through FP2. Under the lights, Sergio and his engineer were constantly debating rear diff and rear flap adjustments. They just can’t find the right balance, and it’s going to take some work overnight to find something both drivers like.
Red Bull is scrambling for answers and Ferrari is showing good pace. Tifosi hope is in the air. The Ferraris finished 1-2 in both sessions, and their fuel load was also calculated to be higher than Red Bulls in FP1. Their drivers have been the complete opposite of Red Bull’s, with no complaints over the radio about the setup. Their one lap pace has been fantastic, but one of Singapore’s biggest challenges is tire wear, something that Ferraris have struggled with throughout the season. The race might look similar to Monza with the prancing horses getting the track position but having to heavily defend over the Red Bulls.
Toto Wolff has been showing a grumpier side in recent races. The silver arrows have been treading water throughout the year. It feels like one step forward and one step backward. Singapore, at the very least, is an opportunity to take a step forward. The Mercedes are showing enough pace to compete for the 5th through 8th positions. This could get even better when you consider that they’re one of the better teams in terms of tire wear. The race pace in practice doesn’t look bad, but it’s still not up to the same pace as Ferrari. Other than George possibly running over a lizard in FP1 and having a scary oversteer moment in the final corner in FP2, it was a fairly quiet day for the team.
Outside of the Red Bulls and Ferraris, McLaren might be the most interesting team today. They’re one of the four teams to have brought a significant upgrade package to the streets this weekend. The primary goal was to target the MCL60’s inadequate performance in slow corners. So far it has improved, but they’re still a bit of a ways off from challenging the Red Bulls and Ferraris. Unfortunately for Oscar Piastri, the lap times also show that he doesn’t have the same pace as his teammate. Piastri hasn’t received the full upgrade yet, so this isn’t any indication on a drop in form, but he has been setting lap times outside of the top ten in both sessions. While many expect him to still be in the points, it wouldn’t be a complete shock to see him outside of the top 10.
While the lap times in FP1 may not provide much indication of pace, run plans can indicate a team’s strategy for run plans during the weekend. In Aston Martin’s case, they seem to have put an emphasis on race pace. While most teams started the day with trying to dial in a good setup, Lance Stroll went straight into a race run. By the evening, Alonso’s pace was looking good, showing to have lap time to compete around the Mercedes and Lando Norris. Fernando’s biggest complaint was the grip under braking and front-end grip in low-speed corners. Lance’s biggest hindrance is also under braking, with his engineer telling him he was braking too early. The Canadian’s pace has been well off Fernando and has yet to show consistent pace to get in the top 10. In other words, it’s another run of the mill weekend for Lance Stroll.
The French team has had inconsistent pace throughout the year, and that didn’t change today. Alpine is another team to have brought a significant upgrade package to Singapore, and while McLaren didn’t have many issues getting their setup going with the new upgrades, both Alpine drivers have had to chip away with adjustments all evening. Ocon complained of understeer in turn five, oversteer in turn eight, and a vibration in the brake pedal. Gasly was complaining about an overall loss of grip in certain corners and ended the session by saying “Something doesn’t feel right, like, just all over the place.” Alpine’s additional challenge is that the Singapore GP is one of the longest most physical races on the calendar, and their reliability has been questionable throughout the season. The Enstone team will have a lot to think about overnight.
In a disappointing way, Williams are meeting expectations. No one expected them to be quick in Singapore, and this has been the case so far. Alex Albon joined the club of having understeer in turn five and oversteer in turn eight. Unfortunately for Albon, he was only able to get a couple laps in before a power unit issue cut his session short. Sargeant almost cut his session short when had a heart-in-mouth moment in the final corner, almost losing the car. If Logan Sargeant’s lap times are anything to go by, it might be a good weekend for a pit lane start for the British team.
Not too shabby of a day for Haas. They’ve put in some lap times that show a slight chance of a Q3 appearance. The Ferrari power unit is likely giving them some good traction out of the slow corners. While they show the same strengths as Ferrari, they also show the same weaknesses. Tire degradation has been their downfall, and with the softest compounds around the longest race of the season, it doesn’t look like this is going to change. They might have a good Saturday, but putting a result in on Sunday could be difficult.
There’s only one word that comes to mind to describe Alfa Romeo’s day: Uninspiring. It wasn’t terrible, they showed pace to be around 13th or so, but for a weekend where upgrades were delivered, it’s not the type of big performance jump that we are used to seeing these days. The team just seems to lack direction at the moment. It didn’t start great with Zhou reporting the car smelled “a bit smokey” after starting the session in FP1, but this didn’t seem to amount to anything. Their lap times could be a bit misleading since they did more race runs than most teams, but it’s still relatively unknown how they’ll perform this weekend. It’s nowhere near hopeless though. Teams that bring upgrades do tend to take a little time to get their setup dialed in, so it’s still possible for them to find something in FP3 and pull it out the bag for qualifying.
Alpha Tauri is another team to have brought significant upgrades which attempted to improve rear stability, and while FP1 didn’t seem to show anything, FP2 hinted that the car has some pace to it. Their leaderboard finish doesn’t look great, but they had good pace when running the same plan to those around them. They should be fighting for the bottom positions of the top ten. Yuki Tsunoda was another one who complained about understeer in turn five and oversteer in turn eight, as well as his engine breaking being too strong. He also reported that while the traction off the corners wasn’t great, it improved later in the run. Both drivers have had trouble keeping heat in the brakes during cool laps. On another note, Liam Lawson has once again impressed. His last race on a street circuit was June of last year during the F2 race in Baku. His pace today was usually just a tenth behind Tsunoda. Practice and qualifying isn’t his strong suit either, so look out for the Kiwi on Sunday.