Written by Naira Tarek, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
Red Bull’s winning streak seemed impossible to break until the Singapore Grand Prix took place. After a largely interesting race weekend, Red Bull’s performance had a lot of question marks around it. As much as Ferrari surprised us with their pace during the weekend, their upturn in form did not surpass Red Bull’s shock. Ups and downs are always expected when F1 cars take part in the discussion, but what could have happened to break Red Bull’s seasonal record of wins?
Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez’s frustration with the car raised so many questions about their team’s sudden struggle. Over the radio, Perez’s message to his team was frightening, the Mexican saying, "Every braking zone, I feel like I’m gonna crash. The rear is just stepping out massively." FP1 proved to be an absolute nightmare for the Bulls, the sudden change in the car’s performance causing nothing but panic for the drivers, and this was easily visible through their constant radio messages with their team. The set-up of the car did not work to the track’s characteristics; it was not suitable, thus it did not work despite the changes that took place mid-session.
Moving on to FP2, Red Bull’s pace remained the same, and much like FP1. FP2 showcased the great flaws in the RB19, which were later improved; however, they were incredibly EVIDENT to everyone. As for the last free practice session, Red Bull somehow managed to execute a better performance. Verstappen’s lap time was around 1:32.378, which is much better compared to FP2, where his pace was around 1:32.852. However, for Perez, in FP2, he was 1:32.812, and for FP3, it was 1:32.784, which is an indicator of slight improvement that did not really last long enough.
As for the qualifying, according to the post-qualifying interview with Max Verstappen, we were left in utter shock and sadness, and according to him, "Throughout the weekend we have been struggling. FP3 was actually not too bad, but then we tried a few more things on the car for qualifying, and that tipped it over where it became undrivable again." The change that took place within FP3 in preparation for the qualifying, a few set-ups in the car, has GREATLY affected their performance in the qualifying. In addition, their lap times were not as competitive as those of their main rivals, like Ferrari and Mercedes. To put this into a technical aspect, let’s discuss in depth the lap times of Red Bull and a few of their top competitors during the qualifying and race:
RACE (LAP 62)
Max VERSTAPPEN: 1:32.173 Sergio PEREZ: 1:32.310
Max VERSTAPPEN: +21.441
Sergio PEREZ: +54.534
Lewis HAMILTON: 1:31.485
George RUSSELL: 1:31.056
Lewis HAMILTON: +1.269
George RUSSELL: DNF
Carlos SAINZ: 1:30.984 Charles LECLERC: 1:31.063
Carlos SAINZ: (Leader) Charles LECLERC: +21.177
The leader in the last lap of the race was Carlos Sainz, and the numbers next to each driver in the “Race” column are considered to be how far each driver is from the leader.
In motorsport, milliseconds matter, and Red Bull’s pace was just not their usual; it did not feel right to the drivers and the fans. Back to qualifying, Q1 saw Perez hold second place at the end of the session. While this might have given fans a glimmer of hope, it wasn’t to be. Adding on, when Perez’s car spun and he struggled to find time, that was one of the reasons why he did not progress to Q3. Everyone was surprised by the events of Q2 between Red Bull and AlphaTauri, and Liam Lawson’s outstanding performance, as he knocked out reigning champion Verstappen in Q2, much to the shock of the paddock. Such disastrous qualifying led to the elimination of not only one driver of a team, but both drivers, a rarity in a dominant phase for the team.
SkyF1 later asked Verstappen if the qualifying was worse than expected or not, and his answer was: "Yeah, for sure. I knew that it was already going to be tough to put it on pole, but this I didn’t expect." What a disappointing qualifying result for one of the most powerful teams on the grid! He also mentioned, "The Ferraris are very fast, but I think we’re just way worse than we expected," was Verstappen’s view after stepping out of the car on Friday evening. "We’re just struggling a lot with the balance of the car."
Their struggle with the car was obvious to the drivers and, of course, to the audience as well, which heightened the panic over their expected performance on Sunday.
During Sunday’s race, the first few laps of the race had a very minimal glimpse of hope and gave us a breath of fresh air after holding it for so long over the weekend.
Executing an alternate strategy in the race led to a bit of a struggle, time-wise, and it did them slightly no justice further into the race. Verstappen told the media, "Normally of course, our car is always better in the race and I think you could see that, especially on the Medium at the end, I had good pace and was managing my tyres to make sure they lasted until the end."
Despite the evidence of faults in the RB19, Verstappen has managed to push through and beat all odds, finishing the race fifth. Not the usual victory he’d hoped for; however, it is much better compared to the events of Friday and Saturday. What could be concluded is that the Red Bull car did not suit the Singapore track at all, with the loose front-end grip of the car, and the upshifts. Despite the strong pace throughout the race, the problems were still evident on the RB19.
To end this in a lighter and more hopeful manner, the swift movement from coming from P11 to finishing with a P5 (Verstappen) and from P13 to P8 (Perez), shows great determination and driving skills, even if the car doesn’t have as much pace. Hopefully, we get to see Red Bull regain its strength and power on track!