Sergio Perez scored his second victory of the year by leading home Ferrari teammates Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz in an incident filled, safety car affected Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday (2 October).
In a race that started over an hour late after torrential rain battered the Marina Bay street circuit mere hours before the start, pole-sitter Perez got the jump on the Leclerc at the start and despite not only the numerous safety cars, but also varying track conditions and reported engine difficulties in the latter stages, held on to win for the first time since Monaco in May.
At the time of writing though, the results are provisional as the Mexican had been adjudged to have infringed safety regulations by possibly having been in front during one of the three appearances by the Mercedes-AMG GT R Black Series.
The subsequent investigation is only set to take place later this evening and could result in either a minimum of a five-second penalty or potentially a heavier ten-second that will drop him to second behind Leclerc, who crossed the line 7.5 seconds behind. For the time being, the results stand.
“It was certainly my best performance. I controlled the race. The last three laps were so intense – when I got out of the car, I felt it. I gave everything today,” a smiling Perez told former driver and now Sky F1 analyst, Paul di Resta, after the race.
Behind the top three, McLaren emerged from the race, that ran two laps shorts from its imposed 61 laps, as the biggest winners with Lando Norris finishing fourth and Daniel Ricciardo fifth, the Australian having started down in 17th place after yet another poor qualifying.
The biggest drama though centred around championship leader Max Verstappen, whose mathematical chance of taking his second world title ended at the very start after slow get-away and then contact with the Haas of Kevin Magnussen that left the Dane with a damaged front wing.
Despite not cobbing a penalty for the incident, and in fact dropping two places from eighth place starting slot, a gradual improvement followed, which saw the Dutchman, by lap 15, engaging in a fight with two-time champion Fernando Alonso for sixth place.
With the conditions by this stage starting to attract attention for a possible switch from intermediate to slick tyres, Verstappen’s rise received a further boost on lap 22 when Alonso, in his 350th grand prix, pulled off with a suspected engine failure.
It was to be a double whammy for Alpine as the second car of Esteban Ocon triggered the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) on lap 28 following a massive engine blow-up and subsequent retirement in one of the many Marina Bay escape roads.
Only two laps prior, the VSC boards were still flashing after the Williams of Alex Albon collected the barriers in turn eight.
The British-born Thai driver, who missed the Italian Grand Prix last time around due to appendicitis that saw him being replaced by Mercedes reserve driver, Nyck de Vries, eventually retired after getting away with a spin on the very first lap.
A further help for Verstappen came on lap 33 when arch-rival, Lewis Hamilton, also found the barriers at turn eight. The seven-times champion had been running fourth behind Sainz and despite managing to find reverse gear, dropped to the back of the field as a result of needing a new front wing.
Just over three laps later, proceedings, and indeed Verstappen’s title hopes, turned upside when the AlphaTauri of Yuki Tsunoda slammed into the barriers that left race control with no choice but to deploy the full safety car.
A flurry of pit stops for what had become a slick tyre race followed, as well as Perez’s suspected overtaking after complaining about the speed the safety car was travelling.
With the onset of lap 40 as the race returned to green flag conditions, a bold move by Verstappen on Norris ended with a dramatic lock-up and the champion dropping to twelfth place.
A pit-stop to change tyres followed and despite making rapid progress as the race became timed, the Red Bull driver couldn’t advance higher than seventh, a position that placed him between the two Aston Martins of Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel.
In the latter stages, Verstappen become embroiled in a fight with not only Vettel, but also Hamilton, whose attempt to pass the German while running eighth resulted in a lock-up and lose of place to Verstappen.
“I think we started off with a pretty decent weekend and were just really, really unfortunate at the end,” Hamilton, who came home ninth, told SkyF1 after the race.
In the second AlphaTauri, Pierre Gasly ended a comparatively undramatic race with the final point in tenth ahead of the Alfa Romeo of Valtteri Bottas, Magnussen, his teammate Mick Schumacher and the second Mercedes of George Russell.
Like his teammate Hamilton, Russell endured a race to forget after a pit-lane start due to an engine change descended into a risk-taking early stop for slick tyres that largely didn’t work, followed by an incident with Schumacher on the main straight that left him with a rear puncture and officially out of contention despite setting a string of fastest laps towards the end of the race.
Along with the retirements of Tsunoda, Ocon, Albon and Alonso was the second Alfa Romeo of Zhou Guanyu and the Williams of Nicolas Latifi – the Canadian squeezing the Chinese driver into the wall on lap seven that saw the first safety car being deployed.
Latifi, who last month confirmed his departure from the Grove-based team at the end of this year, was judged to be at fault and received not only a five-place grid penalty for the next race in Japan, but also two penalty points on his licence.
Despite his less than ideal race, Verstappen remains on track to secure his second title, which, as mentioned, looks set to be wrapped-up next week when the championship visits Japan and Suzuka for the first time since 2019.
Results (Top 10)
- Sergio Perez – Red Bull
- Charles Leclerc – Ferrari: +7.595 sec
- Carlos Sainz – Ferrari: +13.305 sec
- Lando Norris – McLaren: +26.133 sec
- Daniel Ricciardo – McLaren: +58.282 sec
- Lance Stroll – Aston Martin: +1 min 01.330 sec
- Max Verstappen – Red Bull: +1 min 03.825 sec
- Sebastian Vettel – Aston Martin: +1 min 05.032 sec
- Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes: +1 min 06.515 sec
- Pierre Gasly – AlphaTauri: +1 min 14.576 sec
- Max Verstappen – 341 pts
- Charles Leclerc – 237 pts
- Sergio Perez – 235 pts
- George Russell – 203 pts
- Carlos Sainz – 202 pts
- Lewis Hamilton – 170 pts
- Lando Norris – 100 pts
- Esteban Ocon – 66 pts
- Fernando Alonso – 59 pts
- Valtteri Bottas – 46 pts
- Red Bull – 576 pts
- Ferrari – 439 pts
- Mercedes – 373 pts
- McLaren – 129 pts
- Alpine – 125 pts
- Alfa Romeo – 52 pts
- Aston Martin – 37 pts
- Haas – 34 pts
- AlphaTauri – 34 pts
- Williams – 6 pts