What began as a wet day of qualifying at Marina Bay finished dry — a portend of a night reigning Drivers Champion Max Verstappen would rather forget.
Due to wet conditions on the track in Singapore, every driver left the paddock for the first round of qualifying on the intermediate tire. As its name implies, it is designed for grip between the dry surface tire selections and the full wet tire typically used during active rainfall.
The drivers gingerly made their way around the track during the first round, feeling out the turns for grip and devising a plan of attack for the duration.
After logging a lap only good enough for 13th fastest on his first attempt, Verstappen quickly took control and put his Red Bull into first for the session. He was followed by Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
The final seconds of the first session featured an exciting game of leapfrogs. The bottom five drivers in danger of being eliminated started putting in their best laps, jumping up the order, and sending other drivers tumbling down towards the bottom.
AlphaTauri drivers, Pierre Gasley and Yuki Tsunoda, and Haas drivers, Kevin Magnussen and Mick Schumacher, staved off elimination and charged into the second session. Daniel Ricciardo of McLaren was one of the once-safe drivers who found themselves eliminated after the late flurry, continuing his abysmal performance in qualifying throughout 2023.
The second session looked much like the first, with the field still taking the track with intermediate tires. Although there was no active rainfall, the race at night and the high humidity of the bay caused the wet conditions to persist.
Leclerc finished the session first, followed by Hamilton and Verstappen — all putting in a 1:52 lap and coming within four-tenths of a second.
The big surprise, however, was the terrible performance of Mercedes’ George Russell, who struggled in both sessions to maximize the car’s performance in the same way we saw with Hamilton. Russell’s qualifying came to a surprising end when he failed to advance by just six-thousandths of a second to Magnussen.
Teams largely took the gamble to put their drivers who advanced to the third session of qualifying on dry tires, as only a handful of turns remained wet after the second session.
While this decision would prove to be correct, the turns that were still wet were challenging for drivers to manage on the dry tire.
Hamilton jumped out to an early lead, putting his car into first in the third session and with it provisional pole for Sunday’s race. However, Leclerc responded with a blistering lap and retook the top spot, followed by Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez who put his car into second, splitting Leclerc and Hamilton.
Even with several struggles with the dry tire in the wet turns, Verstappen was still threatening to take pole position. With time running out, he put it all together for his best lap of the session, registering two purple sectors, which means he was the fastest driver on the track in each.
However, Red Bull ordered him to abort the attempt due to concerns that he would not meet the minimum fuel requirements after qualifying. If drivers do not maintain at least one liter of fuel after qualifying, they could be severely penalized and start from the back on race day.