Heavy rains caused a one-hour delay to the beginning of the Singapore Grand Prix, capping off a race weekend that was dominated by wet weather and the unique circumstances of having a night race in the Marina Bay.
Each of the grid’s 20 drivers began the race on intermediate tires for wet conditions. With 20 cars blistering across the track, expectations were high that the surface would dry out quickly, and speculation was on as to when would be the right time to switch to dry tires. The lack of sunlight and high humidity, however, allowed the wet conditions to persist, much like they had the day before in qualifying.
As with most street circuits, the first lap in Singapore would prove critical. While Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc started in pole position, his advantage would not last through the first turn as Red Bull’s Sergio Perez surged from the number two starting position and into the lead within seconds of the lights going out to start the race.
Perez’s teammate, and current World Drivers’ Championship leader Max Verstappen, started his day from the eighth position after an unfortunate series of events the previous day sabotaged his final session of qualifying.
Verstappen would plunge down the order in the opening lap to as low as 12th. However, as the order began to crystallize, Verstappen quickly went to work moving through the pack.
Verstappen, and others fighting for position up the grid, were aided by numerous safety cars, which have become a staple at the Singapore Grand Prix due to its unforgiving, slow turns. In total, six drivers were not able to finish the race either due to mechanical failures of their car or accidents on the track, either of which could induce a safety car if conditions became unsafe for the remaining drivers.
When a safety car was deployed after Fernando Alonso’s Alpine sputtered to a stop, Mercedes’ George Russell dove into the pit lane and was the first to swap out his intermediate tires for a dry tire selection. Teams watched Russell’s performance closely, and while he was extremely quick early on across the first two sectors of the race, the final sector remained extremely wet and wreaked havoc on the British driver, causing him to turn in mediocre lap times.
This setback would be short-lived, however, as Russell started chewing up the track and signaled to the rest of the field that the time for dry tires had arrived. At this point, Perez was still in first, followed by Leclerc and his Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz.
Verstappen had worked his way into fifth and was threatening to score a podium finish, but made an overly aggressive move on Lando Norris and was unable to maintain his grip, sliding off the track and again tumbling down the order. The move also cost Verstappen his tires, as multiple bald spots on the brand-new pair formed due to the failed overtake maneuver.
This prompted Red Bull to bring Max back in for a fresh set of tires, and he began working his way up the field once again, this time from last place.
As Verstappen was battling from the back of the pack, Perez found himself under assault by Leclerc in the front. With the switch to dry tires, race control enabled the track’s Drag Reduction System zones, which grant a car trailing the car in front of it by less than one-second temporary speed increases. While the track was still wet, this speed bonus was disabled to promote driver safety.
Leclerc made numerous attempts to take the position from Perez, and for several laps, it looked as if the Ferrari driver would not be denied. Perez, however, brought his best racecraft to the defense of his position and was able to hold off the attack and claim victory at Singapore.
Leclerc and Sainz finished on the podium. Mclaren sporting their best team outing of the season, with Norris and Daniel Ricciardo finishing in fourth and fifth, respectively.
Verstappen clawed his way back into the points and finished what will be a weekend to forget in seventh. The results ensure that the drivers’ championship fight continues.
Perez was slapped with a five-second time penalty for a safety car violation after the race but had extended his lead over Leclerc to over seven seconds before the checkered flag fell, which preserves the victory for him in spite of the penalty.