Sparks flew, spray flicked off tires and lights danced around the Marina Bay Street Circuit as more than a dozen Formula One cars tried to survive one of the most difficult races on the calendar.
A heavy downpour delayed the Singapore Grand Prix, and even when the race was underway an hour after it was originally scheduled for, drivers had difficulty finding the dry line as it slowly resumed. Despite the conditions, one by one, the stars started to get picked off as collisions, punctures and failures occurred. Only 14 drivers finished the race as yellow flags and safety cars triggered a stop-and-go feel throughout the night.
It all came down to a mad, timed dash as the two hour window started closing. Sergio Pérez led the race from the get-go after a commanding start as he passed pole-sitter Charles Leclerc, but as the minutes started to dwindle and DRS was enabled, the Ferrari driver began closing in on the Red Bull.
Then, FIA stewards announced during the race that they would be investigating Pérez for a possible safety car infringement after the race had concluded. Ferrari told Leclerc to stay within five seconds of the race leader in the event Pérez would be served a penalty, but with the simple command “Let’s disappear,” the Mexican driver put it all on the line.
He won his second race of the season with just a tad over seven seconds between him and Leclerc. Reflecting on his performance, Pérez called Sunday’s victory his “best performance [in F1]. The last three laps were so intense. I gave everything for the win today.”
But in the process of his second street victory of 2022 (the other being Monaco), this delays his teammate, Max Verstappen, from grabbing his second world championship. The Singapore Grand Prix marked the first opportunity that the Dutchman could outright clinch this year’s title.
The gap between the top three—Verstappen, Leclerc and Pérez—has narrowed as the two Red Bulls and Ferrari driver remain in title contention as F1 prepares for Japan after a grueling stint in Singapore.
“This is the Mexican way!” Pérez said over the team radio in reaction to his win.
Here are three takeaways from Marina Bay, where a slew of in-person safety cars and virtual safety cars created a roller coaster—and timed—race.
How Sunday’s podium impacts the title chase
The top-three featured Pérez plus both Ferrari drivers, who had not scored a double podium since the Miami Grand Prix in May.
Pérez and Leclerc dominated during qualifying, setting up a front row that would be hard for Verstappen to break through. The gap between the two was just 0.022 seconds on Saturday, as Leclerc snagged pole. While Red Bull has been the fastest car in recent weeks, as Verstappen took home victories for five straight races, Pérez has struggled more than his teammate. He hadn’t been on the podium since Spa, the first race back from summer break.
As expected, the first lap was critical for the lead battle, and Pérez managed to squeeze past Leclerc. The two largely stayed out front on their own despite the slew of virtual safety cars and safety cars that disrupted the race, and although Leclerc tried to undercut the Red Bull when pitting for mediums, a slow pit stop did not work in his favor.
The safety car triggered by Yuki Tsunoda did bunch up the field, but Leclerc seemed to drop back as Pérez surged at the end.
“To be honest, first of all I think with Red Bull it seems like we have the upper hand in the first few laps and then they seem to… I don’t know, they struggle a little bit with warm-up but once they put their tires in a window, they are very strong,” Leclerc said after the race, per formula1.com. “But then at the end of the race it wasn’t that representative. I was pushing until the gap was like 1.5s, but then when I knew it was 5.1s, I just kind of brought the car home, so the pace wasn’t that representative at the end. But having said that, I pushed quite a bit at the beginning of the stint and probably my tires were also a little overheated at the end.”
While Sainz was 15 seconds behind the two, this podium group had fairly big world championship implications. Not only did it keep Leclerc and Pérez in the driver fight given Verstappen’s seventh-place finish, Ferrari was able to edge farther away from third-place Mercedes in the constructor standings. Red Bull leads the pack with 576 points, but the Prancing Horse is 137 points behind them (and has a 66-point gap to the Silver Arrows after Hamilton finished ninth and George Russell 14th).
Although Red Bull celebrated as Pérez drove past the checkered flag, the Singapore Grand Prix was not entirely finished with a pretty bow. There was still the alleged safety car infringement investigation to deal with. The Mexican driver did have the 7.5 second gap over Leclerc, but Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto was “curious” about the investigation because Ferrari felt there were “two infringements behind the safety car.”
He referenced how Antonio Giovinazzi received a 10-second penalty for driving too close to the crane during a safety car in a previous season. Red Bull team boss Christian Horner, though, felt mitigating circumstances in Pérez’s case as drivers tried to maintain their tire temperature.
Pérez explained after the race that he felt “there was a bit of miscommunication with them. In the places I could keep up, [the safety car] was super slow and then when I couldn’t, he was fast. These conditions are not normal and especially the final sector it was super tricky. I think the stewards understood my explanation and are happy with it.”
In the end, Pérez kept his win because of the 7.5 second gap he created. He received one reprimand, one five-second penalty and was dealt two penalty points for failing to stay within 10 car lengths of the safety car multiple times.
The triumph of Daniel Ricciardo
As the Australian said, “We needed this.”
One could interpret Ricciardo’s remark as a collective we, meaning McLaren. The Woking-based team has been battling with Alpine for fourth in the championship, and both Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso were forced to retire early from Sunday’s race. Meanwhile, both Ricciardo and Lando Norris finished in the top five.
But on a more personal level, Ricciardo likely needed that finish—his highest this season and highest since Saudi Arabia in 2021—more than anyone. It’s no secret that his Formula One future is up in the air after he and the team agreed to end his contract a season early, making room for Oscar Piastri to take over his vacancy in 2023 after the Contract Recognition Board upheld McLaren’s contract with the rising star.
Ricciardo admitted earlier this weekend that a reserve driver role is likely the more “realistic” route for him to take next season in order to stay in Formula One.
“For me to remain in the sport, that’s a realistic place for me to be next year,” Ricciardo said after being asked if he’d consider a reserve driver role. He had another poor qualifying session and did not make it out of Q1.
“I know the [F1] landscape probably changes as well at the end of next year, with contracts and whatever, so I don’t want to just look at the next 12 months and not look at the next 24. I’m remaining open. I’m solely focused on F1 and we’ll see.”
There are three seats still available for the 2023 grid with one each at Alpine, Haas and Williams. He said earlier in the weekend, per ESPN, that his “team is talking with pretty much everyone. They’re having conversations. Plan A is to be on the grid [but] we’re just trying to put it all together and figure out what makes the most sense. It’s not that they’re not calling or they’re not interested.
“But let’s say, I don’t want to just jump at the first seat available. What fighting at the front does, when you’ve had that taste, it’s real, and that’s ultimately where I want to be, so I guess I don’t want to just [go from] race to race. I want to race with a true belief and understanding that I can be back on the podium.”
Ricciardo only had four points finishes this season heading into the Singapore Grand Prix, but the luck started to turn in his favor at the Marina Bay Street Circuit. Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton made critical errors that allowed the McLarens to slip through and stay ahead. A safety car on lap 36 essentially gave him a free pit stop, and Ricciardo recovered from a P16 start.
“As tempting as it sounded [to take slicks before the Safety Car], it wasn’t the right call, so we [bided] our time and we were able to gain on the others during that phase and then there was a Safety Car – and then we made a very big gain with the [Yuki] Tsunoda incident,” Ricciardo said, per formula1.com.
He also added, “I feel with the result, you know, I certainly feel good – it’s been a long time.” While Japan is a short week away, Ricciardo said he’s going to relish in this Singapore moment a little while longer.
A day Verstappen and Hamilton will likely want to forget
The 2022 Singapore Grand Prix likely left two drivers thinking of what could have been.
For Verstappen, he continues to chase his second world championship title after a rough qualifying and even more frustrating race. He had to abort his final mad dash lap in qualifying because of a lack of fuel, and come Sunday, he only managed to gain one spot by the end of the race. Verstappen had a slow start that dropped him out of point contention, and as he tried to recover, another mistake occurred as he ended up on the escape road after failing to pass Norris.
“I dropped the clutch and [had] anti-stall, so I need to analyze why that happened. Then, of course, you lose a lot of spots. From there onwards I tried to pass a few people, [and] some worked, but then you get stuck in a little bit of a train. Everyone has their tires quite up to temperature, so it’s really hard to follow,” the Red Bull star said to Sky Sports F1. “We were a bit lucky the times when people had a few mistakes. We were in fifth, tried to go for fourth to pass Lando, [and] as soon as I got alongside him I braked, not even late, but I bottomed out, because I was struggling already a lot there with bottoming.
“I had to box again because of the massive [tire] vibrations, put new tires on and came from last back into the points. It’s not where we want to be, but that already starts from yesterday. You put yourself in a spot like that, it can either work brilliantly [and] you can drive back to the front, or it’s just very frustrating like we had.”
Verstappen did manage to have a few key moments as he battled Hamilton and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, and he holds a 104-point lead over Leclerc in the standings. But in the end, he said Sunday was “incredibly messy.”
In order to claim the title next weekend, Verstappen will not only have to take the victory but also record the fastest lap.
Meanwhile, Hamilton’s first win of the 2022 season continues to elude him. He may have started P3, but Sainz managed to edge past him during the first corner battle. The British driver complained about being stuck behind the Scuderia, saying he was too slow. He said after the race that he felt he “could do similar times to the guys ahead, but because I was stuck behind [Sainz], I couldn’t. I think if I was third I would have would have kept with the guys up ahead.”
Hamilton later made a critical error as his car hit the barriers, damaging the front nose. He said to motorsport.com after the race, “I knew it was all over from then. But these things happen. I mean, I’m not going to punish myself for a mistake.”
He was able to recover and found himself in a battle with Vettel, but when the Mercedes driver slid off the track, Verstappen was able to speed through.
Could the podium have been within his reach if Hamilton didn’t make an error on lap 33 when battling Sainz? It’s hard to tell given the wet-dry conditions on the track.
“We would have potentially undercut him, maybe. But it was a battle of not undercut but who got on the slicks first, and it would have been slice and dice,” Hamilton said to formula1.com. “So, I was hoping for that and that was what I was working towards but that went all out the fricking window when I locked up. So, my apologies to the team but we live and we learn, and I’ll recover.”
Hamilton did score points, but teammate Russell finished last in 14th. The younger Brit started from the pit lane after adding new power unit elements and never could find his rhythm. Mercedes holds onto third place, just 66 points behind Ferrari, in the constructor standings while McLaren rests in fourth.
Next up: Formula One will pack up and head to the Suzuka Circuit for the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday, Oct. 9.
More Formula One Coverage: