Ferrari starting to purr as Red Bull quilt shows signs of fraying

Carlos Sainz's victory on Singapore ended a run of 15 successive wins for Red Bull, with second driver Sergio Perez hinting he may seek new pastures at the end of his deal

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz celebrates with his team after winning the Singapore Grand Prix. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

Most things about Formula One are epic in scale.

Certainly the enormous budgets, the eye-watering speeds, the endless globetrotting and, as the world discovered in Singapore, even the failures.

The wheels came off Max Verstappen’s record-breaking run every bit as impressively as his recent run of success.

The winners of the last 15 Grands Prix failed to even qualify in the top 10 and Red Bull never came close to looking like they could win the sweltering night street race.

Ultimately the world champion gamely hacked his way through the field to finish the race a distant fifth. His increasingly lacklustre teammate, Sergio Perez, was eighth.

A race Red Bull came to with a chance of becoming constructors' champions proved the worst of the year.

Of course while there will be a typical F1 bout of self-flagellation as they attempt to get to the cause of it all, failure is relative.

If the champions had been told in February they would fail this miserably in Singapore – but only after winning every race up until then – they would have taken it in a heartbeat.

It is only the second time a Red Bull driver had not stood atop the podium in the last 26 Grands Prix, so it’s hardly a crisis.

And what is the real damage? Boss Christian Horner regularly dampened speculation Red Bull could be the first team to win every round anyway.

The worst that can be said is a third successive constructors' championship will have to wait another seven days. Wrapping things up at Suzuka, home of their Japanese engine suppliers Honda, is actually an absolute marketing coup.

There are small signs some of the threads of genius designer Adrian Newey’s near perfect quilt are starting to unpick.

Red Bull's Sergio Perez says he may be forced to look elsewhere if he feels he can no longer contribute to the team. Getty

Perez hinted over the weekend in Singapore he will look for options beyond Red Bull with his next deal if he feel he can’t “contribute”.

That is F1 code for getting a fair shake – and he is certainly not the first teammate to be toasted by Verstappen’s speed.

F1 teams have a merciless way of sidelining drivers who don’t come up to scratch. It’s a vicious circle; the less you are allowed to input the more the car development goes away from you, the harder it is to drive, the slower you get, the less input you have.

It was interesting timing, though, that within days of Perez being confirmed for 2024 at Red Bull Lewis Hamilton ended extended contract talks with Mercedes. Coincidence?

Perhaps the more pressing question: can Perez last?

Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and probably even Aston Martin have a stronger team line-up than Red Bull. A competitive number two is essential in the tight championship dog fights almost certain to come in the years ahead.

Perez, though, brushed off criticisms saying: “The only result that counts is the championship table in Abu Dhabi” and is intent on giving Red Bull their first drivers' championship 1-2.

Singapore was more proof that Ferrari are starting to purr under new boss Frederic Vasseur.

Charles Leclerc’s pit stop error aside they delivered in one of the toughest races of the year. Race winner Carlos Sainz used the inspired tactic of helping former teammate Lando Norris behind him race faster so he could delay the impending attack by the quicker Mercedes duo.

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz drove a superb tactical race on route to winning the Singapore GP. Getty

And perhaps the race as a whole is evidence the entire sport is edging in the right direction despite Red Bull’s domination.

Three teams and four drivers were in the hunt for victory in Singapore, and separated by just 1.5 seconds on the last lap.

This was undoubtedly the best F1 race of the year so far but can the pattern continue?

“This was an anomaly, Red Bull will be back in Japan,” said McLaren boss Zak Brown.

“Even in our good years we sometimes had problems in Singapore,” said Mercedes boss Toto Wolff. “We never knew why and I bet they don’t.”

Verstappen said their usual speed had even been lacking in the simulator building up to the race. And a set-up gamble for qualifying proved to be a complete wrong turn, only multiplying their problems.

Following the racee, rumours swirled that Red Bull's loss in performance came as a consequence of the FIA tightening rules on flexi-wings and the undertray, parts very sensitive to car performance, suggesting Red Bull’s domination may be over.

Horner denied flatly it was a factor. “Zero,” he insisted. “We’re very, very confused.”

But then he would. The next race in Japan on Sunday should provide the answer. Meanwhile the rest can only wait and hope.

Updated: September 18, 2023, 5:59 AM