Formula 1: A Small Step Back


Formula 1’s race in Singapore was a slippery slope for some drivers. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Over the weekend, Formula 1 (F1) continued its 2022 season in Singapore for the 2022 Singapore Grand Prix. Due to the pandemic, this was the first time since 2019 that F1 traveled to the Marina Bay Circuit. With Singapore being a street circuit, the margin for error is small with any mistake having the potential to ruin a driver’s weekend. Heading into the race, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen had a slim chance of wrapping up the driver’s championship.

When it came time for qualifying, it was raining, which forced all of the drivers onto intermediate tires. The rain stopped eventually, but the track was still wet. Because it was a night session, it was drying at a snail’s pace, giving the teams and drivers a headache. In the final session of qualifying, the track was finally dry enough for slick tires. Verstappen was on a flying lap and seemed like he was going to get his car on pole. But all of a sudden, he was called into the pits by his team due to not having enough fuel according to the regulations, forcing him to start in a lowly eighth. This meant that his rival, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, earned pole with Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez in second and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in third. Overtaking would be difficult in Singapore, putting even more emphasis on their qualifying positions.

On race day, it was pouring at the track, which forced the race to be delayed by an hour. Everyone decided to start the race on intermediate tires since it was still wet on the track despite the rain having left the circuit. With the tricky conditions, any mistake could take a driver out of the race. When the lights finally went green, Perez got a better start and passed Leclerc for the lead. Hamilton also dropped to fourth with Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz going into third. Verstappen had a poor start and fell even further down the grid, but he started to claw his way back and eventually returned to the top 10.

On lap nine, the safety car was called out due to a collision with Zhou Guanyu’s Alfa Romeo being taken out by Nicholas Latifi. Latifi was able to continue, but he entered the pits and retired from the race. On lap 11, the race resumed with Perez leading Leclerc and Verstappen able to get back into eighth as he continued his climb up the order. Verstappen was then able to get into seventh with Fernando Alonso’s Alpine just ahead. However, on lap 22, Alonso had to retire due to an engine problem, promoting Verstappen into sixth. At this point, it was still debatable whether it was time to switch to dry tires or to stay out on the intermediates. With Singapore being a track with a high percentage of virtual and full safety cars, the teams could potentially wait for another one to pit and save time.

After Alonso’s retirement, the race resumed. But on lap 26, Latifi’s teammate Alex Albon crashed into the barrier and called out another virtual safety car. The green flag was shown but within a lap, Alonso’s teammate Esteban Ocon retired due to another engine issue and brought out another virtual safety car. On lap 30, the race resumed with the front runners still on the intermediates. However, Hamilton crashed into the barrier. He continued but it was clear that the slick tires were the way to go. Leclerc pitted on lap 34 for dry tires but had a slow stop, falling into third with Perez and Sainz staying out.

Perez and Sainz pitted on the next lap. At the same time, another safety car was called out due to Yuki Tsunoda’s Alpha Tauri crashing out. This was now a race of attrition with six cars out of the running. After this safety car, Perez was leading Leclerc, Sainz, Lando Norris’ McLaren, Verstappen and Norris’ teammate Daniel Ricciardo. The McLaren duo used the safety car to pit and gain track position against their rivals. On lap 40, the safety car was brought in and racing resumed. One thing to note is that there is a two hour time limit for the race. With all the stoppages, it looked like it wouldn’t be done within the limit.
Finally once the race resumed, Verstappen locked up while trying to pass Norris and went off the track. He was able to rejoin in eighth ahead of Hamilton. Once again Verstappen pitted due to the lockup and emerged from the pits in dead last. Meanwhile, Leclerc was putting pressure on Perez. However, Perez was able to withstand the pressure and started to build a big gap to Leclerc. Once the two-hour limit was reached, Perez crossed the finish line to win the Singapore Grand Prix ahead of Leclerc in second and Sainz in third rounding out the podium. Because of the time limit, only 59 out of the 61 laps were completed. Verstappen was able to claw his way back from 14th after the pit stop to get into seventh. Perez was under investigation for a safety car infringement, and he was later given a five second penalty after the race. But with his big gap to Leclerc, he still retained the victory.
After these results, Verstappen and Red Bull still maintain their respective leads in the driver’s and constructor’s championships. The next race is this weekend as F1 returns to Japan for the iconic Japanese Grand Prix. Verstappen’s path to back-to-back championships is much easier in Japan. All he needs to do is win the race and get the point for the fastest lap. If Verstappen accomplishes this, it doesn’t matter where Leclerc or Perez finish due to the massive 104 point gap in the standings to the second-placed Leclerc.
With this being the first time since the pandemic that F1 is returning to Japan, expect the emtire fanbase to be out in full force to potentially see Verstappen be crowned a back-to-back champion for the first time in his career.