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The Singapore GP showed a “chink in the armour” of Red Bull, but was it a sign of things to come for the remainder of the 2023 season or just a one-off?
Sky Sports F1’s Simon Lazenby and Anthony Davidson joined Matt Baker on the latest edition of the Sky Sports F1 Podcast, which you can listen to in full in the player below, to debate that topic after Red Bull’s winning streak came to an end.
Having won the previous 15 races in a row, Red Bull’s dominant RB19 looked a shadow of its former self on the streets of Marina Bay as both Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez suffered Q2 exits in qualifying before finishing fifth and eighth respectively in the race while Carlos Sainz claimed victory for Ferrari.
Lazenby said: “The baseline set-up wasn’t right from the start so they were playing catch up. Max didn’t seem to have any confidence in the first sector, he was bottoming out under braking. It’s all about braking and traction out of slow corners and [Red Bull] had neither of those.
“With regards to the car itself, we know as an aero platform it tends to work on most circuits now but the slow-speed corners combined with the bumpy nature of the track and the fact there were such big kerbs, it meant they had to adjust the ride height and that threw the set-up off a little bit.
“They tried some tweaks between the third practice session and qualifying with the software to try and counter that so they could run it a bit lower and it just got worse.
“It was just a combination of things. There’s been talk about whether the technical directives on the flexi front wings and underside of the car had played anything into this but I’m not sure that’s the case. That could be a red herring but we’ll find out in Suzuka. Christian (Horner) was playing it down, the team were saying it was absolutely nothing to do with that it is just ‘we’ve got an unbalanced car, we can’t get the set-up right’.
“It got slightly better in the race, they got unlucky. They were holding out and the Safety Car came too early for them on the hard tyres and then when they pitted, three laps later the Virtual Safety Car came out. Timing wise they got a little bit unlucky in the race, they knew what they were trying to do.
“But ultimately it all stems from the fact they didn’t get qualifying right and that’s back-to-back years now where it’s not paid off for Max Verstappen. It looked like he was just skating across the track at times.
“For them it was a horrible weekend but for everybody watching from the neutral’s perspective it just was a breath of fresh air for the competition. We needed that weekend, we needed to see that there was a chink in the armour and obviously Red Bull being Red Bull will go away and work on that and clearly improve the car for next year.
“It’s a double-edged sword – Ferrari will think we got them this year in Singapore but Red Bull will get it right as that car has got very, very few weaknesses.”
Davidson likened Red Bull’s weekend to how Mercedes also had years when they struggled in Singapore when they were the dominant team, and expects the RB19 to be the car to beat again at the Japanese GP at Suzuka this weekend.
Davidson said: “It reminded me of Mercedes in their dominant years when they arrived in Singapore and that was their Achilles heel and everybody had a chance to get the better of them there. They went away and worked on that circuit relentlessly because it was their only weakness, they understood they had a weakness there, and they came back in a couple of years and had sorted it out so I fully expect Red Bull as the great engineering team that they are will get their heads around it.
“Max will be much more in his element and the car will be much more in its element in Suzuka, I’m fully expecting that. I don’t think the new TD and the rule change in terms of more static front wings, I don’t believe that was the main issue for Red Bull in Singapore.
“There will be many teams out there crossing their fingers and hoping that that was why Red Bull lost their speed but I’m fully expecting them to go back to Suzuka and the car be flying again.
“But it is interesting and it’s nice to know that they have this weakness in their car.”
Davidson intrigued to see Ferrari’s Suzuka performance
Sainz’s victory in Singapore came off the back of he and team-mate Charles Leclerc finishing third and fourth at Ferrari’s home Italian GP.
While Monza and the Marina Bay Street Circuit have very different characteristics in terms of downforce requirements, Davidson explained why Ferrari’s car characteristics helped them excel at both circuits and he is now intrigued to see how the SF23 performs at Suzuka which has some of the fastest corners on the F1 calendar.
“Ferrari are definitely one of those teams that have kept up with the pack and maybe their updates have edged ahead of teams like Aston Martin that we’ve seen in the last couple of races,” Davidson said.
“People think of Monza as this high-speed circuit, which it is because it has lots of straight lines, but it doesn’t have many high-speed corners and you don’t run high downforce there. It’s all about the braking and the slow-speed corners. Just like Singapore.
“You wouldn’t think the two really are on the same plane here – and in terms of downforce they aren’t – but in terms of car requirements – braking stability, low-speed corners, lots of traction – that’s what you need at Monza as well.
“So the Ferrari has been quite good on those circuits…I’m waiting to see if Ferrari can carry on this pace when they get to a higher speed, faster-flowing circuit [like Suzuka].”
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