Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Carlos Sainz takes second consecutive pole position after unpredictable qualifying in Singapore

Carlos Sainz took pole position under the lights of Marina Bay Circuit at the Singapore Grand Prix after a qualifying session with plenty of surprises and shock results. 

Q1 – Major crash for Stroll red flags session

With the championship leaders of Red Bull Racing somewhat off the pace during practice, the door was open for an unexpected polesitter to take charge of qualifying at the Singapore Grand Prix

After the drivers completed their first push laps, Mercedes AMG-Petronas F1 Team’s George Russell was leading the timing table with a 1:32.478, followed closely by Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris and Sergio Pérez, all within a tenth of a second of the fastest time. 

The elimination zone consisted of Liam Lawson, stepping in for a third race weekend on account of Daniel Ricciardo’s injury, Alex Albon, both Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake drivers and Lance Stroll. Stroll was impeded during his first flyer by Logan Sargeant, which was cause for frustration for the Canadian driver in the first minutes of qualifying. 

Norris’ second lap saw him inch closer to Russell’s time, just five thousandths of a second from taking the lead time. Soon after with just under seven minutes to go, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen captured the lead from Russell with a time of 1:32.398. The lead was then passed to Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, setting a time of 1:32.339 in a session that was seeing rapid hand-offs of the lead between the top drivers. 

Every single driver was out on track to make one last attempt in the final minute, which made for heavy traffic. Verstappen called this out on the radio to his engineer, and said “there’s so many [expletive] cars!” 

In a shocking turn of events, Yuki Tsunoda and Kevin Magnussen rose all the way up from the drop zone to first and second place. The time to beat was now 1:31.991. With the times tumbling, it appeared that no one on the grid was safe and everyone was doing their utmost to improve. 

Stroll was on his way to completing his final lap when he suffered a major crash— bringing out the red flag and ending the session. Stroll got out of the car safely, though his AMR23 was extremely damaged and would have to undergo significant repair. 

Valtteri Bottas, Oscar Piastri, Sargeant, Zhou Guanyu and Stroll were all eliminated after a chaotic Q1 that came to an early end. 

Q2 – Shock double elimination for Red Bull

The start to Q2 was delayed in order to clean up the site of Stroll’s crash, and race control noted several more instances of impeding from Q1 that would be investigated after the session. 

Once all the drivers—aside from Tsunoda— completed their first laps with seven minutes to go, it was Russell on top once again with a 1:31.743 followed by Fernando Alonso and Sainz. In the bottom five were Pérez, Nico Hülkenberg, Lawson, Albon and Tsunoda, who was impeded by Verstappen and did not complete his lap. 

The impeding incident between Verstappen and Tsuonda was noted by the stewards and would be investigated after the session as well.

With less than a minute to go, Pérez had a spin that caused a brief yellow flag and ruined his final lap. His team-mate Verstappen was struggling as well, noting that he was sliding a lot through the lap. His last time only earned him tenth— just on the edge of elimination. 

Lawson exited the bottom five, thereby knocking Verstappen out of Q2. With this, both Red Bulls were eliminated in Q2 for the first time this season. Also missing out on Q3 were Tsunoda, Albon and Pierre Gasly

Sainz finished out the session in first place with a 1:31.439 followed by Russell, Alonso, Magnussen and Norris, rounding out the top five. 

Q3 – Sainz leads Russell, Leclerc to take pole position

With several drivers in contention for pole, it was an intense last twelve minutes to finish out qualifying in Singapore. After the first laps were set, it was a provisional Scuderia Ferrari one-two with Sainz in the lead having set a 1:31.170. Norris was in third, followed by both Mercedes drivers. 

Alonso was in sixth followed by Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hülkenberg— both a great position for the American team. Esteban Ocon and Lawson completed the top ten, with the Scuderia AlphaTauri sub achieving his first Q3 appearance in Formula 1. 

As the drivers began their final out laps in the last minutes of the session, Mercedes’ Russell and Lewis Hamilton opted to wait in their garages a little while longer to let traffic dissipate and allow for the track to evolve. This was a risky move considering the high potential for yellow or red flags to catch drivers out at the end in Singapore. 

Sainz was first to take the checkered flag and improved upon his fastest time to remain in provisional pole with a 1:30.984. Leclerc and Norris were not able to best his time, and slotted into second and third. Russell completed his final lap and took second place with a 1:31:056, less than a tenth off Sainz’s pace.

Having protected his lead, Sainz was able to secure a second consecutive pole position. Joining him on the front row is Russell, who was in the game for fastest throughout qualifying. On the second row are Leclerc and Norris, followed by Hamilton, Magnussen, Alonso and Ocon, who was right on the limit all day. Hülkenberg and Lawson round out the top ten after one of the most unpredictable qualifying sessions of 2023 so far. 

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