Sainz captures Singapore pole after Red Bull shocker and Stroll crash

Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) Ferrari celebrates his pole position in qualifying parc ferme. 16.09.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 16, Singapore Grand Prix, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images
© XPB 

Carlos Sainz delivered on his practice promise by taking pole position for the Singapore Grand Prix, after what proved to be a thrilling climax to an eventful qualifying session at the Marina Bay Street Circuit.

Sainz and his team mate Charles Leclerc looked to have clinched a Ferrari 1-2 front row lock-out, when George Russell stole P2 for Mercedes - which could even have taken pole if not for a last second snatch of oversteer.

But the huge shock of the evening was out-of-sorts Red Bull pair Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez both missing the cut at the end of Q2. The first round had ended with a red flag for a heavy accident for Aston Martin's Lance Stroll.

Heading into qualifying, the outlook for pole was surprisingly wide open. Red Bull pair Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez still looked to be struggling for grip and handling, while Ferrari drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz had topped all three practice sessions. But George Russell, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Lando Norris were also very much in the mix as the cars headed out onto the illuminated Marina Bay Street Circuit to resolve the matter once and for all in humid, sweaty but dry nighttime conditions.

Q1: Tsunoda quickest as first round red flagged for Stroll accident

It was Norris who soon went top with a time of 1:32.556s in the McLaren, faster than Perez and Verstappen could manage, but Leclerc was able to squeeze out an extra 0.033s to go top. Then it was Mercedes' turn, George Russell going top with a time of 1:32.478s and Lewis Hamilton splitting the two Red Bulls in P5. The top four were now covered by a mere 0.085s. Just when it looked as though Verstappen might be in a real spot of bother, the championship leader went top by eight thousandths - only to be promptly knocked off by Sainz by 0.059s, Leclerc having to settle for third.

At the mid-session hiatus, those at risk of missing the cut included under-pressure Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll. The Canadian felt he had been impeded on his first run by Williams' Logan Sargeant, who was also in the bottom five along with his team mate Alex Albon and Alfa Romeo pair Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu.


AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda then demonstrated how quickly the track was evolving by going top on 1:31.991s, Haas' pair Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen also blasting up to P2 and P3. Suddenly no one was safe: Perez improved to P2 but Verstappen was frustrated to hit a mass of traffic on his run. The timesheets became a fruit machine lottery, until everything was upended by Stroll understeering onto the kerb and hitting the wall in a hard head-on smash at the final corner. All those behind had to back off, even before an inevitable red flag.

In the frantic final moments, Tsunoda had held on to top honours ahead of Perez, Hulkenberg and Liam Lawson. Russell and Sainz had dropped down to P6 and P7 by the time the session was halted, with Verstappen and Leclerc ninth and tenth. Norris had been pushed down to 12th ahead of Alonso and Hamilton, Albon just squeaked through in 15th at the final second. Eliminated were Bottas, Piastri, Sargeant and Zhou, plus Stroll who had been able to walk away from the scene of his accident.

Q2: Sainz reclaims top spot as both Red Bulls fail to progress to final round

There was a lengthy delay while the marshals cleaned up the wrecked Aston, repaired the barriers and mopped up fluid that had spilt onto the track. The session finally resumed 28 minutes behind schedule with Perez and Verstappen wasting no time getting going. Verstappen went top but it was just a matter of seconds before Magnussen went quicker than both Bulls. Then it was Sainz in charge on a time of 1:31.893s, but even that was quickly put in its place by Alonso going 0.058s quicker.

Tsunoda aborted his first run after being held up by Verstappen, leaving Mercedes last to set times: Russell went top on 1:31.743s while Hamilton was only P5, over a quarter of a second behind his team mate. It meant Verstappen was now on the bubble in P10 and Perez on the wrong side of the cut in 11th.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing knocked out in Q2 of qualifying. 16.09.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 16, Singapore Grand Prix, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

Sainz' next run saw him go top, three tenths ahead of Russell and Alonso. But all eyes were on Verstappen, who was squirming all over the track and failing to find the speed he needed. He crossed the line in tenth but any hopes of making it through to Q3 were dashed - ironically by AlphaTauri supersub Liam Lawson. And it was bad news for Perez, too, who spun in the second corner leaving him stuck in 13th. Also eliminated were Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon, as well as Tsunoda who had aborted his final flying lap to finish without a time in Q2.

Q3: Sainz captures pole as Russell steals second from Leclerc in thriller finish

With both Red Bulls dramatically swept off the board, there was a clamour among the remaining ten cars to take advantage. When the lights went green, Magnussen opened the bidding with a time of 1:32.396s, quicker than Hulkenberg but not enough to stay head of Alonso. Norris then briefly took provisional pole on a set of used softs, but almost immediately Sainz snatched the prize away.

Leclerc was 0.251s slower in P2, and Russell then put in a claim for P4 just ahead of Hamilton and Alonso. There was no time to waste back on pit lane as the drivers bolted on their final sets of new rubber: Magnussen and Hulkenberg were first to get back out, last out were Mercedes hoping there would be no incidents and they would benefit from the track at its most highly evolved.

Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) Ferrari qualifies in pole position, 2nd place George Russell (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 and 3rd place Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari
16.09.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 16, Singapore Grand Prix, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Qualifying Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

Sainz has a slightly weak second sector but still sealed the deal for pole with 1:30.984s. Leclerc also improved his time but just as Ferrari started to celebrate its 1-2 lockout, Russell spoiled the party by going seven thousandths quicker than the Monegasque. If not for a touch of oversteer at turn 16, the Briton might even have clinched pole outright. Norris will start from fourth after Hamilton only managed fifth, with Magnussen sixth from Alonso, Ocon, Hulkenberg and Lawson.

However the results remain highly provisional. The stewards face a late night working their way through a large number of reported infractions that could shake up tomorrow's starting grid order.

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