Perez Shines in Singapore


Jim K 10/3/22

Red Bull once again showed that they're street circuit specialists with a victory at the 2022 Singapore Grand Prix. Sergio Perez, rather than the usual suspect Max Verstappen, drove his RB18 to P1 on the drying Marina Bay Street Circuit as the Mexican took his fourth and most convincing victory of his career.

For only the second time in F1 history, a night race saw rain affect the running. A torrential downpour around 90 minutes before lights out had the track damp and drying when the race finally got underway after a delay. The low levels of grip meant all 20 runners began the race with Pirelli's intermediate compound, with the crossover point to dry tires being the pre-race talking point.

Charles Leclerc lost P1 off the line after Perez won the drag race to Turn 1 as the five red lights went out. By the end of the first lap, the Mexican racer was the sole Red Bull runner in the top 10 after a disastrous start from Verstappen. Verstappen had slumped from P8 to P12 on the drivers first tour of the Marina Bay Street Circuit. A fuelling issue in qualifying meant he began the race down the order, and a poor getaway compounded Verstappen's Sunday woes.

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To add to Perez's possible problems, Leclerc wasn't the only Ferrari chasing him down. Carlos Sainz had outmuscled Lewis Hamilton to take P4 from the Briton at Turn 1, sending Hamilton onto the run-off but leaving both racers undamaged. As a result, Perez had to drive a faultless race for his win, with Red Bull having few strategic options to help their driver take the victory.

However, Sainz could not match Perez and Leclerc's pace and soon dropped back. Verstappen, meanwhile, began his fight through the order on Lap 2 and overtook Kevin Magnussen's Haas and Lance Stroll's Aston Martin in quick succession. Yuki Tsunoda was the next driver to fall on Lap 3, as Verstappen reached P9 before the evening's first Safety Car.

Guanyu Zhou found himself with nowhere to go when battling with Nicholas Latifi, after the Canadian driver turned into the Alfa Romeo at Turn 14. Zhou's broken suspension had his race end in the barriers, while Latifi instead limped back to the Williams garage to retire. The resulting Safety Car period wiped out any gap that Perez and Leclerc built to Sainz's P3 and allowed Verstappen to be right on the back of Sebastian Vettel in P8.

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Green Flag racing had Verstappen waste no time in passing the Aston Martin before a compliant Pierre Gasly gave up his P7. The following ten laps became an exercise in tire management as the track slowly dried out. Switching to dry rubber seemed too big a gamble for the teams, but a second slow down had George Russell become the first driver to take the risk.

Fernando Alonso's Alpine suffered an engine failure and pulled over to the side of the track. The resulting Virtual Safety Car period had Mercedes roll the dice on a set of Pirelli mediums, but it quickly became apparent the call was too soon. Russell struggled for grip and lost time against everyone else on track. However, unlike many of his peers, the 24-year-old racer kept his car out of the barriers in the race's second act, even though he ran dry tires.

First, Alex Albon copied his Williams teammate in slumping back to the pits to retire after crashing, with the Thai racer losing his front wing in the wall to cause another VSC. Then, Esteban Ocon followed in the footsteps of the sister Alpine with an engine failure that triggered another Virtual Safety Car.

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Hamilton, who kept close to Sainz's P3, became the next driver to hit the wall. The Brit went straight on at Turn 7 when he braked too late while chasing Sainz. Hamilton somehow avoided terminal damage and returned to the track with a broken front wing just as his teammate Russell set the Fastest Lap on dry tires. The race had reached its crossover point.

A flurry of pit lane activity had Hamilton replace his damaged wing and every other runner swapping their intermediate rubber for the soft or medium slick Pirellis. However, McLaren's Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo didn't dive straight in and benefitted from a second Safety Car slowdown after Tsunoda's heavy impact in the Turn 10 barriers. The strategic decision from the Woking-based team would eventually net them P4 and P5 to see them leapfrog Alpine in the Constructors' Championship.

The restart after the Tsunoda-triggered Safety Car didn't see any position changes for the podium contenders. However, Verstappen locked up on his new medium tires as he found a wet patch when attempting an overtake on Lando Norris. The Dutchman avoided damage thanks to an escape road at Turn 7, but he would have to again fight through the order after pitting to get rid of the Pirellis that he flat-spotted in his mistake.

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Verstappen spent his final 19 laps cutting through the backmarkers and crossed the line in P7, aided somewhat by a failed ambitious overtake by Hamilton on Vettel for P6. Hamilton's slow slide away from the apex let Verstappen slip past into P7 as the race's three remaining world champions battled it out for P6.

On track, Perez's win was never in doubt, as the Mexican kept Leclerc behind him without much of a challenge from the Monegasque Ferrari driver. Off track, however, an FIA investigation into the gap between Perez and the Safety Car in the two slowdown periods hung over the result as the checkered flag fell.

A five-second penalty was the eventual punishment handed down. Fortunately for Perez, Red Bull had told him to extend the gap to Leclerc, and he dutifully followed the instructions to cross the line 7.5s ahead, meaning he'd keep his winner's trophy

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After a two-week break without racing, the Asian double-header will continue this weekend with the returning Japanese Grand Prix at the iconic Suzuka circuit, where Verstappen will be crowned world champion if he wins and takes the Fastest Lap point.


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