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F1: Putting a postscript on Singapore GP – Sports Illustrated

Max Verstappen had to wait one more week to clinch the championship as Sergio Perez was a surprise winner in the Singapore GP. Photo: USA Today Sports / David Kirouac
An hour before the Grand Prix of Singapore was set to begin, the Ferrari team sat trackside at their monitors, contemplating the Marina Bay Circuit which had astonishingly quickly been converted from a racing surface into something resembling a small creek, perhaps wondering what they were doing there while the remaining teams had retreated to the comfort of their trailers.
It wouldn’t be until two hours later when the cars would be allowed out onto the somewhat drier surface, but the track moisture level would continue to be the prevailing storyline in Max Verstappen’s first but not final attempt to clinch the series championship.
At the end of the day (or perhaps more accurately, night), Verstappen’s teammate and street-circuit ace Sergio Perez would be the one standing on the top step of the podium, only the second victory of the season for the Mexican driver. But more importantly, it was also the 14th win of the season for the team, which now holds a commanding 137-point lead in the constructor’s championship to accompany Verstappen’s lead in the driver’s standings.
Perez beat pole-sitter Charles Leclerc off the line at the start and would stay in front the remainder of the evening, opening enough of a gap to overcome a five-second penalty he was assessed after the race. For his part, Verstappen racked up a truly impressive number of passes on the day, after he had qualified eighth on Saturday following a miscalculation by the team in fueling the car, then quickly dropped to 12th with a poor start.
After his initial charge up to fifth place by Lap 39, Mad Max found himself having to start his work all over again from the back of the field after overcooking a turn and sliding into a run-off area, which happened not long after the field had been brought together following a full course yellow, meaning he needed to rejoin at the very back.
While the conditions permitted all drivers to start on the intermediate rather than the full wet tires, racing at night along with high humidity meant a very slowly drying track, and the “crossover” point to the normal slick tires happened late in the race, with only Mercedes’ George Russell gambling on an early switch on Lap 21.
After qualifying only 11th, Mercedes decided to take the opportunity to replace anything it could find under the hood of Russell’s car, resulting in a penalty that had him starting from pit lane. His day failed to improve much from there, and he had only managed to move up to 15th when the team brought him in to pit for medium tires, which proved way too early for the still puddle-laden track.
It wouldn’t be until Lap 33 that Valtteri Bottas would be the first to successfully shed the treaded rain tires, and Perez in the lead was happy enough to wait until he saw second place Leclerc make his change the next time around and then followed a lap later.
Perez’ only problem on the day was with the one car he was behind — which happened to be the safety car — as race officials warned him twice that he was too far back during full course yellows. When he failed to respond by the third instance, the FIA declared the matter would be investigated after the race, leaving the actual finishing order still uncertain while the trophies were being handed out.
It wasn’t until two hours after the race’s conclusion that the five-second penalty was assessed, and since Perez had managed to extend his lead to seven seconds by driving full out after being told of the possible consequences, he was able to keep his victory.
While Leclerc was no doubt disappointed, failing to win after taking pole in qualifying, his rain-soaked team could take solace in a 2-3 finish from Leclerc and teammate Carlos Sainz, which now gives the team a 63-point lead over third-place Mercedes in the standings, and also in having a day devoid of disasters in strategy or in the pits.
Leclerc did at times manage to get close enough to Perez to be seen in Perez’ rearview mirrors, while the noticeably slower Sainz had to do a bit of work to hold off former teammate Lando Norris, particularly after the field was bunched following a safety car.
As for Norris’ part, he had one of his stronger performances of the season, and directly behind him (although by more than 30 seconds) was his McLaren teammate Daniel Ricciardo, whose finish of fifth was his best of the year, as well as being his first points finish in five races.
Ricciardo continues to audition for a yet unknown future employer, whether in Formula 1 or elsewhere. Other than Perez, McLaren had to have two of the biggest smiles of the day, taking home 22 points between the two drivers, while their rivals, Alpine, failed to have either car complete the race.
For Alpine driver Fernando Alonso, it was a bittersweet day that began with a celebration for his record 350th Grand Prix start and ended with the driver sitting trackside following an engine failure. Alonso is clearly frustrated with the reliability issues the team has dealt with this year, but as he has only five races remaining before his move to Aston Martin, it will be soon be the problem of one of the still numerous drivers Alpine is looking at to replace him next season.
Through the Field, Part 1
Mercedes was left wondering how a team with two drivers from the British Isles could have such a problem with a rainy weekend, as Russell’s day was spent at the back of the field, often battling with Haas driver Michael Schumacher, while Lewis Hamilton missed a turn and needed to recover after sliding into the barriers.
Russell heard some criticism for contact with Schumacher which left both of them finishing last among the cars still on track, after he had been heard on the team radio complaining that the German driver was “defending like it is the race of his life” (Schumacher is currently unsigned for next season and considered to be in a battle to retain his job with the team).
Hamilton suffered only minor damage in his accident, which gave him the opportunity to renew acquaintances with Max Verstappen after rejoining the race immediately in front of the Red Bull driver. He’d end the day in ninth.
Through the Field, Part 2
Outgoing Williams driver Nicholas Latifi was given a five position grid penalty for the next race after causing a crash that ended the day for both himself and Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu.
Aston Martin’s two drivers were able to deal well with the wet surface, with Lance Stroll improving from a 12th-place start to finish sixth, and Sebastian Vettel going from 14th to eighth, losing out one spot on the last lap to Verstappen’s final overtake.
What’s Left to Race For – Constructor’s Edition
With five races left on the calendar, and Red Bull safely at the top of the standings, the battle for second place has swung back decisively in Ferrari’s direction, and as long as it can avoid more of the devastating team errors that affected it earlier in the year, Mercedes looks likely to be locked into third.
McLaren’s big day put them back in front of Alpine by just four points, although they’ll need to find a way to get results from Daniel Ricciardo on dry tracks in his remaining months with the team if they hope to be able to hold that position.
The biggest battle appears to be for seventh, where Aston Martin leads both Haas and Alpha Tauri by only three points. One big race result by any of the team’s drivers could make the difference for the year.
Up Next
The teams fly north to Japan for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka this weekend, where Verstappen can clinch the championship with a win and any result other than second for Charles Leclerc. Unlike Singapore, the race in Japan will be an afternoon affair, meaning a late start time for fans in the U.S. and early morning for those in Europe. 
Gregg Fielding has followed all forms of motorsports since watching the ABC nighttime broadcasts of the Indy 500 in the late 1970s. He lives in New York, is particularly keen on F1 and IndyCar, and has attended the Brooklyn Formula E events since their first running in 2017. Follow Gregg on Twitter @GreggFielding

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