Sainz wins Singapore GP, ends Red Bull's win streak

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Ferrari's Carlos Sainz smashed Red Bull's flawless 2023 Formula 1 win record with a brilliant lights-to-flag victory in an absorbing Singapore Grand Prix.

Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz (Front) of Spain races at the start of the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix Night Race at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, Sept. 17, 2023. (Photo by Then Chih Wey/Xinhua)

The result largely hinged on a Virtual Safety Car deployment to clear Esteban Ocon's stricken Alpine on Lap 44 of 62, at which point Sainz was leading George Russell, Lando Norris, Charles Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton, all of whom had switched onto Hard tyres under the Safety Car on Lap 21.

While Sainz, Norris and Leclerc elected not to pit, Russell and Hamilton decided to sacrifice track position to change onto a new set of Medium tyres, re-joining the race fourth and fifth.

Catching the top three at a rate of two seconds per lap, the twin Mercedes had disposed of Leclerc by Lap 54, and rapidly closed on Norris.

Though the Silver Arrows were clearly faster than Norris, Sainz cleverly slowed to ensure that the Briton would remain within one second of him and thus have the benefit of DRS as he defended from Russell.

The Spaniard's risky tactic worked, as Norris managed to keep the Mercedes at bay, and with Russell sliding off into the barriers on the final lap, it was Hamilton who rounded out the top three.

"It was all about managing the beginning of the stints to make sure I made it to the target laps," said Sainz, who had spent the early stages of the race holding the lead while driving as slowly as possible in order to ensure that his tyres would last.

"The Safety Car forced us to pit earlier than we wanted and I knew it was going to be a long stint on the Hards.

"It was just quite tight at the end. We gave Lando a bit of DRS to help him and in the end it worked."

Behind the top three, Leclerc salvaged fourth after falling badly away once the Mercedes overtook him, while championship leader Max Verstappen salvaged fifth place on a rare off-day for Red Bull, who failed to have a car finish in the top three of a Grand Prix for the first time since Brazil last year.

Pierre Gasly took sixth for Alpine, ahead of Norris' teammate Oscar Piastri, who recovered well from a lowly grid slot.

Perez finished eighth in the second Red Bull, with AlphaTauri's Liam Lawson scoring his first championship points with a solid drive to ninth, and Kevin Magnussen rounded out the top 10 in his Haas.

Ferrari had looked the team to beat from Friday practice onwards, but Red Bull were unusually off-form all weekend long, with both Verstappen and Perez complaining of a lack of balance and stability and lining up only 11th and 13th on the grid.

Red Bull thus elected to fit Hard compound tyres to Verstappen and Perez's cars in the hope of a long first stint, in contrast to the Soft and Medium rubber used by most others at the start.

However, that plan backfired when the Safety Car was deployed on Lap 20, prompting most of the field to change to a set of Hard tyres with which to complete the race.

Had they pitted for Hard tyres then, Verstappen and Perez would have been obliged to make a further pit stop later in order to fulfil a requirement obliging drivers to use at least two different compounds during a race. However, had they switched instead to Soft or Medium rubber, their tyres would not have had the durability to last the remainder of the 62 laps.

Instead, the Red Bulls had little choice but to stay out on their original sets of Hard tyres, and though they sat second and fourth when racing resumed on Lap 22, they were powerless to stop the leading runners from overtaking them.

To add insult to injury for Red Bull, the Virtual Safety Car came out just three laps after Verstappen and Perez eventually did make their stops, meaning the pair would have lost much less time in the pits had they waited just a few laps longer.

Despite a bad weekend, Verstappen still enjoys a huge lead in the Drivers' Championship with 374 points. Perez remains second with 223, and Hamilton moves past Fernando Alonso into third with 180 points.

In the Constructors' Championship, Red Bull's tally now stands at 597 points, with Mercedes second on 289 and Ferrari third with 265 points.

The 16th round of the 2023 F1 World Championship is next weekend's Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit.

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