Ferrari was fastest in Singapore as Red Bull’s record 15-race unbeaten run looked in danger of ending. Charles Leclerc topped the timesheets in Friday’s first session, with teammate Carlos Sainz second, while Mercedes driver George Russell was third ahead of the Aston Martins of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. The McLarens of Lando Norris and Sergio Perez were seventh and eighth, respectively, with the Alfa Romeo of Zhou Guanyu and Pierre Gasly rounding out the top 10. Haas’ Kevin Magnussen was 13th, with Liam Lawson deputizing for Ricciardo at the new-look AlphaTauri in 16th, behind the lead Alfa Romeo and Haas of Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen. Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg was down in 14th with the other Haas of Zhou, while Valtteri Bottas finished 15th in his Mercedes. The Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso was 17th, with the Williams pair of Russell and Hamilton down in sixth and seventh – the latter 0.635s off the pace.
Ferrari had hoped to stifle suggestions that the SF23 would struggle on this high-downforce circuit. And with two one-two finishes in both sessions, the Italian team looks like favorites heading into Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race on a track suited to their high-speed approach.
But it was not such a great day for Red Bull as Verstappen dropped the order in both sessions and was nearly eight-tenths off Sainz’s best. The Dutchman is chasing an unprecedented 11th win in a row, but the Milton Keynes-based team’s hopes may be dented after a scrappy day at Marina Bay.
There were concerns before the weekend that the bumpy, high-downforce circuit in Singapore could compromise Red Bull’s impressive pace this season. And a poor showing on Friday will have exacerbated those fears.
The Scuderia had the edge in both sessions, with Leclerc and Sainz able to attack the curbs more than other teams. But the Red Bulls have a lot to do if they are to close the gap on Mercedes over the rest of the season.
It is noteworthy that Red Bull had a strong pace at this same venue last year, with the duo finishing second and third in each practice session. But the circuit has changed significantly since then – and they need a vast improvement from their car to keep up. Even then, however, they are still far off the level of Mercedes, so they will need luck to prevail at this track. A badly-timed incident, another driver causing a collision, or a reliability problem might scupper their chances. It is unlikely, but not impossible, that they can avoid a severe challenge from the Silver Arrows this weekend.