Singapore was a turning point in the 2023 Formula One championship, altering the narrative from whether anyone could halt Red Bull and Max Verstappen’s dominance before Abu Dhabi to a resounding “yes.” The Marina Bay street circuit disrupted expectations, providing an opportunity for Scuderia Ferrari and especially Carlos Sainz to finally break the Italian side’s one-year winless streak. Surprisingly, Red Bull’s usually dominant car struggled under the Singapore lights. The RB19 single-seater couldn’t find the right balance from the start, with the baseline setup proving ineffective and subsequent adjustments worsening the situation. The introduction and subsequent removal of a slightly updated floor specification yielded no advantage.
At this juncture, Red Bull had to minimize their losses. Max Verstappen, who avoided a penalty for impeding during qualifying, had limited options for changing the power unit, battery, gearbox, or race setup. “We would have considered it, but starting 11th is still a decent position to score points or maybe even a podium,” the team noted after qualifying. However, there was little room for altering performance or using strategy to improve their position. Red Bull opted for hard tires for the race and adjusted Max’s car to reduce front load and increase tire pressure slightly to avoid instability during braking.
Towards the end of the race, with 70 kg less fuel and fresh medium tires, the RB19’s performance improved. While Red Bull didn’t experience significant tire degradation, their overall performance was unremarkable. Verstappen faced a deficit of 6/7 tenths per lap against the Mercedes cars, likely a similar gap if he had competed against Norris and the Ferraris under equal conditions. His fifth-place finish was only achieved due to the problems encountered by Alonso, Ocon, and Russell.
The question now shifts from whether Singapore was merely a one-off or if it is connected to TD18 (Technical Directive 18). However, Verstappen avoids entertaining the latter possibility, declaring, “Now, after a race like this, we have to win in Suzuka with a 20-second advantage.”
Ferrari’s victory, on the other hand, was a result of clear decisions and strategy. Charles Leclerc’s early sacrifice with soft tires allowed him to secure a 1-2 finish for the SF-23 cars, a choice made to prevent potential race losses due to tire degradation. Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc maintained a slower pace to preserve their tires until the pit stops, ultimately securing the victory. Norris occupied the space between them.
Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc strategically slowed down by 1.5-2 seconds per lap before their pit stops, helping the Monegasque manage tire wear during the first stint. The Safety Car disrupted their plans, prompting Charles Leclerc to move away from Carlos Sainz to ensure a double pit stop was possible, which could have put the Maranello team in an ideal position to target a one-two finish at the Marina Bay.
In the second phase, the Spaniard continued to manage his tires well, utilizing the SF-23’s efficiency on straights to maintain his position. George Russell and Lewis Hamilton aggressively pitted for fresh medium tires but couldn’t catch up. While the battle with CarLando didn’t last long due to traction differences, Carlos Sainz lost over 2 seconds to the Mercedes, adding tension to the chase.
Ultimately, the Spaniard executed a tactical masterpiece, utilizing the SF-23’s speed advantage with DRS to keep the McLaren at bay. The race saw Lewis and Lando on the podium, while Russell crashed out in the closing stages. Despite a relatively smooth start to the Grand Prix, a podium near Singapore always demands hard work.
Scuderia Ferrari is now focused on confirming its improved understanding in the next round of the season, which takes place at the Suzuka circuit in Japan, with a new floor specification prepared as the final significant upgrade of the current F1 campaign, as explained by F1 experts Giuliano Duchessa and Rosario Giuliana for formu1a.uno. Development for the SF-23 continues as Ferrari prepare for the next Formula 1 season with the clear goal of being able to challenge Red Bull for the race win at any type of circuit.
The concept of this year’s car has already evolved significantly, requiring a deeper conceptual understanding. New parts were approved before the break, and a new floor is set to debut in Suzuka, where efficient high-speed downforce will be crucial. The team’s work since resuming activities is entirely aimed at implementing the 2024 model. A high-load test at Fiorano provided positive signals, and adjustments to the simulator in Marina Bay allowed for the effective use of higher downforce levels without compromising balance and efficiency.
The Japanese tracing track presents a different challenge, emphasizing front-end limitations and demanding precise rear tire management, traction, and control of understeer during entry. If Red Bull cooperates, Ferrari could rejoin the battle for second place against McLaren and Mercedes. It’s reasonable to anticipate that Ferrari in September will be better prepared for such a test.