The Singapore weekend starts with a bit of a surprise
Ferrari dominates the leaderboard in the first free practice session, with Leclerc in first and Sainz in second, ahead of Max Verstappen and Lando Norris. The initial impression, both from watching the session and analyzing the data, is that both Ferrari and McLaren have made concrete progress in dealing with the typical slow and tight-radius curves of the Asian circuit. Of course, we are only talking about the first session, so caution is absolutely necessary. However, listening to the drivers’ feedback and analyzing the data recorded, it appears that the work done by the Maranello and Woking teams, which is completely different for both, has shown an initial positive result.
McLaren still not very efficient but greatly improved in slow corners
McLaren had a significant problem with slow corners, with aerodynamics that didn’t match the mechanics in the low range. Therefore, they brought a nearly overhauled car to the track for the second time this season. Norris, the only one of Brown’s two drivers to put the updated car on the track, immediately felt good about it, with positive feedback particularly regarding slow corners. This aspect is also evident from the data in both the central sector and the final sector. The graph still shows a lack of top-end speed for the MCL60 (version C?), indicating that the setup and the new package might bring more specific improvements in the slow sections rather than the fast ones. However, this will still need to be evaluated on the track, where the setup will seek more compromised situations compared to the Singapore circuit.
Charles Leclerc had another 4 tenths of potential improvement
Ferrari certainly had a strong first session at the Marina Bay street circuit. Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz topped the leaderboard, but the most impressive statistic is that when adding up their best sector times, it’s discovered that the Monegasque had a margin for improvement of a whopping 409 thousandths of a second on his best lap, with both the first and third sectors being improvable by about 2 tenths each. This is a significant number, especially considering that Carlos Sainz, Max Verstappen, and Lando Norris all achieved their best laps by combining the best sector times, without any further margin. The track, which limits the rear end with its short but tight slow corners, seems to be a good fit for the SF23 at the moment. The car features a revised front-end aerodynamics, allowing for a high-downforce setup, which (finally) seems to be working as intended. Even in the very short race pace simulation, the two Ferrari drivers recorded very interesting lap times, although the weekend is still very much uncharted territory.
Will Red Bull have to work hard for the 15th win?
The reigning champions of the 2023 Formula 1 season seem to be quick for now, but with a considerably less “insurmountable” advantage than seen on other tracks. The qualities of the RB19 appear to struggle a bit more to emerge and make a difference on a track like Marina Bay. Verstappen has, for now, made a significant difference in braking, thanks to the incredibly solid front end of car number 1. Nevertheless, Verstappen and Red Bull are still the clear favorites for this weekend, but the initial feeling is that they might not have the opportunity to “take a stroll” during the race, as they have done many times this year.
However, everything is still to be decided; these are just very preliminary impressions. We will see what emerges in the second practice session, with temperatures similar to those expected for qualifying and the race, and how the teams will evolve their setups, with a track that will rubber in more and more. The first step, however, tells of a potentially interesting weekend.