Singapore: How far off the pace are Red Bull?

Max Verstappen and the Red Bull Racing Team faced a challenging start to the Singapore Grand Prix weekend, with Ferrari showing impressive pace during Friday practice.

While Verstappen and Red Bull acknowledge the uniqueness of the Marina Bay Street Circuit, a closer look at the practice sessions reveals both challenges and opportunities for the team. Certainly during the Mercedes domination of Formula one in years prior, if there was one circuit that would expose the dominating team, it was Singapore.



Ferrari surge

During Friday’s practice, Carlos Sainz set a blistering pace on the soft tyres, significantly beating last year’s lap times due to the revised track layout. The 2023 track configuration features more straights, playing to Ferrari’s strength in straight-line speed. Sainz’s performance put Ferrari comfortably ahead of rivals such as Mercedes and Aston Martin.

Analysis of the track data reveals Sainz’s superior straight-line speed between turns 15 and 16, as well as the stretch from turns 18 and 19 onto the start/finish straight. This suggests that Ferrari’s SF-23 excels on the straights, positioning it as a formidable competitor in Singapore.


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Cornering dominance of Mercedes & Aston Martin

Conversely, George Russell and Fernando Alonso demonstrated their cars’ cornering prowess, with the Aston Martin demonstrating superb medium-speed cornering, a consistent theme throughout the season. Russell speculated that Ferrari may have been using lower power unit modes, suggesting untapped potential from the Scuderia.



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Red Bull uphill struggle

Red Bull’s challenge with the RB19 was related to rear instability, a trait they had previously encountered in Monaco. This issue almost cost Verstappen pole position in Monaco, underlining its importance. Pirelli chief engineer Simone Berra highlighted the impact of track development on this issue, particularly around the Marina Bay street circuit.

Comparing the lap times of Verstappen and Sainz, the difference is around three tenths per lap on average. While McLaren’s Lando Norris has expressed scepticism about catching Ferrari on pure pace, Red Bull have demonstrated their ability to make significant improvements overnight through simulation and car set-up adjustments.


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The tyre factor

Norris emphasised the importance of timing your laps. Red Bull could find opportunities to challenge Ferrari’s dominance by mastering tyre warm-up and mitigating traffic-related setbacks.

According to Pirelli Chief Engineer Simone Berra, this is expected to be a factor at the Marina Bay street circuit throughout the weekend.

“As expected, we have a lot of track evolution here, especially during FP1, but even during FP2 we’re seeing a big improvement in terms of lap times and grip values,”

“It’s affected the delta between the compounds, so in FP2 we’re seeing some people going from C4 to C5 improving by about a second a lap. We think it’s slightly lower, we’re expecting around 0.6 and 0.7 seconds per lap.”


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Bottom line

The Marina Bay Street Circuit presents a unique challenge for Red Bull, as Ferrari’s strength lies in straight-line speed. As Red Bull grapples with rear instability, strategic timing and set-up adjustments may offer avenues for improvement.

As the Singapore Grand Prix unfolds, the battle between Red Bull and Ferrari will undoubtedly provide fans with a thrilling spectacle in the heart of the city-state.

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