Carlos Sainz led from start to finish to win a thrilling Singapore Grand Prix yesterday after a charging George Russell crashed his Mercedes from third place on the final lap.
Lando Norris was second in a McLaren with Lewis Hamilton crossing the line in third. Championship leader Max Verstappen was fifth as Red Bull failed to win a race for the first time this season.
Sainz controlled the pace of the night race brilliantly from pole position to take only his second career win, the first coming at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone last year. It ended Red Bull’s hopes of sweeping every race in 2023 as Verstappen, who has won the last 10 races in a row, could only work his way up from 11th on the grid into the top five.
His teammate Sergio Perez crossed the line in eighth place.
“An incredible feeling, incredible weekend,” said Sainz.
“We nailed a weekend and nailed the race. We did everything we had to do. We did it perfect and we brought home a P1 that I’m sure all of Italy and Ferrari will be proud today,” added the Spaniard.
Sainz seemed set for a comfortable win until a virtual safety car 20 laps from the end gave the two Mercedes the chance to change to fresh medium-compound tyres.
Russell and Hamilton came out flying and soon reeled in and passed the second Ferrari of Charles Leclerc, who finished fourth. But when they got on the heels of the top two they could not get past as Sainz cleverly kept his former teammate Norris within DRS range so the Englishman could defend second place.
“It was all about managing the beginning of the stints to make sure I made it to the target laps,” said Sainz. “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.”
Russell was all over the back of Norris until his challenge ended in the wall at turn eight of the final lap, handing Hamilton the final podium place.
“Carlos was very generous trying to help me get DRS. It helped my race and it also helped his,” said Norris. “We did everything we needed to do and more. So super happy.”
Earlier Sainz got away cleanly from pole position with his teammate Leclerc using the softest compound tyres to overtake Russell, who had started in second.
When Logan Sargeant lost the front wing of his Williams after hitting the wall on lap 20 a safety car caused a flurry of pit-lane activity with all the leaders heading in for fresh rubber.
Leclerc was held up behind Sainz and he rejoined behind Russell and Norris. Verstappen stayed out and moved up to second before the packed night race crowd witnessed the rare sight in 2023 of the runaway championship leader being passed comfortably by Russell, Norris, Hamilton and Leclerc on their fresher tyres. Perez was the first Red Bull to pit, on lap 39, and dropped all the way to last place after he emerged.
Verstappen stopped a lap later and rejoined down in 15th. Just two laps later Esteban Ocon’s engine gave out causing a virtual safety car giving Mercedes the chance to dive in for fresh tyres. With 10 laps to go, Russell swept past Leclerc with Hamilton following a lap later.
Russell had remarkably been the last non-Red Bull driver to win a grand prix before Sainz, in November last year in Brazil, before his race ended in dramatic fashion.
“Extremely unfortunate for George,” said Hamilton. “We were pushing so hard to catch these guys and our tyres were so hot. But I know he will bounce back. He’s been phenomenal all weekend.”
Verstappen is still a runaway favourite to claim a third world title but the all-conquering Dutchman has still never taken the chequered flag in Singapore.
Red Bull had won all 14 races this season before Singapore but the Marina Bay street extinguished hopes of a clean sweep of 22 Grands Prix wins in 2023.
Verstappen had won 12 of the 14 previous races this season with Perez the only other driver to take the chequered flag.
Red Bull need to win six of the remaining seven races to beat the Formula One record of Mercedes in 2016, when Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton won 19 of 21 Grands Prix.
Ferrari's Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr celebrates on the podium after winning the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix night race at the Marina Bay Street Circuit in Singapore yesterday. (AFP)