Ferrari were the surprise pace-setters in Friday practice in Singapore, with championship leaders Red Bull uncharacteristically off the pace, as track running got going under the lights. But is their pace genuine and can anyone stop the Red Bull juggernaut come Sunday afternoon?
Red Bull pace ‘worse than expected’
Red Bull laid the groundwork for a potentially challenging weekend in Singapore with their pre-weekend comments, but no one – not even the drivers themselves – anticipated their pace would be as slow as it proved on Friday evening.
Sergio Perez was the fastest of the two RB19s in Free Practice 2, a fraction ahead of championship leader Max Verstappen as they finished seventh and eighth respectively. Even if each of them had put all their best mini sectors together for the ‘ideal lap’, their position in the classification would remain unchanged.
Both drivers said they were struggling for rear grip and said they have plenty to work on overnight. On the straights, they were 0.6s down on the straights – which is a gap so significant, it’s possible they had turned the engines down as their relative performance was much closer in FP1.
Our data also suggests it’s perhaps not as bad as it seems. In qualifying simulations, they were just a tenth of a second off the pace and when they put the fuel in, they were best of all, 0.2s quicker than McLaren.
Ferrari cause a stir with impressive pace
Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc weren’t optimistic they could repeat their strong Monza form in Singapore – but they got the paddock talking on Friday as both set an impressive pace across both practice sessions, from the warmer, brighter FP1 to the cooler, darker FP2.
Both admitted their slight surprise at their advantage, their pace on the straights a key factor in their table-topping times, but they were also wary of the track rubbering in tomorrow and rivals benefitting from such conditions, with others gaining from fine-tuning their hefty upgrade packages overnight.
They lead the way in qualifying trim, one-lap pace being their stronger forte all season long, but will almost certainly face a strong threat from Red Bull.
In terms of race pace, they drop to third – a smidgen behind McLaren. Not ideal, but this is a track where it’s tricky to overtake – and they will hope to find ground overnight, too.
Mercedes appear to be in the mix
Lewis Hamilton described today as his best Friday of the year, so encouraged was he about the way the car felt in second practice – where conditions were representative of what they’ll experience in qualifying and the race.
The Silver Arrows, who were donning bigger brake ducts here to aid with cooling, looked more comfortable on track than they’ve been for several races now. Had George Russell got all his best mini sectors together, he would have finished top of the times on Friday.
Trackside chief Andrew Shovlin said they had work to do to get the most out of the soft compound – but was left very encouraged by what he saw on the longer runs.
Our data puts them third in qualifying trim and fourth in terms of race pace – however in the later metric, just 0.06s separates McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes in the fight for best of the rest.
Upgraded McLaren looking strong
McLaren’s massive upgrade package – which only appeared in full on Lando Norris’s car because the team only had enough scope to prepare one set for Singapore – received the thumbs up from the Briton after an encouraging day of practice.
Over one lap, Norris showed a turn of pace that suggested he could muscle in on the fight for the front two rows with Red Bull and Ferrari, the team’s overall pace putting them fourth in the qualifying simulations, a fraction off Mercedes.
In race trim, they were best of the rest, with Norris happy with how the updates performed and his team mate Oscar Piastri progressing well through the sessions as he got to know the track for the first time.
Aston Martin with work to do to get in the fight
Fernando Alonso was fourth quickest in second practice, the Aston Martins the fourth-best in the slower corners and a match for all of their rivals in the medium-speed turns.
However, when the numbers were crunched, they drop to fifth overall, 0.6s off the pace over one lap and three-tenths slower than the likes of Mercedes and McLaren.
In the long runs, they shut the gap, but they were still fifth overall, suggesting that plenty of work is needed overnight if they are to ensure they don’t end up the wrong side of a scrap to get into Q3, or points come Sunday.
FP2 Highlights: 2023 Singapore Grand Prix