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Two practice sessions took place at the Marina Bay Street Circuit on Friday, although just the second one was run in really representative conditions. That’s because the first one was run under daylight, so the Free Practice 2 was the better session to extract conclusions for the Singapore GP practice analysis.
Ferrari first and second in both sessions
After claiming pole position and a podium finish with Carlos Sainz in Monza, Ferrari headed to Singapore with high spirits. The Marina Bay circuit is vastly different though, so transferring that form to this weekend was not looking likely.
Ferrari performed well on Friday though, topping both sessions. Charles Leclerc topped his teammate in the first session and the order was reversed at night time. As such, it is fair to assume that the red cars will have good speed in qualifying, as they have had at various races through the season. Afterall, Charles Leclerc took his only pole of 2023 in Baku, another street circuit.
The Ferrari SF-23 was the fastest car in all three sectors of the lap and ended Free Practice 2 with a margin of more than two tenths to third-place George Russell. The margin could have been bigger, if the Monegasque nailed the final sector on his fastest lap.
But the big question mark regarding Ferrari remains its tyre wear, especially on the rear end. It was something that held the team back in Monza and it should be an issue in Singapore as well. The track features a lot of traction zones and the hot and humid climate of the area will make things tougher as well. Do not be surprised by Ferrari dropping back in the second half of their stints on Sunday.
Red Bull on the back foot
It is very rare in 2023 that a victory looks in doubt for Red Bull, but such is the case after Free Practice. Its performance so far is reminiscent of Mercedes’ one in 2015, when the team was utterly dominant throughout that season, but looked off the pace at Singapore and was never really in podium contention through that weekend.
The second practice session ended with Sergio Perez seventh and Max Verstappen eighth and both had plenty of complaints about the behaviour of the car. Their main problem concerned the rear stability of the RB19, which was struggling both under braking and under acceleration.
Their one-lap pace was disappointing, as both drivers were about seven tenths behind the top time, set by Carlos Sainz. Their race pace was somewhat better, as Sergio Perez in particular showed good pace in the race simulations towards the end of the session, on a similar level with Fernando Alonso and Lando Norris, who was on the soft tyre compound.
Despite their promising long run pace, a good starting spot is vital to a good result in Singapore. Changes will be needed to the setup of the car for Red Bull to be able to chase the victory this weekend and keep its perfect record this season.
Aston Martin back on pace
Last time out, in Monza, it was no secret that Aston Martin struggled to stay competitive, as the long straights did not favour the cars characteristics at all. This weekend though, things are much different, as it was somewhat expected.
A tough stretch in the last races before the summer break created a few doubts about the competitiveness of the car going forward. Those were answered with a good performance in Zandvoort, which concluded in a second place finish with Fernando Alonso. Singapore is a track that resembles Zandvoort in terms of track characteristics, as both include a number of traction zones.
Although a couple of them were removed thanks to the track layout change in the last sector of the race, the circuit still suits the AMR03 very well. This was confirmed by Alonso’s performance in Free Practice 2. He finished the session in fourth position and with a rapid and very consistent stint on medium tyres, which is very promising for his race pace.
A tough day for Williams
Of all the teams, the team with the biggest disappointment from Friday will probably be Williams. A power unit issue sidelined Alexander Albon very early in the all-important second free practice session and the lost track time could hurt him significantly.
He will have the opportunity to make up the lost ground in Free Practice 3, but that will also take place with sunlight on the track, so it will not be very representative. He was thirteenth in the opening session of the weekend.
On top of that for Williams, Logan Sargeant appears to be far off the pace in his first time out on the Singapore circuit. He was the slowest driver in FP1 and he was only above his teammate in FP2, a long way off the cars ahead. It comes at a very important time in the American’s career, as he needs to perform in order to keep his seat for next season.
It was also a weekend we were anticipating highly, in order to better judge the Williams FW45. It was already known that the car could achieve great results in low-drag circuits, but its performance in Zandvoort took a lot of people by surprise. Whether Williams, and Albon in particular, can still score points remains to be seen, but it looks like the odds are stacked against them.
Alpine in limbo
To say that Alpine has had an up-and-down season is an understatement, be it on or off the track. This was proven in last two races; a podium for Pierre Gasly in Zandvoort was followed by a double Q1 elimination and an uncompetitive outing in Monza. Today was a struggle for the Enstone squad again, as Esteban Ocon was thirteenth and Pierre Gasly was only eighteenth.
Even more tellingly, the car was unable to perform in any of the three sectors, as it was ninth fastest and around half a second down in each one. Points are looking unlikely again for Alpine, which may not be in any fight in the constructors’ standings, but needs good results in order to built foundations for 2024.
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