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Racing

A Little Rain Went A Long Way At The Singapore Grand Prix

Clive Mason/Getty Images

Luckily for Formula One as an enterprise, you don’t need the tension of a close championship battle to have a fun race. This is good because at this point in the season, Max Verstappen’s second-straight championship is a drawn-out formality. In theory, Verstappen could have clinched in Singapore this weekend with a win, but alas, the other conditions made it improbable, especially after a disaster qualifying where he had to abort his final flying lap in order to save fuel and prevent a DQ. Thank god for a Red Bull team error—having to explain one more Ferrari debacle would be the breaking point for anyone.

The nature of F1 means that if a frontrunner has a bad performance, it opens up the opportunity for underdogs to shine. And this is what Red Bull’s gaffe did—Verstappen failed to clinch, so we are able to celebrate F1’s ever-constant hero: bad weather. Sure, the thunderstorm resulted in an hour-long delay, and rain doesn’t always guarantee a good, clean race—far from it—but a shake-up in the standings is a shake-up in the standings. As they all say, it doesn’t do to look a gift rain in the cloud.

The Singapore GP has been missed over the past two seasons, despite being one of those accursèd street circuits. It produced two qualifying laps that are good enough to make you believe in greatness, or if that’s too much romance for you, very impressive driving ability: Charles Leclerc’s in 2019 and Lewis Hamilton’s legend in 2018. The Marina Bay Street Circuit remains one of F1’s most challenging tracks in dry conditions, much less wet. All of this is good to keep in mind when the fences are an eyesore, and, during this rainy weekend, the collisions with the walls looked almost like intentional nosedives directed straight into the tire barriers.

Yuki Tsunoda demonstrates.

Everyone wanted to play bumper cars. Here’s the laundry list of racing errors for the booing gallery: Nicholas Latifi will serve a five-place grid penalty in Japan after ending both his and Zhou Guanyu’s races by squeezing Zhou into the wall—”The guy just fully squished me,” Zhou aptly noted on the radio (it was a fun weekend for radio messages); Alex Albon lost his front wing to the tire barriers and then retired in the pits; Lewis Hamilton finished P9 after starting P3, due to a failed overtake on Carlos Saínz Jr. in the opening half of the race and a failed overtake on Sebastian Vettel in the closing laps; and not to be outdone, George Russell finished outside P5 for the first time this season, and in style—he nearly took out Valtteri Bottas (or as Crofty will remind you, he nearly took out Valtteri Bottas again), then hit Mick Schumacher, before following up with a complaint (another radio message!) about the existence of Schumacher’s defense.

Then there was Alpine, who did not engage in the bumper-cars action but did add to the obscene number of yellow flags and safety cars. Both cars had power unit failures, and on Fernando Alonso’s 350th birthday, of all days. Reliability issues have cost Alpine dearly this season—after coasting ahead of McLaren for P4 in the Constructors’ Championship for much of it, mostly thanks to Daniel Ricciardo, they now trail McLaren by four points.

And so the scales of performance are at work balancing themselves once again. Alpine failed, so the McLarens were able to place P4 and P5 and rake in 22 points, and the Aston Martins (the Aston Martins!) could both finish in the points. For two old men’s failings (Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton), two others were able to succeed (Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel).

Further up the ladder, Charles Leclerc’s tragic pole conversion rate opened up the opportunity for another gorgeous nighttime Sergio Pérez win, though it is unjust to blame Leclerc for that, matched up against an on-form Sergio Pérez in a very speedy Red Bull. Verstappen, too, was able to leave much of the field behind on his multiple recovery drives. Leclerc kept it close for most of the race, but that was as good as it got. Pérez pulled away in the final laps as soon as he received the order to build a gap in case of penalty, as if there was a GO FASTER button on the Red Bull to make it just that easy.

It was a blessing that Singapore was good—well, at least fun—racing because otherwise, the topic of conversation would be on those same draining peripheral discussions, such as in-race stewarding, and why Sergio Pérez’s five-second penalty (which did not affect his win) couldn’t have been figured out before the race ended, rather than reserved for after the fact. Or why George Russell didn’t receive a penalty for trundling across the straight and hitting Mick Schumacher in an attempted overtake that left them both with damage.

Or, even worse, there would be the space to dwell on the rumor that preceded the Singapore GP, accusing two teams—Red Bull and Aston Martin—of violating F1’s budget cap policy, which had both Mercedes boss Toto Wolff and Red Bull boss Christian Horner in their best mudslinging form and once again opened up the can of worms of which team president was the most conniving on the grid.

But hey, now you could almost forget about all of that because the racing itself was action-packed and surprising enough on its own! That’s how you make it through these things. All hail F1’s superstar: bad weather.