Red Bull boss Christian Horner said it was the team’s mistake in Singapore as Max Verstappen was forced to abandon his pursuit of pole position.
The Marina Bay Circuit was ramping up through Q3 as the track finally dried out to a level where slick tyres could be used, Verstappen very much in contention for pole.
But on his final attempt, which was looking strong enough to contend for top spot on the grid, Red Bull told him to abandon the lap and return to the pit lane – receiving a very fiery response from Verstappen, who was demanding answers.
Horner said he could not reveal the reason over team radio, although he did explain what had happened when talking to Sky Sports F1 later.
As had been suggested, Red Bull were indeed worried Verstappen would run out of fuel, having planned for five laps rather than six.
So the team did not want to risk being excluded from qualifying and therefore starting from the pit lane, which would happen if there was not enough fuel left in Verstappen’s car for the FIA to take a sample.
Verstappen will start the race from P8, while Sergio Perez joins pole-sitter Charles Leclerc on the front row.
“A phenomenal result for Checo, his best ever performance here in Singapore, and huge frustration with Max,” said Horner. “He was on a lap that was a second-and-a-half up, I think, on what the pole [time] was.
“So it was our mistake. Basically, with the track ramping up we assumed five laps would be the maximum we could do, and we actually managed to get to a position where we won ourselves a sixth lap.
“But fuel was going to be too close to the limit and rather than starting from the pit lane we elected to abort the lap, which is obviously a massively frustrating call for Max, for the whole team.
“And obviously relegates him to eighth, but better than starting from the pit lane. With the pace we had, I’m sure he can make great progress from there.”
Of course, as Verstappen has shown, such a starting position does not mean it is curtains for his chances of winning the Singapore GP, which he must do to have a chance of securing his second World Championship here.
In Belgium he won from P14 on the grid and then from P7 at Monza.
And while the Marina Bay Street Circuit is regarded as a difficult track for overtaking, Horner feels that with the 2022 cars allowing for more overtaking, combined with other factors that could come into play, there will still be opportunities for Verstappen.
“It makes life a lot harder with the nature of the circuit here, but what we’ve seen with these cars is you can overtake and make progress,” Horner explained.
“The one thing we know with Max is he’ll give it everything. And it’s a tough race, the hardest, longest race of the year here. And the weather could do something interesting as well. So there will be plenty of opportunity.
“So whilst a huge disappointment today, opportunity to hopefully turn it around tomorrow.”
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Horner also made it clear Verstappen will come back refreshed and motivated for race day, despite being furious after the qualifying mishap and publicly criticising Red Bull.
“Absolutely, he’ll deal with that and he won’t dwell on it,” Horner stated. “I’m sure he’ll get up with even more renewed determination for tomorrow.
“It was our mistake, it just shows sometimes how fine these things are.”