While Red Bull had hoped for a Safety Car to bring them back into contention at the Singapore GP, Christian Horner said the point where it arrived could not have been worse for them.
Qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix took many by surprise as Red Bull failed to even clear the Q2 hurdle, putting the team’s unbeaten F1 2023 run in the greatest jeopardy so far this season.
Ultimately, as has been the case for much of the season, Red Bull were a far stronger force on race day, though a P5 finish for Max Verstappen was the best they could manage.
Red Bull “strategic gamble” backfires in Singapore
Both Verstappen and Sergio Perez started the race on the hard compound tyre, Horner saying the hope was that a Safety Car would appear either early in the race or towards the end.
Instead, it came when Logan Sargeant hit the wall on Lap 20, allowing the Ferraris, Mercedes and McLaren’s Lando Norris out front to make a cheap pit stop, while Red Bull were forced to carry on.
Verstappen ultimately was able to carve his way through the pack after eventually pitting for medium tyres, finishing just 0.2 seconds behind Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, which to Horner represented a solid performance for his team.
“I think we understood a lot more in the race and the pace of the car came much more back to what we expected,” Horner told reporters in Singapore.
“Coming here we expected to have closer competition. But I think it took us a bit by surprise just how far out we were on Friday. And I think that we were just not in the right operating window for the car, particularly over a single lap, and when you’re not there then the tyres feel horrible, everything just doesn’t work.
“So I think we got a very good steer in the race, I think that we saw, particularly in the latter stint, that Max’s pace was very, very strong.
“Unfortunately in the race, by starting on the hard, we took if you like a strategic gamble, and the best way of that race paying us off is if you get an early Safety Car or a Safety Car sort of later into the race.
“Now, the lap that the Safety Car came out in was probably strategically the worst possible lap for the strategy that we were on, because it gave the cars ahead of us a free stop. At the same time, whilst giving us track position, it made us take the restart with tyres that are very hard to heat up again, having done well over 20 laps. The Safety Car completely screwed it for us.
“So then Max was obviously picked off by the guys that have had the free stop and then we had to take a pit stop under normal racing conditions, which then drops you another 23 seconds behind with that.
“So all considered, the recovery that we had, and the pace that we had, particularly in the latter part of the race to be 0.2 [seconds] behind Charles at the finish line was a very strong race.”
Christian Horner with a message for Ferrari
Carlos Sainz went on to claim the victory for Ferrari, bringing Red Bull’s streak of consecutive victories to an end at 15.
Horner praised the team and their driver Sainz, formerly of the Red Bull programme, with Horner now switching focus to next weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix where Red Bull hope to secure the F1 2023 Constructors’ title.
“At some point we were going to get beaten, 15 in a row is an unbelievable record,” said Horner. “We’ve only been beaten once prior to tonight since last July.
“And I have to congratulate Ferrari and particularly Carlos, who drove a very strong race today and deserve to win the race. And at the same time, we’ve narrowed in on both championships, which we have a chance of winning the Constructors’ in Japan next weekend.”
Of course, the glaring question being asked of Red Bull is whether Singapore was just a blip, or if Red Bull have gone on the decline considering no team has come close to challenging them this season before this latest outing.
Red Bull’s struggles coincided with the introduction of two FIA technical directives regarding flexible bodywork and floors.
Horner though reflected on Singapore’s Marina Bay Street Circuit as a bogey track for Red Bull, stating his hope that they will return to form in Japan.
“I think if you look at the last 18 months, this has probably been one of our trickiest race weekends, or certainly Saturday’s, Friday, Saturday,” said Horner.
“I thought that actually in the race the car was pretty strong.
“So two completely different layouts, a completely different type of circuit, so hopefully we can be competitive in Japan next weekend.”
Perez was hit with a five-second time penalty post-race for causing a collision with Alex Albon, though he maintained his P8 finish despite that.