Formula One fans generally benefit from wet races. They certainly lost out in Belgium when the race was cancelled in 2021. But as a principle, weather tends to make races more exciting and less predictable. Water has the effect of mitigating the performance advantages that teams like Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull enjoy in dry conditions. So the race result comes down to driver skill and team strategy. Who is best able to find grip on track? Who takes just as much risk but not too much? Which team makes the right call at the right time for the right tires? Singapore 2022 turned out to be an exception to this rule.
With purpose-built tracks in Hungary, France and Germany, there are plenty of runoff areas. So drivers have sufficient room for error in wet conditions. They can slide off the track without crashing. Singapore is an incredibly tight street course with no room for error. That’s what makes it such an exciting and challenging race…in dry conditions. When you introduce weather, though, one small mistake will end a race. And that’s what contributed to six DNFs and a handful of safety cars and virtual safety cars.
As I mentioned in my race preview, overtaking at Singapore is very challenging, and the larger cars make it even more difficult. But overtakes most commonly occur under heavy braking into a handful of corners as opposed to using outright pace on a straightaway. When the track is wet, though, this is just too risky. We saw Verstappen try and fail miserably. This is why the start was so critical. Leclerc got a bad start from pole. Perez got a good start from second, and he led the race from the first corner to victory just because he and the team didn’t make a mistake.
Otherwise, it appeared there was no suitable tire for the track at any time during the race. The inters didn’t have enough grip but it wasn’t wet enough for full wets. Russell took the gamble and went to medium slicks on lap 22 and struggled. Most others didn’t finally go to slicks until lap 35. As a result, the race spread out with drivers just trying not to crash…as opposed to actually racing one another.
The big winner in Singapore was McLaren. Norris and Riccardo finished fourth and fifth, respectively, at 21 seconds and 53 seconds behind Perez. It’s a huge double-points finish against Alpine, where both cars had mechanical failures. But it also illustrates how much the cars (that actually finished) were strung out by the end. McLaren now leads Alpine by four points in the constructor’s championship. And Ferrari increased its second-place gap to Mercedes (up to 66 points) with Leclerc and Sainz finishing second and third, respectively.
The big controversies occurred under the safety cars. Perez had multiple infringements for not following the safety car within 10 car lengths. So we didn’t know how the race actually ended until about two hours following when the stewards decided Perez deserved a reprimand for the first one and a five-second penalty for the second one. Given his 7.6-second gap to Leclerc, he retained the win. Obviously, if he’d received five-second penalties for each of them, he would have lost. If Leclerc had kept the gap under five seconds, he would have won. But would he? That’s the controversy. Why could the stewards not decide the penalty until after the race? It’s conceivable the stewards allowed the race result and time gap to influence the penalties…as if they did not want the penalties to impact the outcome. To be clear, I don’t believe that happened. Nevertheless, the FIA need to do better so they don’t expose these decisions to doubt.
This week we head to Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix. Many drivers, including Valtteri Bottas, consider this their favorite track of the season. It’s fast and quite different from Singapore. Although it does rain there quite often during this time of the year.