Qualifying second to Charles Leclerc on Saturday by just 0.022s, Pérez made a superb start when the lights went out later – much later – on Sunday. Muscling past the Monegasque driver into the first corner and then settling in for a long night under lights at the Marina Bay circuit. And it was indeed a long night. Already delayed by an hour after a ferocious early-evening storm, the race was a slow burn on a track not quite dry enough for slick tyres for most of its duration, but not wet enough to fully exploit the performance of Pirelli’s intermediate rubber.
Throw in two safety cars and three virtual safety car periods, and it was little wonder the race didn’t make it to its scheduled 61-lap distance in the allotted two-hour timeframe. Pérez took the chequered flag after 59 laps as the local time ticked towards midnight.
The victory was Pérez’s fourth in F1 and his third in Red Bull Racing blue – all three now coming on street circuits after his victories in Azerbaijan last year and Monaco earlier in 2022. The result put the Mexican in esteemed company; before Sunday, the last driver to win both Monaco and Singapore in the same season was Sebastian Vettel, who triumphed at the two most revered city tracks for Red Bull back in 2011.
Pérez’s team-mate Max Verstappen came to Singapore with a slim yet mathematically possible chance of winning his second world title – the Dutchman needed to out-score Leclerc by 22 points to annex the crown. But a difficult qualifying saw him advance only to seventh place in the race from eighth on the grid, his advantage being sliced to a still-healthy 104 points with five races remaining.
Here’s how a long, tiring and triumphant night for Pérez shook out on the streets of Singapore.
Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari in the post race FIA Press Conference. 02.10.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Singapore Grand Prix, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Race Day. – www.xpbimages.com
Leclerc was all over him as the race resumed following the introduction of a safety car on Lap 39, but Pérez held firm and then broke away after the Ferrari driver made an error 10 laps later. From there, Pérez bolted to win by 7.595s but had to visit the race stewards after the podium ceremony to explain why he’d not stayed the requisite 10 lengths behind the safety car at a late-race restart before the celebrations could properly begin.
Verstappen arrived in Singapore to enjoy his 25th birthday – and a slice of cake – on Friday, but things went awry from there on as his five-race winning streak came to a close.
Qualifying left the Dutchman frustrated after he had to abort his final lap in Q3 because of a lack of necessary fuel in the car for post-session scrutineering purposes, and eighth on the grid at a track where overtaking opportunities are scarce quickly became worse when he made a tardy getaway and fell to 12th on Lap 1.
Unfortunately, only Gasly (who earned one point for 10th place) was able to convert on race day. At the same time, a double-points finish for Lance Stroll (sixth) and Vettel (eighth) saw Aston Martin leapfrog AlphaTauri into seventh place in the constructors’ championship, demoting AlphaTauri to equal eighth with Haas on 34 points.
Alonso became the first driver to compete in 350 F1 races when he stepped out in Singapore, the two-time world champion breaking Kimi Raikkonen’s record of 349 starts in the process. But there was little to celebrate for Alonso or Alpine, who lost the Spaniard and team-mate Esteban Ocon to engine gremlins on a night where McLaren scored big points with Lando Norris (fourth) and Daniel Ricciardo (a season-best fifth), McLaren vaulting past Alpine to re-capture fourth place in the constructors’ standings.
Elsewhere, eighth place for Vettel on his final Singapore outing before retirement at the end of the season was fitting, as the German has been the most prolific driver at the event ever since it debuted on the calendar in 2008, winning five times in all and on three occasions for Red Bull in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Singapore is modern flashy F1 at its best; a floodlit track in a major city with opulence at every turn. Suzuka, by contrast, is an old-school ribbon of tarmac in rural Honshu built in the 1960s as a proving ground for Honda’s road vehicles. Few challenges are greater in an F1 car than its figure-of-eight undulating rollercoaster with minimal run-off – not to mention the concrete walls lurking to damage your car and your pride if you get it wrong.
Suzuka was where Verstappen’s F1 story turned its first page back in 2014, where the barely 17-year-old Dutchman competed in his first free practice in Japan for Scuderia Toro Rosso (now Scuderia AlphaTauri) ahead of his race debut for the team the following season. He’s had three podiums at Suzuka in his past four visits.
Pérez scored points on his first visit to one of the sport’s most challenging tracks way back in 2011 with eighth place for Sauber, while a trio of seventh places from 2016-18 make for his best results in nine starts. Red Bull’s record in Japan in recent times has been modest – Mercedes has won the past six races at Suzuka – but the team won four times in five years from 2009-13 in Japan, courtesy of Vettel.