Max Verstappen said he can forget about extending his record winning streak after qualifying only 11th for Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix.
On a wild night under the 1600 bulbs that light up the Marina Bay Circuit, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll also walked away from a staggering 110mph shunt, while Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz pipped the Mercedes of George Russell to land his second pole position in as many races. Charles Leclerc will start third ahead of Lando Norris and Lewis Hamilton.
But it was the demise of Red Bull – the unbeaten tour de force of this most one-sided of seasons – that left those here in shock and awe. Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez also failed to reach Q3. He will line up in 13th for Sunday’s 62-lap race.
Verstappen warned earlier this week that the Red Bull machinery which has carried him to a record 10 consecutive victories would not be suited to this unique 3.07-mile high-downforce circuit.
Yet, nobody could have foreseen him being sent for an early bath along with Perez in the other car. Verstappen was straight on the radio to express his dismay.
“I don’t know if you saw that, but that was just f***** shocking,” he said. “Absolutely shocking experience.”
Verstappen’s Red Bull team, without a defeat in the 14 rounds so far, now face an improbable task of making history by becoming Formula One’s first ‘Invincibles’.
And we're out 😞 P11 for Max and P13 for Checo, that's the end of Qualifying for us in Sinagpore 🏁 pic.twitter.com/LXZ0dFzwdf
— Oracle Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) September 16, 2023
“You can forget about that (a victory),” said Verstappen, who later escaped a grid penalty but was fined 5,000 EUR (£4,308) following two separate incidents of impeding. “I don’t want it to sound too dramatic but it has been a tough weekend, and it is a long, long time since it has been like this in qualifying.”
Verstappen last started this far back in Saudi Arabia when a driveshaft failure consigned him to 15th at the second round in March. He finished runner-up to Perez.
But the streets of Singapore, unlike those in Jeddah, are strenuous to overtake on. Indeed, eight of the last 13 races here have been won from pole.
“You cannot pass here,” added Verstappen. “You need to be one and a half, to two or three seconds faster than the car in front which we are not. It will be a very tough and long afternoon.
“On other tracks you can start last and win, but not in Singapore. I want to win, but when it is not possible you have to accept that.
“I knew there would be a day that I wouldn’t win. I had a really good run up until now.
“And I would always take a season where we are winning as much as we have, and have one really bad weekend, over the other way round when you are not fighting for the championship. I am confident the car will be fast again in Suzuka next weekend.”
— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) September 16, 2023
Red Bull’s sudden malaise cleared the way for Sainz to capture another pole, a fortnight after he secured top spot in qualifying in Monza.
However, Russell ran the Spaniard close, finishing just 0.072 seconds back, and the Englishman believes he has a strong chance of landing Mercedes’ first win of the campaign and the second of his career.
The Silver Arrows have also followed a unqiue strategy this weekend that leaves Russell with an extra set of medium tyres which could provide him with the tactical edge over Sainz.
That lap = Toto approved. 🤝 pic.twitter.com/JvqmxnugUI
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) September 16, 2023
“George has a really good shot at winning and I really hope he does,” said team-mate Hamilton, who qualified half-a-second back on disappointing evening for the seven-time world champion.
“I hope he gets a good start and gets ahead of the Ferraris. That would be amazing for him and for the team.
“For me, I will see what I can do. If I get further up then great. I changed the car last night and I don’t know what is going on with it. It is the hardest car I have ever driven to get right.”