SINGAPORE (AP) — Max Verstappen's historic run of 10 Formula One wins in a row looks set to end after he qualified down in 11th place on Saturday for the Singapore Grand Prix.
Carlos Sainz Jr. took pole for the race for Ferrari on Sunday ahead of George Russell of Mercedes and the second Ferrari of Charles Leclerc as Verstappen's Red Bull team had its worst qualifying results of the season.
“It's the best opportunity since the beginning of the season, for sure” for other teams to stop a Red Bull sweep of winning every race in 2023, Leclerc said.
Verstappen, the runaway championship leader after his record-breaking 10th straight win at the Italian Grand Prix, was eliminated by .007 seconds in the second session by rookie Liam Lawson of sister team AlphaTauri.
Verstappen's teammate Sergio Perez was 13th after a spin. The two drivers have won every race this season between them.
Verstappen told his team over the radio that it was an “absolutely shocking experience.”
He later added: “It is of course very hard to pass in Singapore on the street circuit so I’m not expecting a lot tomorrow. We’ve had so many successful weekends this year, we can be proud of what we have achieved so far. It’s more important that we understand where we are going wrong this weekend.”
Verstappen has won races this season from sixth on the grid in Belgium and ninth in Miami, but the Red Bull car performed better on those tracks than it has so far in Singapore. He and Perez — who called qualifying a “complete disaster” — have repeatedly said the car feels unbalanced in the many slow corners in Singapore.
Verstappen avoided a grid penalty despite being under investigation in three cases of allegedly impeding other drivers. He received a reprimand — the first he has had this season — for stopping near the pit exit and another reprimand and 5,000-euro ($5,340) fine for slowing down Yuki Tsunoda of AlphaTauri. Verstappen was found not at fault in a case of impeding Williams driver Logan Sargeant. He said he had been trying to avoid a crash in heavy traffic.
Sainz took pole — for the second straight race — by .072 seconds from Russell. Sainz, who finished third in Italy behind Verstappen and Perez, said it might be easier to win in Singapore than in Italy despite concerns over Ferrari's race pace.
“I'm more confident mainly because of the track layout. I think it's a bit easier to hold onto a track position,” Sainz said. He added that Ferrari might have less pace in the race than other teams including Mercedes. “It could be that tomorrow we have to run, yet again, a bit of a defensive race but I don't discount that even around this track we could hold on to our P1.”
Russell said the hot, humid conditions in Singapore were “like you're sat in a sauna," and praised Mercedes for finding the right setup for the city streets.
“This is a great opportunity this weekend to get a victory,” said Russell, who added Mercedes had conserved tires over the weekend to give it more strategy options in the race than rival teams.
Lando Norris starts fourth for McLaren, ahead of Lewis Hamilton in fifth for Mercedes. Kevin Magnussen is sixth for Haas, with Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso seventh, Alpine's Esteban Ocon eighth, the second Haas of Nico Hulkenberg ninth and Lawson 10th.
The first qualifying session was red-flagged when Lance Stroll lost control of his Aston Martin and speared into the wall on the final corner. The Canadian was able to walk away and said he was unhurt.
The crash caused a lengthy delay as crews worked to clear away the debris and repair the barrier.
One of those to lose out was McLaren's Oscar Piastri, who only narrowly missed the wreckage of Stroll’s car and couldn’t complete his lap before the red flag came out leaving him 18th. Stroll was 20th and last.
With Alonso qualifying seventh, the incident was a reminder of Stroll’s underwhelming record this season at the team headed by his father, Lawrence Stroll. Alonso has racked up 170 points to Stroll’s 47 and the Canadian has not reached the podium this season.
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