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SINGAPORE: How Our Bold Strategy Nearly Paid Off

Four cars. Three teams. 17 laps. The closing stages of the 2023 Singapore Grand Prix kept us on the edge of our seats.

You could have thrown a blanket over the lead group in those final laps around the streets of Marina Bay. Thanks to an aggressive late-race strategy call, our cars were right in the thick of it.

"We took the risk and every day of the week I would do it again," said Toto, in the aftermath of a night race where a Mercedes 1-2 looked like a real possibility.

Ultimately, we left the first leg of the double header in Singapore with a P3, the fastest lap, and 16 more points in our fight for second in the Constructors’. While we know how close we got to more, we take only positives from what was undoubtedly one of our strongest weekends of the season on track and on the pit wall.

It all started on Friday. Encouraging performances and feedback across both sessions, run in differing temperatures of the Singapore afternoon and evening, gave room for optimism heading into the weekend.

"I think it’s the best I’ve felt from a Friday this year," said Lewis Hamilton. "We’ve got a good platform to build off."

Race strategies in Formula 1 aren’t always decided on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. Sometimes, plans are set into motion far earlier across a Grand Prix weekend. We decided to run two sets of Soft tyres in FP3 on Saturday morning. That left us with four new sets of the red-walled compound for Quali, every other team holding five…

Crucially though, it saved a Medium tyre for Sunday’s race - a luxury no other team on the grid had – and allowed us to have a range of strategies in play for the Grand Prix. Every running of the Singapore Grand Prix had had a Safety Car period at one stage or another. If that trend were to continue in 2023, we were ready to capitalise.

The potential pace we knew W14 had on this offset strategy was evident from the get-go in Qualifying. In Q1, Lewis was improving on his final run on used tyres, and while the red flag for Stroll’s accident brought an end to the session, there wouldn’t have been cause for concern as the track ramped up and times tumbled across the field.

In the end, we were a whisker away from our second pole position of the season, after a thrilling session that kept everybody guessing until the chequered flag fell. George Russell did brilliantly to split the Ferraris and claim our third front row spot of 2023, and there was nothing to choose between the top five.

"I’ve felt confident in the car all weekend. The team did a great job with the tyre strategy," said a beaming George post-session.

"To get to the front row with a strategic advantage is an exciting place to be."

Two Ferraris, two Mercedes, and a McLaren in the top five. We were ready for a thrilling night around the streets. Ready to give it absolutely everything.

Both cars started on the Medium, like everyone else in the top 10 apart from Charles Leclerc, as Ferrari went with a split strategy.

The start couldn’t have gone better for those in red. Charles jumped George, and after Lewis had been instructed to give back places to George and Lando Norris for a first corner infringement, the race settled down with our duo in P3 and P5.

And then came the expected Safety Car. "Box, box" was the call from the pit wall, and both cars, along with the majority of those in the top 10, took their chance to change tyres. It worked out well. The perfectly executed double stack allowed Lewis to jump Leclerc, and once those who had chosen not to stop under the SC had been dispatched, George and Lewis ran P2 and P4, respectively. They did everything they could to put the pressure on Carlos and Lando in front.

When Esteban Ocon stopped at the side of the track on lap 43, we saw our chance. A second double stack of the day, once again carried out brilliantly by the team in the pit lane, saw us bolt on our trump card. A new Medium tyre that would give a significant performance advantage over the final few laps. 17 laps to go, and 17 seconds to make up.

George dealt with Leclerc on lap 53, with Lewis moving past a lap later. Six seconds to P2, eight laps to go. W14 was superb in the hands of our drivers in that final stint, and neither George or Lewis had any difficulties cruising up to the leading pair. The Singapore Grand Prix at the Marina Bay Street Circuit had come alive, and we couldn’t take our eyes off it!

George pushed and pushed, and on lap 59, he nearly had his man. But Lando put up an excellent fight worthy of the situation under such extreme pressure.

"I think we were half a car’s length away from winning the race today. If I was able to pass Lando, I am sure I would have been able to overtake Carlos," reflected George afterwards. With Lando having the luxury of the Ferrari’s DRS for the remaining laps, the bold and aggressive approach with both cars had fallen just short.

But Formula One can be so cruel. The slightest of touches with the Turn 10 wall ended George’s sterling effort on the final lap, and he ended the Singapore GP devastatingly in the barriers.

"George delivered a 99.99% fantastic weekend," said Toto. "In a split-second lack of concentration, he clipped the wall, and it happened."

The anguish in the garage and from George himself was clear to see. A faultless weekend and a superbly driven race would yield no points.

"We were bold and aggressive. It was exciting out there, and it’s heartbreaking to be here with zero points," he said post-race.

"George showed his character in the moments after the race. He came into the garage and apologised to everyone," said Trackside Engineering Director Andrew Shovlin.

He's been a huge part of reminding this team what it feels like to fight for wins again. This whole weekend has given the team even more motivation."

Lewis was also quick to acknowledge the brilliant job his teammate and team had done over the weekend.

"He’s been phenomenal all weekend, and I know he will bounce back," he said.

The seven-time world champion’s final few laps were excellent as he followed George into the heart of the lead battle. In addition to his 196th F1 podium, he also claimed a vital extra point for the fastest lap of the race in Singapore. A fine effort indeed from P5 on the grid.

"I’m really grateful for the hard work everyone continues to do. The pit stops were great, and so was the strategy. I think we are progressing."

The chance to bounce back and kick on comes right away. We’ll embrace the positives from Marina Bay – there were a lot! – and get stuck straight into Japan this coming weekend.

If the excitement and adrenaline of racing at Suzuka doesn’t get you excited for this weekend, nothing will!