Opinion: Carlos Sainz's 2023 Singapore GP win was an F1 masterclass | Top Gear
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Opinion: Carlos Sainz's 2023 Singapore GP win was an F1 masterclass

There is a new contender for a Formula One hall of fame star, says Chris... and it’s not who you might imagine

Published: 06 Nov 2023

If someone had asked me which F1 driver would produce the standout performance of 2023, I probably wouldn’t have said Carlos Sainz. But in Singapore, he not only reminded us that he is world class, but that the skillset of any F1 driver is something we don’t celebrate nearly enough.

Sainz knew, having taken pole on the Saturday, that even with the Red Bull of Verstappen way down the grid, his Ferrari was far too unkind on its tyres to simply drive away from those behind. From the first lap, he was managing those Pirellis. I cannot imagine how frustrating that must be – having over 1,000bhp ready to rip and not allowing yourself to use every last pony.

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Formula One masterclasses fall into two distinct categories – the first is the concerted charge, which is pure box office. The other is pure management of available resources. It’s the F1 equivalent of a fourth wicket stand on day five of a test match, playing for the draw. It couldn’t be further from box office if it tried. But the latter requires more skill and perseverance, and at a point when F1 is chasing a younger audience with some questionable strategies, it’s a timely reminder that this remains a sport that can fascinate without wheel to wheel drama.

So the son of El Matador, on the back of some impressive recent performances, set off knowing that he would be under pressure for each of the 62 laps. Ferrari tried to deploy Leclerc as a rear gunner with mixed results, and as it all kicked off behind him, Carlos just set his own pace. Many of you will be thinking that he could only do this because to overtake at Singapore you probably need to be two seconds a lap quicker than the car in front – a huge advantage. Therefore, Carlos knew all he had to do was peg whoever was behind him to a place that occasionally coaxed them into a DRS hunt that would very quickly result in a sharp call from their engineer warning of increased engine and brake temperatures. But he had to do this without making a single mistake. There were hundreds of potential moments in that first stint when even a tiny error would have lost him first place. Behind him, just about every driver was beginning to look ragged and making small errors – but not Sainz, he was in a different league to the others that day.

Carlos ran for over 40 laps on that second set of tyres. We know they were shot after 20, and therefore the remaining 20 laps presented the following situation: a 1,000bhp missile that is unquestionably too long and wide to race on that circuit, with the grip level afforded by a damp B-road. And still he didn’t make a mistake. Furthermore, he then worked out that he could donate DRS to Lando Norris to thwart the approach of the two Mercedes, that were running much fresher rubber. The processing power to manage all of this, and to then tell your race engineer that Lando’s DRS was a deliberate act, should act as a reminder to all of us just how capable the human mind can be. Most assumed that Russell would simply drive up behind Sainz, overtake him and win. But in the end that never looked remotely possible. When people remember the great F1 performances of all time, this deserves to be on the list.

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