Races

This weekend sees Ferrari race at the challenging Azerbaijan GP street circuit. One of Ferrari’s best recent wins was on the streets of Singapore in 2019. It also showed the potential of a new young Ferrari driver, Charles Leclerc
Words: Gavin Green

The Baku circuit, which winds through medieval streets and hosts this week’s Azerbaijan GP, is one of the world’s best street circuits. It’s the longest, at just over six kilometres, and the fastest, including the longest straight in F1, at 2.2 km. Top speed is around 360 km/h, or 225 mph. The backdrop, especially the narrow section by the Old City walls, is one of the most scenic in F1. Only Monaco, the most famous street circuit of all, has a more spectacular setting.

Scuderia Ferrari dominated the 12th edition of the Singapore GP with Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc finishing first and second

Street circuits are special. They’re especially challenging for drivers, as the barriers are usually tight against the track. The margin for error is virtually zero. 

 

Some of Ferrari’s greatest F1 victories have been on street circuits, from Niki Lauda’s 1975 triumph at Monaco, to Gilles Villeneuve’s home victory in Montreal in 1978, to Michael Schumacher’s dominance of the 2004 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

 

The Ferrari 1-2 at the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix is one of the Scuderia’s finest street circuit victories, not least because it was so unexpected. 

 

Singapore is also one of the very best street tracks. It winds around the harbourside and was the first GP to be held at night, increasing the spectacle. The most successful driver around the Marina Bay Circuit is Sebastian Vettel with five victories, including his debut season for Ferrari in 2015.


Yet, as the F1 circus headed to Singapore in mid-September of 2019, few experts fancied Ferrari’s chances. It's true that the precocious newcomer Leclerc, then only 21, was on a roll, having scored his maiden F1 win at Spa at the beginning of that month, and won again at Monza a week later.  

The one-two finish was the Scuderia's 84th in Formula 1

Yet Singapore is a very different circuit. The Ferrari SF90 was ideally suited to fast circuits like Spa and Monza, where power and straight-line speed were paramount. Singapore, like most modern street circuits, is tighter, slower and bumpier. The runaway championship leader, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, was also runaway favourite for the race, with Max Verstappen also fancied on a circuit that suited his Red Bull perfectly. And while Leclerc was in fine form, his teammate Vettel was underachieving: no wins all year, and consistently outperformed by his new teammate. 

 

So, not only did few experts give Ferrari much of a chance, even fewer fancied Vettel. 

 

Ferrari arrived in Singapore with a revamped SF90, featuring extensive aerodynamic upgrades. A car not renowned for its grip or balance on slow circuits, suddenly had it. Qualifying proved the effectiveness of the design changes. Leclerc’s Ferrari powered around Marina Bay quicker than anyone else, a fraction faster than champion-elect Hamilton. But, surprise, surprise, the underperforming Vettel was third, out qualifying the in-form Verstappen.

 

The brilliant pit stop strategy was a key moment in deciding the winners of the 2019 Singapore GP

The race was won in the pits, as Grands Prix sometimes are. With floodlights shining bright under an ink black sky, Leclerc powered into the lead from pole position and held it effortlessly, despite increasing tyre degradation. Teammate Vettel pitted early, from third place. It was a tactical masterstroke. 

 

While Leclerc and Hamilton, in second place, struggled on worn rubber, Vettel was flying. By the time all the front-runners had pitted, Vettel found himself with a strong lead from Leclerc. As with the Monaco Grand Prix two weeks ago, a clever undercut won the race and, once again, poor Leclerc lost out.

 

Unlike the recent Monaco GP, this time it was a Ferrari 1-2, with Vettel holding off a charging Leclerc. It was Vettel’s last F1 win for Ferrari. For Leclerc, the adventure was only just beginning.