'They've done it again': Ferrari F1 disaster was inevitable in tifosi's eyes


Carlos Sainz led Ferrari to F1 victory in Singapore — breaking Red Bull's win streak. While the lead battle was enjoyable for some, the long-suffering tifosi nervously waited for it all to come crumbling down. Cambridge Kisby provides an insight

Carlos Sainz Singapore GP

Victory at last for Ferrari in Singapore — ending Red Bull's streak of victories Singapoore

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In the dying embers of last weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix, my face gradually sunk deeper into my hands as the thought of defending another Ferrari hatchet job on Monday morning loomed nearer. We had the pace, we had the position but, true to form, it looked destined to be for nothing as our strategy department had gone home early once again — presumably to hide. Only other tifosi can truly relate.

“They’ve done it again.” I muttered repeatedly, like a recovering shell-shock victim.

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Over 15 years since Ferrari’s last championship, Ferrari’s fans have learned to abandon all optimism, to anticipate the worst luck, and for the team to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. So as the Singapore Grand Prix entered its closing stages with Carlos Sainz still in the lead, the only unknown was how the Scuderia would throw it away this time.

The answer seemed to come 19 laps from the chequered flag, when Esteban Ocon‘s stationary Alpine caused a virtual safety car, allowing both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell‘s charging Mercedes to have almost a free pit-stop and rejoin on the fast and fresh medium tyre compound. Sainz and a third-placed Charles Leclerc were told to do the opposite, leaving both cars running first and third, but vulnerable on 45-lap old hard tyres.

Almost on instinct, I braced for disappointment as my finger loitered over the off button on the TV remote — this wasn’t my first time avoiding Ferrari-themed heartbreak.

It brought a painful flashback to an earlier episode of ‘What the f*** Ferrari!?’ 412 days earlier at the 2022 Hungarian Grand Prix, where after two consecutive race victories at Silverstone and the Red Bull Ring — Ferrari’s last visits to the top step of the podium — the team flailed and flopped from second and third in qualifying to fourth and sixth on race day. Max Verstappen was left to stroll to victory from tenth on the grid and I was forced to replace a coffee mug which I had ‘dropped’ in utter disbelief.


Leclerc crashing out in France was among a long list of disappointments for the tifosi in 2022

Marc de Mattia / DPPI

Of course, the embarrassment didn’t start or even stop there in 2022: certain victory in Monaco thrown away due to another head-scratching strategy call, Leclerc demoted from fifth to sixth in Belgium after a cataclysmic attempt to take the fastest lap, and of course the infamous crash from the lead in France. The ultimate result was a disappointing second in the constructors’ standings after producing what may believed to be a title-winning car.

It wasn’t exactly what I signed up to. You join the tifosi inspired by Enzo’s single-minded dedication to racing; by the likes of Ascari, Fangio, Lauda, Villeneuve and Schumacher who have won in its cars; and by the glorious machines themselves. You accept that there will be lows amid the highs — a necessary part of any teams history — but do so with the knowledge that failing at the sharp end of F1 innovation is to steal a lead in years to come.

But to lose in a hapless strategic error, or to trundle behind in the midfield, with no light on the horizon is in utter contradiction of the passion that’s evident in the Monza crowds.

It’s safe to say that after 14 successive Red Bull victories, the pain-gauge was close to exploding in Singapore.

A familiar narrative began to play out as the VSC ended in Sunday’s race and racing resumed in Marina Bay, Russell and Hamilton immediately began to close the gap. On lap 48, the Mercedes pair had a nine-second gap to a struggling Leclerc. By lap 54, they were ahead, and frantically closing down the leaders. It was inevitable, but still hard to accept that the Monégasque driver couldn’t put up a bit more of a ‘Perez in Abu Dhabi‘ kind of fight.

With three laps to go, Russell pulled alongside Lando NorrisMcLaren for second and that seemed to be that. Years of red-coloured disappointment had taught me to look away at this point — to get on with the washing up or begin drafting a cruelly worded post directed at the head of Ferrari strategy. Fortunately, our best strategist wasn’t on the pitwall last weekend. Instead, he was leading the race.

Sainz in Singapore

A picture of poise: Sainz leads in Singapore

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Showing touches of genius, Sainz had qualified on pole for the second race in a row and drove impeccably from lights out to the chequered flag. While I sat watching nervously — beginning to receive familiar texts from friends and family mocking my life choices — Sainz remained a picture of calmness, orchestrating the race perfectly.

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While others would have spent the last laps of Sunday’s Grand Prix using up every ounce of tyre and battery in a charge toward the finish line, the Spaniard slowed — keeping Norris in DRS range to keep his former team-mate safe from the charging Mercedes — and preserve a buffer between him and the faster pair.

“Gap to Norris now 0.8sec with DRS” came a plea to speed up from the pit-wall. “It’s on purpose” Sainz replied. Epic.

One dramatic final lap — on which Russell clipped the outside wall of Turn 10 and crashed out — saw me finally relax for the first time in almost two hours. I’ve never been a good loser, but like many tifosi I’m an equally bad winner. Several bitter messages and middle finger emojis to Red Bull and Mercedes fans were sent as a result and after 435 days of waiting, Ferrari is back on top — albeit with the wrong driver.

Sweat drips off Carlos Sainz after winning 2023 Singapore Grand Prix

Sainz was the victor in Singapore — but the tifosi want more

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Despite how it might sound, I don’t mean that in a negative way. Sainz has performed admirably ever since arriving in Maranello and has arguably been the Scuderia’s best performer in 2023 — narrowly missing out in overall qualifying performances (7-8) while besting Leclerc on race day (8-7). In fact, if the roles had been reversed and it was Leclerc leading the final stages of Singapore, I’m unsure he would have shown the same poise and experience as Sainz did last weekend.

But there’s just that little extra something special when Il Predestinato wins in blood red. His last win in Austria was no different.

Leclerc’s enormous talent means he will almost certainly win again for Ferrari — forgive me for riding high off the back of a successful race weekend. Given the right car, the majority of the paddock believe he can almost certainly deliver on his ‘Chosen One’ reputation and rank him among the best despite only having five career victories in F1. But Sainz’s moment in Singapore’s midnight sun may have served a bigger purpose this time around.

His victory won’t change the outcome of either world championship — Red Bull comfortably leading both — but in the face of emphatic and tedious dominance, F1 once again has to thank its most precious constructor for kicking a little bit of life back into an otherwise dull season. While a win for Mercedes or Norris would have made headlines, victory for Ferrari is iconic — as it has been since the series’ very start. When the tifosi win, we all win. We’re quite generous like that.

And so for the first time in 435 days, I can enter Motor Sport’s London office with a sense of pride following the events of a Formula 1 grand prix — not having to bury my face in a computer screen, wondering where it all went wrong. Grazie Carlos!