Carlos Sainz rocketed to top spot in final practice at the Singapore Grand Prix at the end of another difficult session for Red Bull.
Sainz’s session-topping lap of 1m 32.065s was enough to pip Mercedes’s George Russell by just 0.069s. Lando Norris made McLaren the third different team represented inside the top three with a lap 0.169s further back.
Max Verstappen improved in the final minute of the session to take fourth place, but the reigning champion was 0.313s slower than Sainz and looking no more likely to take pole than he was one night earlier.
The team had struggled badly with balance on Friday, but changes made overnight appeared to do little to rectify the worst of the RB19’s confidence-sapping issues.
Verstappen was caught out going deep on the brakes at Turn 14 during his opening stint on mediums and another time ran wide at the first turn, but his biggest gripe was with the poor shifting behavior of his gearbox.
“I’m sorry, I cannot drive with these upshifts,” he said. “Unacceptable.”
The team recalled him to his garage for tweaks, and though the Dutchman confirmed his shifts were “maybe a little smoother”, they were still “miles off” and giving him too much wheelspin to be competitive. He added too that the problem as also affecting his downshifts.
He nonetheless fares better than teammate Sergio Perez, whose best lap was good enough for only eighth and 0.719s off the pace.
“The rear is still on the edge,” he said early in the run. “It feels a bit too pointy.”
He later complained that the front end was too light, leaving him sliding through the corners, despite set-up changes made between runs.
The team’s lack of one-lap pace raises the prospect of just the fourth grand prix pole position not claimed by a Red Bull Racing driver in 2023.
Between the Red Bull Racing teammates slotted Charles Leclerc in fifth, who was only 0.003s slower than Verstappen after abandoning his final flying lap following a snap of oversteer through Turn 7 despite having set a purple first sector.
Lewis Hamilton was sixth quickest ahead of Oscar Piastri, who improved substantially overnight on his first weekend in Singapore.
Haas teammates Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen were ninth and 11th, sandwiching Yuki Tsunoda into 10th.
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon headed Aston Martin duo Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll, with teammate Pierre Gasly finishing the hour 15th.
Rookie Liam Lawson spun his car over the Turn 2 curbs, spoiling a set of medium tires but managing to keep his car out of the barrier to continue the session on his way to 16th.
Alex Albon was equipped with a new energy recovery system to address the problem identified with his power unit on Friday that forced him to miss almost all of FP2.
The Williams driver finished 17th ahead of Alfa Romeo teammates Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu, while American rookie Logan Sargeant was slowest at the bottom of the order.