World champion Sebastian Vettel topped the time sheets in both Friday practice sessions for the Singapore Grand Prix, easing out the McLaren of Jenson Button. But it looks like the battle for the pole and the win will be a closely fought, competitive affair.
Vettel hasn’t had a pole position for five races and still has only one win on the board this year, the Red Bull struggled with qualifying in Spa and Monza, but here they look stronger.
Vettel managed a time which was three tenths faster than Button, but Lewis Hamilton’s fifth place result does not tell the full story, the McLaren driver making a mistake in the final two corners of his hot lap on supersoft tyres. McLaren has won the last three races from pole and they remain the team to beat.
Apart from the controversial “Crashgate” race of 2008, the Singapore GP has been won from pole position every time and all the drivers know that qualifying is going to be absolutely vital here. The performance gap between the soft and supersoft looks greater than expected, possibly as much as 1.5 seconds on some cars. It behaved reasonably well on long runs this afternoon, but if teams are to manage to do the race on only two stops, they are going to need to get at least 15 laps out of the supersoft tyre.
“The time difference between the soft and supersoft is around 1.5 seconds per lap, while the degradation per lap is around 0.3 seconds for the supersoft and 0.1 seconds for the soft. This opens up lots of different possibilities in terms of strategy,” said Pirelli’s Paul Hembery.
When the drivers came to do their high fuel long runs later in the second session, the pace of both Red Bull and McLaren looked very close. This will form the basis of decisions about how to approach the race from a strategic point of view.
Fernando Alonso’s prediction yesterday that the updates on the Ferrari would provide him with a chance to challenge for the pole and the win in this and the following races, looked a little optimistic. Ferrari ran the new rear wing in the second session, but Alonso was almost 6/10ths down on Vettel and said afterwards that there was still work to be done.
Lotus, as usual on Fridays, did not set and eye catching time, but Raikkonen’s long run pace looked competitive and consistent. Track position is vital here and they will have to pull it all together in qualifying if the Finn is to challenge for a seventh podium of the season.
Force India’s drivers Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg have both got a lot to drive for at the moment; they are on the front line to move up if vacancies open up at McLaren or Ferrari and the car looked well balanced with good rear end traction today. Di Resta got a good result here last season, so they will be worth keeping an eye on.
Bruno Senna was the only real casualty of the day, the Williams driver clouting the wall and breaking the rear suspension on a hot lap on the supersoft tyre.
Also noteworthy was the performance of the Marussia, which has a raft of aerodynamics upgrades here. Timo Glock was ahead of the Caterhams today, a result the team has targeted for this weekend.
“We did quite an important test which we still have to analyse and have a think about where we go with it, because we seem to have made good progress with the car,” said Glock, something of a Singapore specialist, who has had a 2nd and a 4th place finish here with Toyota in the past.
SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX, Free Practice 2
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m48.340 27 Laps
2. Jenson Button McLaren 1m48.651s + 0.311 24
3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m48.896s + 0.556 26
4. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m48.964s + 0.624 26
5. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m49.086s + 0.746 28
6. Paul di Resta Force India 1m49.300s + 0.960 30
7. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m49.339s + 0.999 31
8. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m49.790s + 1.450 32
9. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m50.039s + 1.699 28
10. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m50.161s + 1.821 23
11. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m50.263s + 1.923 23
12. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m50.345s + 2.005 24
13. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m50.636s + 2.296 32
14. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m50.791s + 2.451 26
15. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m51.122s + 2.782 28
16. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m51.450s + 3.110 21
17. Bruno Senna Williams 1m51.452s + 3.112 11
18. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m52.00$s + 3.669 31
19. Timo Glock Marussia 1m52.218s + 3.878 29
20. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1m52.576s + 4.236 27
21. Charles Pic Marussia 1m52.863s + 4.523 27
22. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1m52.936s + 4.596 25
23. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1m54.448s + 6.108 25
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1m54.514s + 6.174 30