In F1’s spectacular night race setting, Sebastian Vettel’s rivals were left groping in the dark today after Free Practice.
Although Lewis Hamilton topped the times in FP1, Vettel quickly announced himself as the man to beat at this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix, as he comfortably topped the times during Free Practice on another dominant day for Red Bull.
Although Singapore is a high downforce street circuit, the polar opposite to the last race at Monza, the pattern was the same; the Red Bull pair of Vettel and Mark Webber were out of reach of the rest of the field, in both single lap pace and race simulation runs.
“Things went pretty smoothly, said Vettel. “We really made a step forward. The car felt really good – and if you have confidence in your machine you can take it closer to the walls. Both tyre compounds worked, so I am looking forward to qualifying.
“I think Mercedes is very strong, so we have to watch out for them.”
Webber had set the initial pace during the early medium tyre runs and would have hoped to been closer to his young team-mate come the end of the session. But Vettel found over two seconds when using a set of super-softs, putting himself to the top of the standings and waiting for Webber to show his hand.
Webber could not utilise the grip of the softer tyres as well as Vettel and ended the session 6/10ths of a second adrift. This was in part due to a light collision with the wall as he neared the end of the lap, showering sparks as his right rear wheel hit the wall.
The duo went on to show consistent lap times on both compounds and put themselves as the benchmark of pace this weekend.
Red Bull’s nearest challengers this week – at least in qualifying – look set to be Mercedes. They have shown good pace around twisty circuits, such as Monaco, Budapest and the final sector at Barcelona, and will feel this weekend is a good opportunity to regain second place in the Constructors’ Championship off Ferrari.
Mercedes look to be the second fastest car with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton taking third and fourth places. They often find a lot of pace from Friday to Saturday and today’s pace bodes well for qualifying.
Their race pace was down on that of the Red Bull and Lotus cars, who have greater consistency over the length of a stint. Webber managed 14 laps on a set of supersoft tyres on top of the initial quick lap, in and out laps.
Romain Grosjean was the first of the Lotus cars, in fifth place, with Kimi Raikkonen in eighth. They were both a second slower than Vettel, but within touching distance of the Mercedes pair.
Grosjean suffered technical issues during the FP1 session, causing him to take to the track late and end his session early with hydraulic issues.
Ferrari, meanwhile, had a less encouraging session with Fernando Alonso taking sixth place and Felipe Massa in 15th.
McLaren have seen a clear divide between themselves and Force India in recent races as they battle for fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship and today was another positive one for the Woking squad. They ended the day with Jenson Button in seventh and Sergio Perez in tenth place.
The circuit evolution from Free Practice One to Free Practice Two saw a lowering in lap times by almost three seconds. And we can expect to see times drop to 101-102 seconds by the time we have a pole-sitter.
The track was around three seconds faster than 2012 due to the abolition of the chicane at Turn 10, “The circuit is much improved here without the chicane and Turn 10 feels like a much nicer corner now,” said Hamilton.
SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX, Singapore, Free Practice
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m 44.249s
2. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m 44.853s
3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m 45.258s
4. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m 45.368s
5. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m 45.411s
6. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m 45.691s
7. Jenson Button McLaren 1m 45.754s
8. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m 45.778s
9. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m 46.002s
10. Sergio Perez McLaren 1m 46.025s
11. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m 46.406s
12. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m 46.429s
13. Paul di Resta Force India 1m 46.606s
14. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1m 46.808s
15. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m 46.870s
16. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m 47.287s
17. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m 47.434s
18. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m 47.761s
19. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1m 49.434s
20. Charles Pic Caterham 1m 49.526s
21. Max Chilton Marussia 1m 49.619s
22. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m 49.731s